'Speaking of practice': knowledge, fear, and music in an Ojibwa community
Cora Bender (University of Siegen)
Paper short abstract:
In many American Indian communities, cultural practice is seen as precarious good, situated in a context of ongoing struggle for cultural survival. However, music provides a topic of conversation and meaning-making that most native people feel at home with and readily share their knowledge about.
Paper long abstract:
One key methodological problem the media anthropologist may have to deal with in the field is the fact that the people whose practices s/he wishes to explore do not necessarily consider them a source of knowledge worthwhile reflecting, least of all in the context of an ethnographic conversation. This seems especially so with American Indian communities. Here, all cultural practice is situated in a historical context of indigenous disposession, forced de-tribalization and ongoing struggle for cultural survival. Taking into account the plethora of political conflicts over boundaries and land rights, it seems no surprise that in some reservation communities indigenous culture can be seen as a scarce and precarious good, the interpretation of which is thought best left to tribal educational experts and academics. Thus, many middle-aged, socially active tribal members feel they are not sufficiently knowledgeable to speak about what they call "my culture". However, music as the most popular form of art and entertainment on reservations provides an important topic of everyday conversation and meaning-making that most feel at home with and readily share their knowledge about. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews with volunteers working for a tribal radio station in Wisconsin, this paper is aimed at exploring some contemporary American Indian music practices and their meaning for a revision of the concept of taste as a function of social distinction. In contrast to other media practices such as reading or computer-related activities, music practices are shown to create diversity and conflict as well as inclusiveness, and articulate individual memory with the collective history of the marginalized aboriginal population.