Professor Greg Fields: Indigenous Cultures, Languages, and Thought of the Pacific Northwest
Gregory Fields, Professor of Philosophy and faculty member in Native American Studies, holds SIUE‘s Hoppe Research Professorship (2013/14 & 2014/15). Professor Fields specializes in the recovery, preservation, and investigation of systems of knowledge and culture of native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Fields is publishing, with the University of Nebraska Press, a set of three books collaboratively authored with noted culture-bearers of the Pacific Northwest. He has been making audio and video recordings for two decades. Each of the three books, which represent the works and voices of three generations of Salish tradition-bearers, includes a media companion (DVDs and audio CDs). This multimedia format provides a presentation style that is more comprehensive and culturally appropriate to an oral tradition than text would be by itself. Fields observes that the destruction of native languages, knowledge-systems, and practices was a main weapon of colonialism, and of government policies that aimed to undercut native cultural identity, cohesion, and vitality. Loss of languages, knowledge-traditions, and cultural practices results in loss of knowledge and cultural vitality, not only for particular cultures, but also for the totality of humanity. As a comparative philosopher and an interdisciplinary scholar, Fields observes that indigenous traditions of natural and human history, oral literature, philosophy, religion, and healing remain underestimated in academic discourse, owing, in large degree, to indigenous traditions’ non-textual means of knowledge transmission. Non-native scholars and institutions (well-meaning and not) have misappropriated native peoples’ property (tangible and intangible), and have produced scholarship, museum exhibits, and curricula that distort and dilute native traditions. When native and non-native specialists successfully cooperate, resources can be maximized to produce high-quality, non-exploitative works representative of native views and voices. The first of Fields’ three current book projects, a collaboration with Lummi elder Pauline Hillaire – Scalla: Of the Killer Whale, b. 1929), is entitled a A Totem Pole History (University of Nebraska Press, 2013). Ms. Hillaire is the 2013 recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Bess Lomax Hawes Nnational Heritage Fellowship. The book concerns the work of Hillaire’s father, Joseph Hillaire, a noted Salish artist, orator, Indian rights leader, and intercultural diplomat. Prof. Fields’ current research is directed toward the completion of two books and ancillary media materials. Rights Remembered: A Salish Grandmother Speaks on American Indian History and the Future, is a book that Pauline Hillaire researched for four decades before she and Prof. Fields began working together, in 2008, to complete it for publication. Rights Remembered explores Indian history in coastal Washington State in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from a unique perspective grounded in native experience and oral tradition, along with primary source documents of the U.S. government. Additional to the book there will be a DVD and two audio CDs, featuring the only known recordings of some Lummi songs (including the virtually extinct Lummi language). In the spirit of IRIS’ stated goal to foster undergraduate and graduate student involvement and investment in faculty research, Professor Fields has been training and working with Jordan Blackhurst, a graduate student in Organizational Psychology and Research at SIUE. She is assisting him with the digital aspects of his newest book project. The book Sacred Breath: Pacific Northwest Oral Literature and Medicine Teachings, is written in collaboration with Johnny Moses, a Nuu-chah-nulth and Tulalip Coastal Salish tradition-bearer with whom Fields has worked for 20 years. Moses is an ancestrally trained singer and storyteller, as well as a skillful teller of epics, an ancient performance art rarely heard in the contemporary world. Moses is a 2012 recipient of the Washington Governor’s Heritage Award, the state’s highest honor for contributions to cultural heritage and its preservation. Sacred Breath examines the medicine society (spiritual tradition) of Moses and his family, contextualized by interpretive commentary by Moses and Fields. The book will include a set of CDs and DVDs that correspond with the book’s sections on cultural life and music, oral history and philosophy, oral literature and epic, and i.e., medicine teachings, i.e., spiritual beliefs and practices. Publication is part of Prof. Fields’ larger goal to advance a comprehensive infrastructure (eventually a digital archive) to provide, in perpetuity, secure preservation and access for selected textual and multimedia sources in Northwest Coast culture and thought. Establishing an accessible comprehensive archive addresses the urgent need for native and non-native specialists to cooperate in the preservation of ancestral languages and knowledge-systems. Making the archive accessible to all (including, and especially, those outside of academia) fulfills Fields’ belief in the right of all peoples to have full access to their cultural heritage, for the sake of wholeness, happiness, hope, and honor. Gregory Fields spent his Fall 2012 sabbatical leave at Indiana University, where he was appointed a Research Associate of the Department of Anthropology and of the American Indian Studies Research Institute. He was in residence at Indiana University also in the summer of 2013, when he received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Fields continues his work, utilizing SIUE’s IRIS Lab (Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship), helping to preserve at least some records of ancestral traditions, by means contemporary technologies: technologies that the last native fluent of of the Puget Salish language, Dr. Vi Hilbert (Upper Skagit, 1918-2008), referred to as “the new canoe”: a vehicle that can help carry ancestral languages and knowledge to future generations.