Battiste (2004). Print Culture and Decolonizing the University: Indigenizing the Page: Part 1.

Battiste, M. (2004). Print Culture and Decolonizing the University: Indigenizing the Page: Part 1. In P. Stoicheff & A. Taylor (Eds.), The Future of the Page (pp. 111–123). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

“Early Indigenous literacy in America was largely symbolic and ideographic, reflecting a unified vision of knowledge and thought from one continent to another. A wide diversity of forms exists from the Tupi-Guarani’s Ayvu Rapyta or Origin of Human Speech,2 to the Yucatac-Mayan paper screenfolds,3 to the Algonquian Walam Olum or Red Score,4 Midewiwin or Grand Medicine scrolls,5 and Mi’kmaw hieroglyphics;6 these mutually intelligible ideological systems comprised a tribal encyclopedia capable of providing the true knowledge, heritage, and history of early America.7” (p 111)

“When Europeans did encounter undeniable evidence of a literacy equivalent to their own, such as Toltec and Mayan paper books, they did their best to eradicate it as a threat to the teachings of the scriptures they [page break] brought with them. … Today, English is the leading killer language, having amassed the greatest structural power and material resources that its number of speakers can be made to justify, at the expense of other languages.9” (p 111-112)

“In 1653 Father Bressani reported Indians of New France using ‘little sticks instead of books, which they sometimes mark with certain signs … By the aid of these they can repeat the names of a hundred or more presents, the decisions adopted in councils and a thousand other particulars.’11” (p 112)

“Oblivious to other forms of literacy and ways of knowing, Father Biard and other missionaries imposed their valuation of European literacies on conceptions of knowledge and knowing, a form of superiority underlying cognitive imperialism that continues to reverberate in modern forms.” (p 113)

[“Aboriginal Literacy” (p 113) …]

“Algonquian epistemology was derived from the immediate ecology, their experiences, perceptions, thoughts, and memory, including experiences shared with others, and from the spiritual world discovered in dreams, visions, and signs interpreted with the guidance of healers or elders.” (p 113)

“Most symbols were never precisely defined or fully explained, since their purpose was to stimulate a dialogue rather than resolve the paradoxes of life concretely.” (p 114)

“Patterned wampum strings and ideographic symbols on belts of tubular shells were the media for history and public records, maintained by a wampum keeper or tribal historian.” (p 115)

“The interpretation of pictographs and petroglyphs requires an understanding of how Indians created ideas and meaning in their ‘verb-based’ language systems. The petroglyphs interacted with the oral traditions, which were a nexus of knowledge. A mark on a rock in nature’s irregular ‘page’ not only represented an image but also was part of a lesson or a story or a ceremonial event. Without the oral teachings, most glyphs could not be deciphered as meaningful records.” (p 116)

“The pictographs represent ecological knowledge, spirituality, geographic and cognitive maps, ideas, and events.” (p 116)

“Ideographs pictorially express abstract ideas, and ’embody the representation of ideas by aid of certain analogies that the mind sees between the symbol and the idea attached to it.’23 For example, the symbol of friendship among tribes was represented by hands clasped or by two hands with open palms approaching each other.” (p 116)

“In 1735 Father Pierre Antoine Maillard began a twenty-seven-year mission among Mi’kmaq, during which he expanded hieroglyphic literacy and contributed to the transition from ideographic literacy to roman script.28 When Maillard became fluent in both the spoken Mi’kmaq and symbolic literacies, he recognized the power of holding the Mi’kmaq to ideographs and not introducing them to alphabetic literacy. After all, this was the eighteenth century and the printed page would prove in many respects revolutionary. If Mi’kmaq became literate in the roman script, this new-found literacy might otherwise strengthen their doubts about French motives, including the new religion in which they might discover further ideological inconsistencies.29 Despite the fact that Maillard had developed a roman phonetic script for the Mi’kmaw language, which he used for his own linguistic studies, he chose to withhold any knowledge of it from the Mi’kmaq.” (p 118)

“The modern sequential literacies of alphabetic systems imposed on the Mi’kmaq have supplemented their aboriginal world view, but their ideographic literacy continues to shape and define Mi’kmaw consciousness as do European-based linear scripts the consciousness of modern humanity. … The difference between oral and written culture represents a difference in approach to knowledge and thought.32 … In written cultures knowledge is [page break] seen as a depersonalized and analytic compilation of facts and insights of decontextualized thoughts.33” (p 119-120)

“… the Canadian educational system continues the process of cognitive imperialism under the illiterate savage myth and the banking concept of education in which educational capacity development is merely the assimilation of Eurocentric knowledge and skills.36” (p 120)

“The aboriginal forms of literacy served a function for Algonquian societies: universal symbols represented concepts and ideas, not sounds of language, and their legitimacy for contemporary tribal society has not been replaced or displaced by print culture and new technologies of the page.” (p 120)

“Many of us have come to realize that we do not have to be perceived through a Western lens to be legitimated. Yet we are all too aware that what is defined as knowledge for schools and curricula is not yet sufficiently comparable with Indigenous conceptualizations of knowledge, and that educational practice must continue to find ways to value the participation of Aboriginal peoples in educational discourse, policy, and practice, and in particular to identify and shape what is considered for school texts as [page break] knowledge for those schools. Indigenous peoples must be actively part of the transformation of knowledge.” (p 120-121)

“What is becoming clear to Indigenous educators is that any attempt to decolonize ourselves and actively resist colonial paradigms is a complex and daunting task. … A postcolonial framework cannot be constructed without Indigenous peoples renewing and reconstructing the principles underlying their own world view, environment, languages, communication forms, and how these construct their humanity. … the fragmenting tendencies and universalizing pretensions of those technologies need to be effectively countered by renewed investment in holistic and sustainable ways of thinking, communicating, and acting together.” (p 121)

Selected References

  • [2] Yves d’Evreux, Voyage dans le nord du Bresil fait durant les annees 1613-14 (Leipzig
    and Paris: A. Franck, 1864).
  • [4] D.G. Brinton, The Lenape and Their Legends with the Complete Text and Symbols of
    the Walam Olum (1884; reprint, New York: AMS, 1969).
  • [5] J. Tanner, Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner (New York,
    1830).
  • [6] D.L. Schmidt and M. Marshall, ed. and trans., Mi’kmaq Hieroglyphic Prayers:
    Rereading in North America’s First Indigenous Script (Halifax: Nimbus, 1995).
  • [7] C. Levi-Strauss, Mythologiques, 4 vols (Paris: Plon, 1964-71).
  • [9] T. Skutnabb-Kangas, Linguistic Genocide in Education or Worldwide Diversity and
    Human Rights? (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999).
  • [11] W. Ganong, introduction to New Relation of Gaspesia, by C. Le Clerq, trans. and
    ed. W. Ganong (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1910), 23.
  • [23] W.J. Hoffman, The Beginnings of Writing (New York: D. Appleton, 1895), 555.
  • [28] Abbe P. Maillard, ‘Lettre de M. l’Abbe Maillard sur les missions de l’Acadie et
    particulierement sur les missions Micmaques,’ Soirees Ganadiennes 3 (1863): 355.
  • [32] D. Tannen, ‘The Myth of Orality and Literacy,’ in Linguistics and Literacy, ed. W.
    Frawley (New York: Plenus Press, 1982), 3.
  • [36] Marie Battiste, ‘Micmac Literacy and Cognitive Assimilation,’ in Indian Education
    in Canada: The Legacy, ed. Jean Barman, Yvonne Hebert, and Don McCaskill
    (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1986), 37.
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