In July the Pokagon Band welcomed Wen Peihong, a Chinese scholar currently completing a translation of Simon Pokagon’s 1899 novel Queen of the Woods into Mandarin Chinese. Wen learned more about the people and culture while meeting with the tribal archivist, interviewing Pokagon tradition bearers, and observing a language class.A professor at China’s Southwest University for Nationalities, Wen researches indigenous and ethnic minorities and their cultural preservation and revival efforts.
Dr. John Low, a Pokagon Band citizen and professor at Ohio State University, met Wen at an international conference on ethnic minority languages and invited her to his Potawatomi community.
Wen spent the last year visiting and studying in the U.S. and meeting with other native communities. Translating Queen of the Woods is complicated, as each Chinese symbol represents syllables in English words. Wen and her colleague, Aku WuWu, a poet who writes in the Yi language, are very interested in preservation and promotion of Yi, and in Native Americans as an ethic minority. WuWu is the author of Coyote Traces, a book Wen helped translate about the Yi and the indigenous people of American and the interconnections between cultures and languages.
It was my honor to co-curate with Marcus Boroughs an exhibit presenting the aesthetic beauty of tapa/ngatu weavings with block printed art reflecting iconic imagery of Oceania. It is quickly obvious that these artistic creations take a community to construct. A sense of connection, tradition, and pride fills the LeFevre Gallery at the Newark campus. The exhibit is free and open to the public until May 1, 2018.
“The Art of Ngatu: Tradition, Innovation and Community in Polynesia” comprises original artwork, traditional tapa (beaten bark cloth), photography, film, and ephemera. Exhibition content focuses on artists Dame Robin White (New Zealand) and Ruha Fifita (Tonga), their process and practice in Polynesia. Collaborating with communities of indigenous women, the artists use traditional methods to produce tapa while also incorporating innovation and contemporary narratives related to the history of Polynesian communities.” (From the prospectus.)
At the conference I gave a presentation Simon Pokagon – Pokagon Potawatomi: Storyteller & Writer which was very well received. There are 58 ethnic minorities in China and they struggle with many of the same issues (language and cultural preservation, etc.) as my own tribal nation. My hosts at the conference were wonderful and very kind. It was my first trip to China and I look forward to returning in the future. The opportunities for collaboration and alliance with other indigenous people on a global level is inspiring.
The International Symposium on World Minority Literature was held on the campus of Southwest University for Nationalities (西南民族大学; SWUN), Oct. 29, 2016 in Chengdu, Sichuan. The sponsoring units were Southwest University for Nationalities and the China Ethnic Literature Society (中国少数民族文学学会). Over 40 speakers delivered papers under the headings of Oral Tradition and World Ethnic Minority Literature, Multiple Narratives and World Ethnic Minority Literature, Cross-ethnic Interaction and World Ethnic Minority Literature, and General Topics.
The chair of the meeting was Prof. Luo Qingchun (aka Aku Wuwu), dean of the Yi College at SWUN. Speakers included Prof. Wang Feng, Vice-chair of China Ethnic Literature Society, Prof. Xu Xinjian of Sichuan University, Ai Lian, Director of Sichuan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences and Secretary General of the association of Literary Critics, Native American scholar John N. Low of The Ohio State University, and others. ~ Mark Bender (The Ohio State University)