Rhetoric in Renaming Power

Duarte and Belarde-Lewis’ article, “Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies,” reminded me of the previous article by Caswell titled, “Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the Fight Against Symbolic Annihilation” as they both seemed concerned with providing a demographic with the difficulties in accessing their own history.  With both articles in mind, we see a connection among our discussions of history, symbolic annihilation, metadata, and the rhetoric behind all of these topics.  Duarte and Belarde-Lewis’ struggles are the culmination of these topic as they grapple with how to create an information system for Native Americans that can be accessible to them, especially considering the current misclassification of virtually all their history due to colonialism:

Being aware of the context of names and the colonial practice of renaming helps us understand the frustration Indigenous peoples experience when attempting to research Indigenous histories through Western-oriented classification and cataloging systems. (685)

Therefore, the question is how to fight against this misnaming caused by lingering colonialism?  Duarte and Beladre-Lewis offer insight into how this can be accomplished, requiring effort from both non-indigenous and indigenous people.  They both cite examples of Native American effort to accumulate their cultural histories.  However, the efforts continuously leave questions as to how we can eradicate misclassification, and they all pertain to rhetoric and who has control to dictate said rhetoric.

This article articulates that this must be a conjoined and collaborative effort and I agree, but I do not believe that complete and equal collaboration is possible.  As stated by these two authors, “[t]he practice of cataloging and classifying is satisfying; there are approved tools, standards, techniques, languages, instructors, policies, and institutions to support the practice,” however, “it is precisely all of this structure that makes imagining alternative Indigenous approaches so elusive and frustrating, and as some have said, inconvenient” (681).  Because of the standards that are in place, classification for indigenous artifacts and histories complicate the collaboration that Duarte and Belarde-Lewis seek.  What happens if the Native American interlocutors do not agree with the standards? What happens if they wish to create a new standard?  If this history is successfully classified correctly, then who now gains access to the information?  Similar questions pop up after reading Caswell’s article on the concept of local history and creating databases for local histories and under-represented peoples.  Such delicate situations of rhetoric always steer back to the question of power and who has control over what.  Therefore, it seems to me that rhetoric is so powerful in such issues that it is impossible NOT to have someone in control over what information is displayed and how it is presented.

About Carla Aviles-Jimenez

Writing and Learning Center
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1 Response to Rhetoric in Renaming Power

  1. Nicole Martin says:

    Hi, Carla!

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I, too, was fascinated by the power of naming brought up by Duarte and Belarde-Lewis in regards to indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems.

    It’s interesting to me that in your concluding sentence you argue that in organizing information it is impossible to avoid the centralization of this power in an individual. In my opinion, both this week’s authors and Caswell seem to suggest an alternative to the authoritarian control which you describe–decentralization of organizational power among group members. For example, Caswell noted that the contents and metadata, such as the object descriptions, of the SAADA database are both generated by the community, putting the power to assign significance to objects into the hands of the people who have interacted with them rather than in those of a researcher. This model of communal archiving is echoed by Duarte and Belarde-Lewis’ example of the indigenous communities who have taken to Facebook as a method of creating their own group-constructed database. Given these examples, I find that I have to disagree with your final statement. I believe that if the power of naming is given to the peoples whose identities are being rhetorically constructed, and if this power is further decentralized within these groups, a much more democratic manner of presenting information can be achieved.

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