Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tule River Native American Oral History Project

The preservation of indigenous people’s history is a critical project in today’s world of rapid cultural and linguistic disappearance. As indigenous people are forced to change their lifeways, much of their history, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), and oral traditions are lost. In an effort to preserve this knowledge for future generations, indigenous peoples – often in collaboration with authors, activists, NGOs, and even governmental and state agencies – are in the process of working on ways to ensure that this knowledge and history is maintained. In a recent article entitled “The Tule River Tribal History Project: Evaluating a California Tribal Government’s Collaboration with Anthropology and Occupational Therapy to Preserve Indigenous History and Promote Tribal Goals,” one example of how indigenous people are working to preserve their history is lucidly articulated.

In 2004, the Tule River Tribal Council undertook an innovative project to preserve the indigenous history of the Tule River Native American Indian Tribe. The indigenous Tule River tribe is comprised of about 1,500 enrolled members. Of these, about 500 members live on the reservation in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, in Central California, about 15 miles from the city of Porterville. The reservation is in the San Joaquin Valley, about midway between Bakersfield and Fresno. The Tule River Tribal History Project, as this project came to be called, demonstrates a way that indigenous people can begin to ensure – and control – the preservation of their indigenous history and knowledge.


Postcolonial and indigenous scholars suggest that creating alternative histories is a necessary activity for Native peoples in their recovery from the destructive emotional, behavioral, and political effects of colonial domination. The literature on history-making as a restorative process has focused on mental health, reversing negative representations of indigenous people in mainstream histories, and using Native histories to reclaim land and rights. In 2004, the Tule River Indian Tribe of Central California initiated an innovative history project to engage tribal elders in contributing historical information about themselves and their families for preservation by the Tribe. Theories and methods from postcolonial scholarship, anthropology, and occupational therapy (and its academic discipline occupational science) focused the Tule River Tribal History Project on providing meaningful and enjoyable activities – creating family trees, a tribal photo archive, interviews with elders, social gatherings and community discussions, and a website. The products were made available to participants in digital and printed formats. Copies have since been archived by the Tribal Council and also made available for tribal use at the Towanits Education Center on the Tule River Reservation. Pre-test and post-test survey data indicate: 1) the tribal elders’ high valuation of the history-making activities; and 2) the positive impact of the program on social integration and spiritual well-being.

Read more on Preservation of Indigenous People’s History: An Example From the Tule River Native American Indian Tribal History Project here.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Tule River Project is SO inspiring, and profoundly needed! Too many of our full blood elders are leaving with their stories untold and unappreciated.

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