‘I’m digging into the roots of my adopted land,’ says Cuban-Canadian songwriter
By Andrew Kurjata, CBC NewsPosted: Jul 01, 2016 7:00 AM PT Last Updated: Jul 01, 2016 7:00 AM PT
Cuban-Canadian singer Alex Cuba had the lyrics of one of his songs translated into the Wit’suwet’in language for a Canada Day performance on Parliament Hill. (Alex Cuba photo: Paul Darrow/Reuters; Lyrics photo: Alex Cuba/Facebook)
When Cuban-born singer Alex Cuba takes the national stage for a performance on Parliament Hill this Canada Day, he’ll be showcasing the language of his adopted home — and it isn’t English or French.
Instead, the Juno and Grammy-award winning artist will be performing a verse from his song Directo in Wit’suwet’in, an Athabaskan language spoken by First Nations in northwest British Columbia.
Cuba says the performance is his way of paying tribute to his adopted home, the small town of Smithers in northern B.C.
“I have roots in that part of Canada now,” he said. “I made Smithers my home for over 13 years now, and my kids, they are growing in Smithers.”
“I’m basically digging into the roots of my adopted land.”
From Spanish to English to Wit’suwet’in
Northwest coast artist Ron Austin (T’sek’ot) translated lyrics from English to Wit’suwet’in. (Northwest Community College)
The lyrics were translated by Ron Austin (T’sek’ot), an artist and hereditary chief living in nearby Moricetown.
First, Cuba had to translate the words from Spanish to English. Then, Austin got to work adapting them to Wit’suwet’in.
“I had to search for some words like ‘hopelessness,’ because in our language it’s said almost like a sentence,” the chief said. The closest he could come was the phrase, “My heart is in confusion.”
“It’s a more expressive language.”
Endangered language takes national stage
It was during this collaboration that Cuba discovered the deeper significance of the project.
The lyrics of Alex Cuba’s song ‘Directo’ translated into Wit’suwet’in, along with handwritten notes. (Alex Cuba/Facebook)
There are only a few fluent Wit’suwet’in speakers left: somewhere between 70 and 200.
Austin says when he was growing up, children spoke nothing but Wit’suwet’in. That changed when he was sent to a Catholic day school.
“We were not allowed to practice our language and not allowed to speak any native language without being disciplined. Now you see our children around the village, all they do is speak English.”
Cuba says hearing this reaffirmed his commitment to learning the verse.
“It became more clear to me, what if I can do this on national television? … I am honoured to be able to do my little bit to help save this language.”
SSHRC has developed these guidelines to ensure that the merit review of Aboriginal research upholds SSHRC’s principles for merit review. These guidelines are intended to supplement the SSHRC Manual for Adjudication Committee Members, but might also be used by applicants, external reviewers and the postsecondary institutions and partnering organizations that support Aboriginal research.
Since the early 2000s, SSHRC has promoted research by and with Aboriginal Peoples, having recognized its potential to increase knowledge and understanding about human thought and behaviour, past and present, and to help create a better future.
The Guidelines for the Merit Review of Aboriginal Research further ensure that Aboriginal research incorporating Aboriginal knowledge systems (including ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies) is recognized as a scholarly contribution and meets SSHRC’s standards of excellence. The guidelines are also designed to encourage that Aboriginal research be conducted with sensitivity, and only after consideration about who conducts the research and why and how it is conducted. The guidelines complement information contained in the second edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS2), and, in particular, Chapter 9: Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada.
These guidelines are relevant for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers who conduct Aboriginal research.
Merit Review Measures in Place
For applications related to Aboriginal research, SSHRC ensures that:
external assessors, either Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, have experience and expertise in Aboriginal research; and
when the volume of applications warrants it, adjudication committees are in part or entirely composed of members having community research experience and expertise in Aboriginal research.
SSHRC may solicit external assessments from experts in fields of inquiry relevant to the applications, to aid the adjudication committee in making its decisions.
Key Concepts for the Merit Review of Aboriginal Research
Indigenous or traditional knowledge, according to Chapter 9 of the TCPS2, “is usually described by Aboriginal Peoples as holistic, involving body, mind, feelings and spirit” (p.108). Indigenous knowledge is rarely acquired through written documents, but, rather, a worldview adopted through living, listening and learning in the ancestral languages and within the contexts of living on the land. Engagement with elders and other knowledge holders is acknowledged as valued and vital to knowledge transmission within the context of Aboriginal Peoples living in place. Both Aboriginal knowledge content and processes of knowledge transmission are, thus, embedded in the performance of living, including storytelling, ceremonies, living on the land, the use of natural resources and medicine plants, arts and crafts, singing and dancing, as well as engagement with the more than human world.
Reciprocity is considered an important value in Aboriginal ways of knowing, in that it emphasizes the mutuality of knowledge giving and receiving. In the context of research, and, more specifically, SSHRC’s evaluation criteria, the emphasis on a co-creation model should result in reciprocity in the form of partnerships and collaborative practices, which can include: identification of research objectives and methods; conduct of the research; ethical research protocols; data analysis and presentation; and transmission of knowledge. It also recognizes that access and benefits are, thus, integrally connected.
Community, in the context of Aboriginal research, can refer to places or land-based communities, as well as thematic communities and communities of practice. Furthermore, community-based, community-initiated and community-driven research can involve varying degrees of community engagement; the research outputs will be negotiated taking into account the interests of relevant Aboriginal community members.
Respect, relevance and contributions are important considerations in the merit review of Aboriginal research. Applications should demonstrate that the proposed research identifies and respects relevant community research protocols and current goals, as well as the contributions to and from the community that are likely to emerge or are in place. A respectful research relationship necessitates a deep level of collaboration and ethical engagement. This may include engaging with existing, distinctive research processes and protocols for conducting ethical research reviews in the community; learning within language and/or traditional knowledge systems; collaboratively rebuilding or revitalizing processes that have been displaced or replaced; and/or codeveloping new processes, based on the community’s expressed interests. Finally, this level of collaboration and engagement may also require additional, targeted consultative or review processes.
The following points are intended to assist committee members when reviewing Aboriginal research proposals.
Committee members evaluating research grant applications should use the following list of considerations in relation to the specific evaluation criteria used in assessing grant proposals (i.e., Challenge, Feasibility and Capability).
Committee members evaluating applications for fellowships and scholarships should use the following list of considerations in their review of proposed programs of study or programs of work, as well as in their general assessment of a candidate’s academic capability. While some of these considerations relate more strongly to aspects of SSHRC’s grants programming, they also offer relevant guidance for the review of proposals for doctoral and postdoctoral support.
1. Challenge—The aim and importance of the endeavour:
Given the emphasis placed on lived experience, both written and oral literature are appropriate forms of knowledge for consideration. Examples of oral literature can include interviews or personal encounters, or traditional teaching with elders.
Theoretical framework and methodology may be combined. For example, in storytelling, the stories represent in some instances both theory and method, a way of explaining phenomena or illustrating how behaviour or actions contribute to living in a good way.
Community involvement and the co-creation of knowledge, as appropriate, are considered essential, especially in data interpretation. In this context, the co-creation of knowledge could include interpretative approaches that are jointly developed, reviewed and confirmed by and with community members or their community-delegated organization.
Where appropriate, priority should be given to Aboriginal students and postdoctoral researchers when training opportunities are offered.
2. Feasibility—The plan to achieve excellence:
The research should address the needs of each partner, if applicable, and demonstrate how the research meets these identified needs.
The application should demonstrate how outputs will be made available to, and potentially used by, Aboriginal Peoples and other stakeholders, with community benefits configured into the research outputs. Examples of outreach may include: websites, videos, presentations, artistic or community exhibits, performances, or festivals.
The availability and nature of organizational or administrative infrastructure varies from community to community. This aspect should be considered in the structuring of the research in ways that acknowledge and maximize the contributions of a community partner organization.
Where required by the funding opportunity, the leveraging of cash and/or in-kind support from host institutions and partners can include social capital, an asset that may emphasize social and familial relationships and networks and may affect the cost of research. Furthermore, linguistic capital, the ability to engage in the community with the ancestral language(s) of the community and a national language of Canada, can also be considered as a contribution.
Expectations about the management and governance of the coproduction and outputs of knowledge and related support, during and beyond the award, should be outlined.
3. Capability—The expertise to succeed:
The career and academic stages, as well as the rates of research and publication contributions, of applicants and team members need to be reviewed with respect to the following considerations:
Aboriginal scholars may have had to start their academic path later in life, or have had interruptions.
For some scholars, there are expectations that they significantly contribute to and engage with their home community.
Applicants’ accountability to their postsecondary community is also important, as demonstrated by Aboriginal scholars providing support that could include providing student support, teacher training, committee work, and cultural sensitivity training to non-Aboriginal scholars; and contributing to the incorporation of Aboriginal knowledge systems, language, culture and experiences into their postsecondary institutions, including through the creation of associated programs.
In the Special Circumstances section, reviewers should take into account the degree of difficulty in an applicant’s career as a useful measure of merit, especially where they have succeeded in overcoming career obstacles.
The relevant experience of Aboriginal scholars should take into account the life/knowledge journey of individuals.
Collaborators who are considered to have a strong role and community connection should be regarded favourably in the review of Aboriginal research. In particular, elders and community-based partners need to be recognized and respected in terms of their contribution of knowledge assets.
Source: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Guidelines for Merit Review of Aboriginal Research Retrieved from: http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/funding-financement/merit_review-evaluation_du_merite/guidelines_research-lignes_directrices_recherche-eng.aspx on August 1, 2016
SAINT LAWRENCE ISLAND, Alaska – In one of the biggest land conveyances in US history, the federal government officially signed the title to Saint Lawrence Island over to its native population.
More than one million acres of land was researched and surveyed by the Bureau of Land Management in preparation for the title transfer. Using GPS mapping and aerial photography, the BLM took three years to complete the process before handing over ownership of the island.
“This is the largest survey we have ever done, and the fourth largest conveyance that the US government has ever done in one fell swoop,” said BLM director Neil Kornze.
Multiple BLM officials from Washington DC, Anchorage and Nome flew into the villages of Gambell and Savoonga on Wednesday for an official document signing ceremony. The conveyance of land finalizes a process the Alaska Natives of St. Lawrence Island have been waiting for since President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA.)
“The descendants of our forefathers would have clapped their hands just like we did with the signing of the patent,” said Gambell village elder Branson Tungiyan.
With the title in hand, the villages of Gambell and Savoonga will share ownership of the sixth biggest island in the US.
Full ownership of the island was a decision made by the village elders decades ago. When ANCSA first passed, villages across Alaska were offered a piece of a near billion dollar settlement to sell large portions of their land to the federal government.
Savoonga and Gambell elders opted out of the payout. Instead they received no money, no opportunity to become part of a larger regional native corporation, but rather received opportunity to own the former St. Lawrence Island Reserve, now giving them 900 miles of coastline, mountains and lakes.
“One of the things [the elders] told us is, ‘as long as you are owners of the island, the island will take care of you,’” said president of Kukulget Corporation Perry Pungowiyi.
“You keep the land instead of the money, because money runs out,” said Tungiyan.
The BLM gave the native population interim conveyance of the land in 1979, only to receive the final title when the government finished its survey of the land. The survey for St. Lawrence Island wasn’t completed until 2016.
“The ANCSA entitlement in total [statewide] was about 44 million acres, and that’s roughly the equivalent size of the State of Washington,” said Erika Reed, Alaska BLM deputy state director of lands, cadastral survey and pipeline monitoring. “That’s about the acreage that we’ve been surveying and conveying over the last 45 years.”
Pungowiyi said, so far there’s no plans for greater development of the island. He said, most important to the village at this point is to preserve the land their ancestors have inhabited for thousands of years.
“This is home. This is where I live. I feel at peace when I’m here. I have no worries other than fish and game,” said Pungowiyi. “Here it still feels like we’re living with our ancestors.”
HONG KONG — President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan offered a formal apology on Monday to aboriginal peoples for centuries of “pain and mistreatment,” and she promised to take concrete steps to rectify a history of injustice.
In a ceremony at the presidential office in Taipei attended by aboriginal community leaders, she said that although Taiwan had made efforts to end discrimination against hundreds of thousands of indigenous people, a formal apology was necessary.
“Unless we deny that we are a country of justice, we must face up to this history,” Ms. Tsai said. “We must tell the truth. And then, most importantly, the government must genuinely reflect on this past.”
Taiwan has 540,000 residents who are members of aboriginal groups, or about 2 percent of the population of 23 million. The Council of Indigenous Peoples officially recognizes 16 groups, with three — the Amis, Atayal andPaiwan — making up 70 percent of the total indigenous population.
Taiwan’s earliest known residents are believed to have come to the island 6,000 years ago or earlier from Southeast Asia and are part of the Austronesian peoples who range from Madagascar to Polynesia. When Han settlers from mainland China began arriving in the 17th century, indigenous peoples, particularly those on Taiwan’s western plains, faced assimilation, loss of land and outright violence.
Today, indigenous groups face high levels of unemployment, low wages and less access to education and other services.
“Another group of people arrived on these shores, and in the course of history, took everything from the first inhabitants who, on the land they have known most intimately, became displaced, foreign, non-mainstream and marginalized,” Ms. Tsai said.
Capen Nganaen, 80, a representative of the Yami, said he was happy to receive the government’s apology.
“Taiwan has had many presidents during its history, but never before has one been willing to offer an apology to the indigenous peoples,” he said during the ceremony.
He spoke of how the Yami had unsuccessfully resisted the use of their homeland, Orchid Island, southeast of Taiwan, as a depository for nuclear waste from power plants on Taiwan. “This is the pain of the people of Orchid Island,” he said.
Mr. Capen said many Yami feared that an accident would render Orchid Island uninhabitable, and he called on Ms. Tsai to address how to remove the waste.
Ms. Tsai became the first female president of Taiwan after winning a landslide victory in January, and her Democratic Progressive Party took control of the legislature for the first time. She campaigned in part on social justice issues, including an investigation into assets acquired by the Kuomintang, the former governing party, during decades of autocratic rule. Last week, the legislature passed a law ordering the return of ill-gotten assets taken by political parties since 1945, the year the Kuomintang took control of Taiwan from Japan, which had ruled the island as a colony from 1895.
During her inauguration in May, Ms. Tsai said her government would take an “apologetic attitude” toward indigenous peoples.
On Monday, Ms. Tsai announced that she would lead a commission to address the injustices faced by indigenous groups and said that she would push through a law outlining their basic rights. She also said the government would provide compensation to the Yami before a decision was made on where to store the nuclear waste deposited on Orchid Island for the past 30 years.
Location: UBC’s Earth Science Building (ESB), Room 2012
Reception before the lecture: ESB Room 4133, 3:30pm
This lecture is open to the public and accessible by a general audience. Prof. Gerda de Vries, from the University of Alberta, is a highly engaging speaker, an internationally recognized mathematician, and a talented quilter.