Huckleberries, Sweat Lodges and Tin Sheds, and Rock Medicine Wheels and Wagon Wheels

a.k.a. "huckleberrying"

A Methodology of Interpreting and Re-Telling the Stories of Others - Traveling the Many Paths of the Human Experience



Re-telling the stories of Cliff SiJohn's Huckleberrying and Sweat House, and of the Allen Old Horn's Tin Shed

"Huckleberrying" and  the Tin Shed/Wagon Wheel offers a method of interpreting and appreciating the experiences of others.  As a methodology it involves several components and processes, including: story, symbol, teachings/ontology (the "bones"), event, swirling, epistemology and evaluation, engaged coding and interpretation, text construction and voices ("discovery"), and the "spokes" and "hub" of the Wheel.  To help us understand and apply these components and this methodology, consider the metaphor of "landscape," such as the Palouse landscape of eastern Washington and northern Idaho. 

Before we begin traveling the landscape of another people and experiencing something of their lives, we must first address a few critical questions:   

a.  Have we gained permission to travel someone else's landscape and to enter their "home?"  Acknowledged are the cultural property rights of our hosts, rights extending to their experiences and knowledge, experiences and knowledge belonging to them, their "property."   These are experiences to be engaged and appreciated only upon the permission granted our hosts.   ("You see that sweat house, that tin shed?"). 

b.  Are we traveling their landscape and entering their "home" in partnership and collaboration, our host serving as our guide?  It is so easy to "get lost" and to then to misrepresent that which we seek to understand.  ("The elder pours just right; We sat together . . . under the shade of an old cottonwood")

c. What is it that we going to do with that which we gain from what is shared with us?  With the huckleberries we gain, how are we going to "give back" and assist those who have been so generous to us?  ("What are you going to do when its your time to pray?  We sat together . . . under the shade of an old cottonwood"). 

Using the metaphor of "landscape" our methodological components include:

1. "story" is analogous to the particular and defining characteristics and boundaries of a specific landscape - for example, the Palouse encompassing parts of eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

2. "symbol" is analogous to the visual, natural surface features of that landscape, for example, the rich soils of rolling hills and the rock outcroppings along the rivers. 

3. "teachings" and "ontology," encapsulated and preserved in the enduring "bones," are analogous to the underlying climatic and geological processes and events that formed the natural features and gave the landscape its character, such as wind erosion and the Missoula Flood of some 15,000 BP 

4. "event" is the manner by which the landscape it engaged, as momentary points of interaction with its inhabitants

5. "swirling" is the capacity and act of rejuvenating that landscape, of the collective seasonal winds and the bygone Flood re-sweeping the land and its inhabitants, transforming them as originally and perennially conceived and formed.

6. "epistemology" is that which is considered by the adherents and participants of a particular landscape (community) as the means and criteria for what is "known" and potentially "knowable" about the entire landscape.  There is a certain way to come to know the Palouse, as "Palouse."  For our purposes, it is useful to distinguish "Heart" and "Head" ways of knowing a landscape, each of which has it own distinct criteria of being evaluated and legitimized.  ("Feel it . . . feel the damp").

7. "engaged coding and interpretation" is analogous to you and us as "ethnographers" traveling the Palouse landscape, entailing our full engagement with its indigenous participants - being very observant and participatory, and applying the tools of "story," "symbol," and "teachings" to your travels.  This entails your ability to be swaddled in the blanket of our hosts, a blanket suited to our host's environment.  ("Go inside . . . listen")    It also entails seek to engage and view the landscape from the perspective of our hosts, as much as we can through their eyes.   ("See it from the inside looking out").

8. "text construction" entails the re-telling of the interpreted story, e.g., the story of the Palouse, to others.  It entails re-creating a constructed story text in such a manner (re-told, re-written, and/or re-enacted) that it welcomes others into the story as participants, in order that they too can travel Palouse.

9. "traveling the many paths", the distinct landscapes and their varied stories, without "mutual exclusivity."   You can gain the competency to travel the Palouse Prairie, as effectively as you can travel Peaks and Ridges of the Cascade Range of Mountains.   The interplay of the many distinct "spokes" and the universal languages of the "hub" of the Wheel.  (The Wagon Wheel)

As the symbols/natural features of a story/landscape are influenced by their teachings/geological processes, to interpret and acquire a sense of the meaning of a story, focus on the symbols of that story, as they will point the way to the underlying teachings and meaning of the story.  Once discovered, the symbols and teachings are then retold in a constructed text - the Palouse Story.  To do such is to Interpret the stories of others, for others to engage and participate in that story, being "attentive" and "discovering the "bones" embedded in the story.   And in the re-telling the Palouse is rendered meaningful, renewed and perpetuated.

The purpose of our travels, of our re-telling the story of the Palouse landscape, is to assist our host’s community, as well as to educate others not of that landscape, e.g., of taking the shawl off our shoulders to warm someone else in need.  The interpretation seeks the epistemological perspective of the host community, applying its evaluative standards to this knowledge. 

Once competent in traveling the Palouse, other landscapes and stories can also be traveled, without giving up one path for another, without mutual exclusivity.  A Spinning Wheel can travel both a prairie and a mountain, travel into an Indigenous Tin Shed and through the corridors of a science lab.

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1 - STORY (the entire landscape).   We are the stories we tell.   We carry forth our stories into virtually every aspect of our lives, creating our institutions of family, church, school, recreation, art, government, economy, science, technology, work.  From our aesthetic as well as pragmatic views of a sunset on a landscape, to our social as well as spiritual relations with kinsmen, with gods, or with a stone - all are animated, structured and given meaning through the stories we tell.  To appreciate the stories we tell one another to to appreciate who we are.  e.g., a feather.  

From an Indigenous experience and epistemology, this story is ultimately an effervescent, transitory intersection and confluence of those participating, an event always in the making, made up of storyteller/authors, listener/reader participants, and a host of others, potentially including Coyote.

2 - SYMBOL (the surface features).   A story is made up of a clustering of symbols.   

A symbol can be defined as a specific unit of reference that refers to a particular referent. The unit of reference can be an object, a behavior, or a sign.  The referent can consist of a concept, phenomenon or process.  Simply put, a symbol is something that stands for something else.     e.g., what is the meaning of a "rainbow"?

a. Symbols presuppose displacement.    e.g., phonetic pronunciation of word,  rānbō,  refers, in displace/separate time and space, to a particular phenomena.

b. Symbols entail meaning.   e.g., what are some of the meanings of "rainbow"?

c. Symbols can be transmitted in time and through space, i.e., they can be learned and shared.  e.g. how have you come to learn the meaning of "rainbow"?

d. The meaning attached to the symbol is autonomous of and not bound by the unit of reference, i.e., any given symbol can refer to anything. The meaning of a symbol is arbitrary.  e.g., Olmec Figurine

e. Symbols define the parameters of and assign the meaning to the phenomenal world of objects and of images, i.e., that which symbols refer to is brought forth and created.  e.g., what is it that constitutes a "rainbow"?      Spiritual Efficacy of Symbols

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3 - The "Bones"  -  TEACHINGS (mi'yp) and ONTOLOGY (tamálwit) - (the underlying forces; for Indigenous peoples, the mi'yp and ontology are encapsulated in the enduring "bones").   Teachings (what Clifford Geertz calls, a "model for" one's actions or what is called "ethos") significantly contribute to the make-up and disposition of the specific symbols of a story.   Or re-phrased, the symbols of a story are expressive of the underlying teachings and ontology within a story.

Mi'yp (Schitsu'umsh: "teachings from all things")  - Teachings can be defined as learned, relatively enduring, moral conceptualizations, that assist us in making judgments and in preparing us to act.

a. All teachings are learned teachings.  Consider an Indigenous learning style, with its particular experiential, place-bound, heuristic, socially-engaged participatory learning style, with the teachings embedded in the varied oral traditions and the landscape, all waiting "discovery."  ("Go inside . . listen"  "be attentive")  

b. Teachings are relatively enduring (as "bones").  Can be forgotten and remembered.

c. Teachings are not necessarily consciously known or articulated overtly by either the individual or the society.  Sometimes it hard to get down to the bones!

d. Teachings enshrine and impart critical societal values and concepts, ranging from the perennial archetypes and the morally desirable, to the pragmatically efficient and utilitarian knowledge.  Teachings are the road maps that help guide our choices in life. 

Tamálwit (Nimíipuu: "the law, constitution") and Hnkhwelkhwlnet (Schitsu'umsh: "our ways of life in the world") -  Ontology can be defined as the guiding principles of being and existence, the totality and essence of reality.  Ontological principles are the basis upon which reality is structured and experiences.  In this course we are juxtaposing scientific knowledge predicated on Aristotelian material reductionism and René Descartes’ Cartesian dualism, among other ontological principles, an observable reality of discrete objects in motion, alongside Indigenous knowledge premised on spiritually animation and monism, among other ontological principles, reality as the transitory intersection of those participating, an event of interrelationships.  

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4 -  There are two particularly distinguishing attributes of the resulting Indigenous landscape, i.e., a.  it is a landscape not so much made up of static objects fixed in time and space, as it is of unfolding events (event) and b.  ongoing transformations ("swirling").   

EVENT is the prominent Indigenous mode through which reality is experienced.  It is experienced as a transitory intersection of those participating, as an unfolding occurrence, an event inclusive of human, animal, plant, Spirit and Ancestor, anchored to place-based oral traditions.  What is real is thus made up of these ongoing momentary points of confluence.   It is an experiential reality predicated on certain ontological principles of spiritual animation and monism; there is no spatial and temporal dualism.

As a transitory intersection of those participating, you need to acknowledge and take responsibility and then to "announce" our own "name," what you bring to the intersection, what you contribute to the co-creation of the event.  You need to do a little reflexivity, a little baaéechichiwaau.

5 - SWIRLING.  Given the ontological principles of spiritual animation (Schitsu'umsh phrase snq-hepi-wes "where the spirit lives, from horizon to horizon") and monism (Schitsu'umsh term chnis-teem-ilqwes - "I am part of all"), when the symbols of an oral tradition are aligned with their "bones," in the act of re-telling the stories, re-singing the songs, re-dancing the dances, re-enacting the rituals of the oral traditions, a hierophany can occur, a “shining through of the sacred,” of the meaning and animation of the spiritual.   You can “swirl around with Coyote, as Coyote talks to you.” The world and its inhabitants are made meaningful and rendered spiritually endowed with life-force - the continual re-making of the world.   Reconsider a swirling with a "rainbow"?

6 - EPISTEMOLOGY is a theory on the nature of knowledge, of what is considered by the adherents and participants of a particular community as "known" and potentially "knowable" about their entire landscape.  Knowledge can be inclusive of ontological principles, utilitarian skills, as well as aesthetic and spiritual capacities.   In this course two fundamentally distinct types of epistemology are considered, Head (equated with scientific, with its Aristotelian materialism and Cartesian dualism) and Heart (equated with Indigenous, with its spiritual animation and monism) Knowledge.   Consider the dynamics and components of a "Rainbow" as illustrative of Heart Knowledge.   ("Feel it . . . feel the damp"). 

As established by a community of adherent members (e.g., scientific or Schitsu’umsh), what is knowable can be accessed through any variety of means, from empirical to intuitive, from experiential to cognitive, from rational to imaginative.   A community's "Story"

And knowledge can be legitimized and EVALUATED through a given criterion or multiple criteria.

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7CODING and INTERPRETATION.  As an ethnographer, we seek to engage and travel this landscape, with permission from its inhabitants, applying appropriate sampling, interviewing and participation skills, e.g., donning an appropriate attire and regalia suited to this environment.  From our ethnographic travel experiences and discoveries, we attempt to “code and interpret” the key symbols and underlying teachings and ontology of that landscape into a constructed text, e.g., effectively dance in the style of the regalia now worn.  

Our goal is to interpret the teachings from the perspective of the other, and avoid the indiscriminate imposition of your own perspective on that which is "the other," to avoid being biased and ethnocentric.  ("See it from the inside looking out").

In seeking an appreciate of the perspective of the other, attempt to understand how the teachings were meaningful as originally constructed, i.e., seek the "cannons of construction," as well as how, though time and circumstances, subsequent interpretations, embellishments, and additions may have been layered onto the original teachings.  Rendering these distinctions is particularly insightful when attempting to interpret teachings "closer to home," those associated with one's own cultural heritage.

In addition, seek to appreciate the multiple and varied meanings associated with a given teaching, as that teaching attempts to address critical issues relating to aesthetic, economic, historical, religious, philosophical, political, psychological, and/or social sensibilities, dilemmas, and/or challenges.  

What can be some of the benefits in seeking to appreciate the world as seen through the eyes of someone else?

While focusing on symbols and teachings embedded in a "story text," but also consider the "texture" and the "context" of the  story text itself, as well as what you bring to the entire process. 

a. The text refers to the symbolic meanings of the actual text, e.g., what is being said, what are the world view themes or moral lessons of the story, what is referred to by the key symbols?

Texts include oral and written narratives, as well as song traditions, visual arts, clothing worn, and architectural structures.  Texts also include ceremonial expressions, such as rites of passage, pilgrimages (Big Horns), and world renewal ceremonies, e.g., Crow Indian Sundance or Islamic Hajj to Mecca.  Table manners are certainly a text.  And story texts can also include the scientific theory of evolution.

Look for dominant units of reference, such as repetitions, e.g., "act, renouncing the fruits of your action" in the Bhagavad Gita, and paired contrasts - binary opposites, e.g., good and evil, one rendered meaningful in juxtaposition to other. 

Identity your key symbols and teachings into a coding system; build a coding list.  As you apply the coding labels to additional related story texts for interpretation, be willing to modify your labels to better reveal the meaning of the texts.   Triangulate one story with the next, with other sources.

b.  The texture refers to how the text is being presented, e.g., what is the style of the writing or the techniques of the telling, what are the interactions with the readers or the listeners, what are the linguistic components and structures?

Consider the distinction between orality and literacy in expressing a text. 

c.  The context refers to when and where the text is being presented, e.g., to whom, when, where, in what social situation and for what cultural purpose is the story directed?  What is the historical background of the story text?  In considering the context of a given text pay attention to how that text is embedded within a larger aesthetic, economic, geographic, historical, religious, philosophical, political, psychological, and/or social association of influences.

Consider the Confluence of Rivers, understanding the mix of rivers - Euro-American contact history and the Animal Peoples.

d.  In the interpretative process, can and should be be a neutral, objective observer?   Consider your own reflexivity - what you bring to the interpretative process.  You are not a passive observer.   e.g., Tepoztlan: Robert Redfield 1920s and Oscar Lewis 1950s,   and e.g., the Nuer: E. E. Evans-Pritchard 1930s and 1950s.    You need to acknowledge and announce your "name." 

Acknowledge and use your own experiences and perspectives, your own reflexivity, your own "name."   But don't let it blind you, or cloud your vision. 

Ironically, a great way to clarify your own is in the juxtaposing of your own veiled self along side the contours of the "other,"  i.e., the process of doing a little "tin shedding"

e.  Traveling the Tin Shed is done with great effort, and best done as a social activity - dialogue with othersBounce your ideas off others, work collaboratively.

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8 - TEXT CONSTRUCTION.   Re-telling the stories, with their symbols and teachings, so others can engage and travel them.  Given the unequivocal relationship between what we seek to convey and how we convey it, i.e., the ends and the means, if our goal to to retell the stories of others, we had better pay attention to how we do so, in our writing and in our teaching.  Implications for writing your papers and learning in the classroom.

a. Orality and Literacy.  Implications of storytelling techniques, physiological experiences, language and power of words, and that of literacy.  As Coyote swirls with you - storyteller, listeners and story characters each engaging and traveling with each other, discovering what a waits within the story. 

b. Text Construction.  As an effervescent, transitory intersection of those participating, 1. the constructed text is the confluence for many "voices," those of the source community, such as elders, spirit peoples, etc., along with your voice, as the storyteller/author, using your own style to retell the story and acknowledging your "name," welcoming perfect strangers to engage and travel the story.    2. The constructed text is as a "bridge," at one end, firmly anchored to the teachings of others, discovered through interpretation, and at the other welcoming the participation of strangers, that end lined with "signposts" to better guide them over the bridge into the Tin Shed of others.   The constructed text is thus as a "translated map," not the reality itself, given the addition of your "name" and "signposts," but one that can guide participation in the transitory intersection of those participating in the Tin Shed stories.      Also implications for Participatory Projects and other Learning Activities.

c. Classroom Pedagogy - Indigenizing the Curriculum.   Re-telling the stories of others also extends to how we teach and learn in the classroom, to instructional pedagogy.  As students, swaddled in the cradleboard blankets of our hosts, we seek to heuristically discovery the mi'yp, anchored to the "bones," all of which are embedded in the varied layers and experiences of the course.            

Examples of re-told constructed story texts, 1. Burnt Face  and 2. Genesis, and their possible coded interpretations, 1. Burnt Face and 2. Genesis  or  3. Four Smokes

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Re-telling the stories of the Healing Journeys, and of the Tom Yellowtail's Wagon Wheel   -   Addressing the "Mutually Exclusive"

9  -  WHEEL OF SPOKES AND A HUB.  If we come to appreciate and travel a particular landscape and its epistemology with competency, but whose ontological principles might be diametrically opposed to another landscape, whose "bones" might be "mutually exclusive" of each other, do we have to make a choice of which we can travel?  (The Wagon Wheel)

Consider the metaphor of Tom Yellowtail's Medicine Wheel-Wagon Wheel.  As applied to our methodology, the "spokes" are analogous of any number of ways of representing collective diversity and individual uniqueness, that which is differentiated and distinguished.  The "hub" is analogous of any number of ways of representing what is shared in common, the universal, the ubiquitous, such as a “language” that transcends differences, and can be comprehended and spoken with some degree of universality. The interplay of spokes and hub can accommodate traveling over the many distinct paths, addressing the mutually exclusive in our lives, both personally as well as publically and professionally.  The rock formations along the Clearwater River can be understood as having come about by the actions of both geology and Coyote.  We can travel both scientific and Indigenous landscapes without conflict.  

Consider the Schitsu'umsh snukwnkhwtskhwts’mi’ls ł stsee’nidmsh “empathetic adaptability.”


Bottom line . . . Have Some Fun!


return to ISEM 101, ANTH 220, ANTH 422 schedules

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