Philosophy professor, Native American elder collaborate on two books

A collaboration between philosophy professor Greg Fields and an elder of a Native American tribe “brought together the best of both worlds” – native traditional knowledge and resources from professional scholarship – to create books about the native culture.

Photo courtesy of Greg Fields

Fields has worked with Pauline Hillaire, an elder of the Lummi Coast Salish tribe of Washington State, on two books, the first of which will be published this month. “Rights Remembered: A Salish Grandmother Speaks on American Indian History and the Future” and “A Totem Pole History: The Work of Lummie Carver Joe Hillaire,” relate to the history and culture of that tribe.

Each contains a “media companion,” according to Fields, which gives “readers a fuller experience of the oral tradition to hear from these culture bearers directly.” Pauline and Joseph Hillaire are “immediate descendants” of those who endured changes in Native American life after the reservations were instituted.

“This family is very knowledgeable about their cultural traditions,” Fields said, “but also they have an interest in sharing what can be shared from these traditions with humanity at large for the sake of cultural preservation, for the sake of enriching our common humanity with the knowledge and the art of their ancestral traditions.”

Fields and Hillaire had a “common vision” of the concept that the Native American traditions “are only for their native community” and “not to be shared – but not in a fully extreme way,” according to Fields. He said they recognized that “human global knowledge” can be disadvantaged by excluding certain traditions from indigenous cultures, “which are often overlooked in large degree because they are not based on text.”

“Rights Remembered” discusses, from a Native American perspective, what happened when “Euro-Americans” came to North America, how Indian lives were effected “and how life has continued through the 20th century into the present day as a result of those events.”

“A Totem Pole History” is about intercultural relations, according to Fields, and how Joe Hillaire used art “as a way of negotiating cultural differences” during a time when Native Americans were heavily discriminated against.

“[There was] a lot of difficulty in Indian policy, in terms of Indian people receiving justice with the U.S. government and art was a way to make a connection with U.S. citizens who were not Indian to make a connection with non-Indian leader and policy makers,” Fields said.

This book, according to Fields, shows how “ancient narratives that are told on the canvas, so to speak of a totem pole, are carried forward from ancestral times.” It also shows how the narratives “have developed in consequence of native and non-native interactions.”

“The book ‘A Totem Pole History’ has the purpose for the author Pauline of inspiring native artists and encouraging young, native people in particular, to take up the ancestral arts,” Fields said.

Fields said the carvings are “histories, stories, genealogies [and] spiritual teachings that are very important for the well being of native people communities.”

Pauline Hillaire is a 2013 recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship, awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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