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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

International Symposium At UC San Diego Aims To Amplify Indigenous Voices

 February 24, 2020 at 9:42 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Before Europeans arrived in North America, the culture of indigenous people was thriving and what is now the United States and Mexico. Stories were handed down over generations through the spoken word and writings. Those traditions are being featured at an international symposium on indigenous voices at UC San Diego. There will be poetry readings, book signings, a film screening and other material on display. KPBS midday edition host Jade Heineman spoke with one of the event organizers, professor Gloria Chicone of the UC San Diego department of literature. Professor Chicone, welcome. Thank you so much for having me here. This is a remarkable gathering of so many different people from various indigenous communities. How did the idea for this come about? Speaker 2: 00:47 Well, I have to say that it is a sort of culmination for me. I completed my book monograph about two years ago. It was published in 2018 and I've been working around indigenous literatures for a while now and part of my position is that we have to open up university spaces for indigenous writers of the Americas. I think it's also inspired by the fact that the United nations has declared, uh, 2019 as the year for indigenous languages and subsequently moved to declared, uh, 2022, I believe, uh, starting 20, 22 as the decade for indigenous languages. And in my mind, I think that it is important for all of us to understand that indigenous languages continue thriving in the continent and that these initiatives are an effort to speak to the world about how indigenous nations continue to practice their indigenous languages despite the real sort of, um, historical and structural inequalities that indigenous communities face. Speaker 2: 02:02 You know, this symposium began today and it goes through tomorrow. What are some of the experiences people can expect? Well, we have gathered some of the most prominent critics and indigenous literary voices across the continent. We will be hearing people from the Dinair nation. We will be listening to Mayan poetry. We will also have the privilege of listening to now what comes SA, which is another indigenous languages, another indigenous language from Columbia. And we have representative writers from Columbia. What the Amala Mexico, uh, the U S obviously another sort of aspect of the symposium is to feature some of the people that have been spearheading the criticism around indigenous literatures. Uh, Hmong, those people are professors, Robert warrior who is from the Osage nation, um, in S Abila who is a professor at UC Davis who is also Nez Perce and Chicana. But as well as the beauty, uh, of indigenous languages. Speaker 2: 03:12 I think that no matter who you are, I think it's a privilege to listen to them and to hear them for the first time. I know that, uh, you know, one of the objectives is to have students hear them because it is where, that they will ever have an opportunity to listen to. Now what in the university, at least in the U S right, I mean, you know, given that last year was the year of indigenous languages, uh, and the UN has set the first international decade of indigenous languages to begin in 2022 is the culture of indigenous people around the world finally getting the attention it deserves. I think so. I think those initiatives are worldwide efforts that help not only indigenous poets and writers feel reassured that they are being supported in one way or another. But I think it is also helpful for nation States to understand that there is a worldwide, uh, interest and support for the production of indigenous literatures in indigenous languages and even in, uh, Spanish or English. Speaker 2: 04:19 You know, it's often said that the U S has never really dealt with the issues of slavery in this country. It seems the same could be said about what was done to the native people of this land. What are some of the effects of colonialism that linger now that we're well into the 21st century? Well, I think for the U S we are in the myths of a historical amnesia about what actually happened. And I think for indigenous nations that represents a everyday struggle because most people, I would say in the U S have very little understanding myself included of what actually happens within indigenous nations in the North. Right. And to understand that they are still political entities that have treaties and that are considered their own nations. I think that's important to understand. You know, the UN says that two indigenous languages disappear, like go extinct every month. Is it your hope that this symposium and other similar events around the world can stop that from continuing? Absolutely. I think one of my concerns actually is how this sort of a recognition of the endangerment is really about how bad things are and my hope is that we can tell the world, uh, indigenous languages are important. Uh, indigenous languages represent a worldview and if they die, we lose that sense of not only how a community views the world, but also how they relate to others. I think that that's really important and has been an important aspect of indigenous nations. Speaker 1: 06:11 You know, it said that history is made by those who've ride it. How is the education system in the U S doing in general when it comes to teaching students what happened to native Americans after Europeans arrived on this continent? Speaker 2: 06:23 I think they're missing quite a bit in terms of what actually happened and what gets taught in the schools. I faced this with my son who was in public schools all the time. In fact, what he has been learning this year is all about the quote unquote explorers and, and what they encountered. Um, so I think that is, it's up to us to make sure that we not necessarily, um, argue that this shouldn't be taught, but that it should be taught critically, that they were not exploring, for instance. That's something that I often tell, uh, colleagues who work on history and want to say, Oh yeah, the, this Explorer came. But you know, we have to be clear about what they were actually doing. They were not exploring. Right? They wanted to find resources and exploit them and send them out for profit. Right. So I think that we need to be able to speak clearly about those things. Speaker 1: 07:29 I've been speaking with professor Gloria Chicone from UC San Diego's department of literature. She's one of the organizers of the international symposium to highlight indigenous voices being held today and tomorrow on the UCS D campus. Professor Chacone, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you for having me.

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More than 20 indigenous communities will be represented at the two-day symposium, which includes poetry readings, spoken word performances, book signings, and a film screening.
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