Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Accord or Discord: Returning to Oral Traditions?

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Accord or Discord: Returning to Oral Traditions?

Article excerpt

Abstract / Résumé

What are the functions and meanings of oral versus written texts for Indigenous peoples? In this document, I consider how oral and written texts have possibly contributed to the construction of society[ies] and to the foundational differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies. I then consider the systematic shifts in norms overtime, arguing that oral societies developed as consensus-based societies, functioning with internal accord. Finally, I consider the question: how can we, as Indigenous peoples, continue to transfer accord accurately with our meaning of truth, by which I mean our ontology, epistemology, values, and world views?

Quels sont les fonctions et le sens de la tradition orale et des écrits pour les peuples autochtones? L'article examine comment la tradition orale et les écrits ont pu contribuer à bâtir les sociétés et à établir des différences générales entre les sociétés autochtones et non autochtones. On examine ensuite les déplacements systématiques des normes avec le temps en mettant de l'avant que les sociétés de tradition orale se sont développées comme des sociétés fondées sur le consensus et l'accord commun de leurs membres. Finalement, on pose la question suivante : comment pouvons-nous, à titre de peuples autochtones, continuer de transférer la notion d'accord avec notre définition de la vérité, c'est-à-dire notre ontologie, notre épistémologie, nos valeurs et nos visions du monde?

Introduction

In this paper, I attempt to understand human communication systems, in particular, the functions of, and differences between, oral communication and written text communication. To do this, I first briefly outline what I mean by communication and language for both humans and other animals, following which I explore the functions of oral and written text communication and try to come to some reasonable understandings of the meanings of oral and written text communication. By exploring the functions and meaning of oral and written text, I next consider how these have possibly contributed to the construction of societypes] and to the foundational differences between societies that are based on oral texts and those based on written texts. These attempts lead me to try to understand the systematic shifts in norms which play themselves out through the hegemony of one truth, in this case globalization and a capitalist mentality. I argue that oral societies develop as consensus-based societies, functioning with internal accord. Finally, I consider the question: how can we, as Indigenous peoples, continue to transfer accord accurately with our meaning of truth (e.g., ontology, epistemology, value, and world view)?

A Story

It must have been September or October, 1996. My daughter was just a baby in a front pack, and we were walking at the Rieffel Wildfowl Refuge in Richmond, B.C. During our tour, the guide stopped and showed us two fields filled with white Snow Geese. As he explained, the geese filled both fields, one inside and one outside the refuge. But, he explained, on the day hunting season opened, every year, at the exact hour hunting season began, all of the geese would move to the field inside the refuge. The Snow Geese had learned to read human behavior. They had also developed intra-species orality that would allow them to move as one, in consensus. When survival is at stake, a specific function of orality (what I will explain as "accord") is of paramount importance.

Communication and Language

We use language to communicate on a daily basis. Our languages are often taken to be like the air that we breathe-something taken for granted, normally invisible (unless there is something peculiar), and effortless-therefore, we do not even think twice about the function and meaning of language itself: What is language? What is communication? Who communicates? Are humans the only communicative animals? Are communication systems restricted to live beings? …

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