The Peoples of the World Foundation

Education for and about Indigenous Peoples

Op-Ed November, 2017: Delight of Discovery
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

I've always experienced delight from discovery. For me it comes mainly from traveling. My travels last month found me in western Mongolia, where I'd spent a month living among various Kazakh communities. There I accompanied two eagle hunters on a hunt in the Altai Mountains. Being only the onset of winter, and therefore the beginning of the hunting season, I wasn't expecting a successful hunt. But their eagles did catch a fox and I was delighted to be able to witness it.

Hunting with eagles has been a part of Kazakh culture for centuries. Not surprisingly there are stories, even legends that they tell about celebrated eagles, hunters and hunts. It is the same for the Kazakh people in Mongolia. Many of these stories are now lost since they were handed down through oral history only. As a part of preserving Kazakh culture perhaps the time has come for some of these eagle hunters to begin writing these stories.

The Indigenous Literary Studies Association is a Canadian organization that promotes and supports indigenous literature of this kind. Last month it announced the inaugural "Indigenous Voices Awards" to go one step further and actually recognize and reward emerging indigenous writers. (Any emerging Kazakh writer hoping to enter would have to be a Canadian resident, unfortunately.) The awards were conceived by lawyer Robin Parker who called the idea an "antidote to rising intolerance."

That same rising intolerance showed itself last month in Australia. There Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning indigenous Mununjali writer. She played no part in the decision to include this question in reference to one of her poems, Mango, in a high school exam: "Explain how the poet conveys the delight of discovery." Apparently, a few of the students taking the exam were frustrated at not being able to explain such delight and later took to social media to lash out at the writer herself in a tirade of abuse and insult. In a separate event there (and just a few days ago) the government rejected a proposal made back in May to establish a parliamentary advisory body to represent indigenous Australians.

The fox on this occasion was awarded to the spotter. He made short work of skinning it as his daughter watched intensely. Barely yet walking she experienced in just a few minutes the delight of discovery that some young Australian adults still cannot relate to. Nor do they know what kind of behavior is inappropriate. Some commentators have speculated whether this would have happened had van Neerven been male or non-indigenous. My own speculation is somewhat different: Would this have happened if the Australian education system taught respect?

The Peoples of the World Foundation is a non-profit organization registered in the United States under Internal Revenue Service code 501(c)(3).

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