Week 8

I’d like to think I got a dose of both sides of history in Hawaii’s colonization growing up. I was lucky enough to attend a school that teaches kids about Native Hawaiian life. We celebrated makahiki every year, learned about Native Hawaiian navigating through Nainoa Thompson, 4th graders got to go on a Big Island field trip to visit sacred heiau and look at petroglyphs, and I can still belt out Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī from memory. We also learned about Captain Cook and sang The Lord’s Prayer in Hawaiian, sure effects of colonization but still a part of Hawaii’s history. I feel like I am lucky in comparison to Tuhiwai Smith’s history education growing up, which was solely colonial-based. I don’t think my education about history and research are perfect, but it is a working model. I always thought that history and research were good things. And to be honest, I still think they are. The difference is that it is important to have an understanding of both of their implications in colonization. Without that key piece, indigenous history would get lost forever.

Tuhiwai Smith’s beliefs about the words imperialism, history, writing, and theory are deep rooted in her own ancestry’s lineage and it comes out powerfully in her writing, more so than her speech. It is understandable why she wouldn’t like these words and I agree that they are set in the dominant paradigm and can hurt indigenous people. I can see how writing could be seen as a “mark of superiority” over oral civilizations but even those people valued history. I feel like most indigenous cultures do to some extent, that is how we get things like traditions and folklore. I would respectfully disagree and say that these words aren’t necessarily bad, but bad can come from them if they are misused and if only colonial people are allowed to use them.

Like the previous words, I would maintain the research can be very powerful. It is up to the individual what they choose to do with it: use it for good or evil. I was surprised to hear that not all societies seek out research and that it doesn’t necessarily benefit mankind. These are refreshing points-of-view that made me stop and think critically about my own views on research. I feel like I am in a generation of “need to know” everything but there are times when I find myself reaching a saturation point. Being Type A, it is hard to not want to know everything and just let things simply “be”.

I think the most important things social workers need to remember is to “critically engage with a variety of approaches.” Having lots of alternative views will hopefully create a new blend of what is taken for truths or at least we can acknowledge that there can be many of them.

Photo: a heiau at Ai’opio Beach here in Kona



4 thoughts on “Week 8

  1. Thanks for the post!
    I don’t think she is saying that research is a bad thing or is it as simple as good vs. evil. The point is that the western modality of research has been, and in many ways continues to be invasive, destructive and antithetical to many indigenous belief systems. Research methods are constantly evolving and what one generation deems appropriate the next finds abhorrent (ie the little Albert study, the tuskegee experiments, even Pavlov’s dogs (he removed their throats to measure saliva production)).
    Tuhiwai Smith is not writing just from her perspective but from an examination of how language and imperialism subjugate, whether intentional or not, indigenous viewpoints.
    I think another thing that I found interesting is that what we call history, native peoples considered life. I like how she spoke to survival being the most basic need when cultures fall apart. When we walk around heiaus or other native sites, we see history, where there should actually be people.

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    1. Yes I would say you were lucky! Just the mention of Nainoa Thompson and i feel the envy run through me. Oh to exposed to that worldly knowledge must have been magnificent and the fruits of that must be great to be living in now. I believe that the research that was done through Hokulea, with celestial navigation, with their teachers in Micronesia, though the waves on the sea and the patterns of the birds is timeless. Fortunately they done see it as research but instead wisdom. It’s as you mentioned that what we call history they call life. it is our need to intellectualize it all that seems to create a difference. I do though also believe as you do that research is vital and can be used as a great tool. I personally believe there is a positive place for both and like anything else it depends n how it is used. Thanks for all of your brilliant blogs and fabulous comments. – Josh

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  2. Thank you for your thoughts. Like you, the take away from this week was that research can hurt a population and sometimes it can happen during the process of dissemination because of cultural disparities between the observer and the observed. I do believe research has a place in science and that we have gained much knowledge that benefits society in general. As social workers with cultural sensitivity, we must ensure that the purpose of the research benefits not only society but especially the population that we gather the information from. If it does not, then it should not be sought. I wonder if it would be more appropriate to modify the ethical standard to require that research on an indigenous population be conducted by one of their own. It would certainly bring more rigor to the process, in my opinion.

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  3. You got it right here. History and research are not bad, but without the key piece of understanding and an awareness of the bias of the perspective from which history is told or research is done, it can potentially be bad for someone! I’m glad for your upbringing and it says a lot for the educational system in Hawaii and where you went to school in particular. Unfortunately, I think it is still an experience that very few people receive. Can you imagine if people on the continent could sing at least one song in the langue of the native tribe on whose land they lived on?

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