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Preserving History: Recording Those with Knowledge

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  • #31
    Originally posted by WhoMe
    Have you ever thought, "I wished I had recorded 'so and so' while they were alive, a lot of information went with them in their passing?"

    An important elder dies almost every day, somewhere in Indian Country. Gone with them is vital information on history, families, language, tribes and stories.

    It is vital that we take the time to record the people who are important to us and hold a wealth of information. All that you need is a video or tape recorder, extra tapes, batteries and a place to conduct the interview.

    I have compiled some basic information and questions for making your own home interviews:


    (I.) Preparation

    1. Make sure there is no unwanted noise at your interview site. Turn off all televisions, radios, cell phones and alarms. Take regular phones off the hook. Do a "test check" for volume and play it back to see that it is working properly.

    2. Tell the interviewee if he/she needs to take a break or needs time to recollect information, to let you know and you will accommodate them.

    3. Once you are ready, tell the person you are interviewing to get comfortable and speak as naturally as possible. Also, if there is anything they don't want to answer or not know the answer, that is okay.

    (II.) Beginning the interview

    1. Begin by having the interviewee state his/her full name. Also their Indian name and meaning (if they have one).
    2. Acknowledge anyone else in the room by stating out loud, the names of who is there.
    3. Also state the date, time and location of the interview.

    (III.) Opening questions to ask:

    1. Birth date?
    2. Location of birth?
    3. Parent's names (Include Indian names and meaning if possible)?
    4. Parent's occupations?
    5. Education and information about the schools the interviewee attended. (ie. Locations and Dates)?
    6. Training/work experience in chronological order. (ie. Locations and Dates)?
    7. Military experience (if applicable): Branch, division, highest rank, tour locations, years in active duty, veteran's organization currently a member of and a story of while in active service?
    8. Organizations the interviewee is involved with?
    9. Is there any special title or office's held?

    (IV.) Specific Topics:

    A. Family

    1. Are you related to any former chiefs, religious leaders or other important people of the tribe?
    2. Name all your relatives back as far as you can remember?
    3. Who were your grandparents - starting with fathers parent's, then mother's parents?
    4. What were they like?
    5. Did they speak their language?
    6. How many were in your household, while growing up?
    7. Who were they? Give their names and how they were related?
    8. How many grand children and great grand children do you have now?

    B. History

    6. Does your tribe have a creation story? Where do they believe they came from? (ie. the sky? the earth? the waters?)
    7. Where was your tribe originally from? (ie. state or province)
    8. Where did your family originally settle? (ie. community or land marker)
    9. What tribal band/society/or community are you affiliated with? How did the band/society or community get its name?
    10. What are some of the differences and simularities between the clans/bands/societies in your tribe?
    11. Does your family have a "family song, clan song or individual song?"
    12. When is it supposed to be sung and what does it mean?

    C. Stories

    11. What was your earliest memories as a child?
    12. What are some of the stories of your tribe?
    13. Do these stories transfer easily into English or do they lose their meaning?
    14. Is there a message or lesson in telling these stories?

    D. Language

    15. Who else is alive in the tribe that speaks your language fluently?
    16. How do you pronounce the Indian names of relatives? (ie. father, mother, sister(s), brother(s), aunt(s) and uncle(s) etc.
    17. What are the Indian names of some of the locations that you are aware of? (ie. hills, mountains, rivers, canyons and places where important events took place)
    18. How do you say: a greeting, a word equivalent to good-bye and thank you, good, bad, colors, numbers, animals and foods?

    E. Cultural (*These questions are very sensitive and may or may not apply to your interviewee. Use your better judgement. Normally these questions are for immediate family.)

    19. What ceremonies does your tribe no longer have or practice?
    20. What are the ceremonies still alive today?
    21. What do you feel comfortable about telling about certain ceremonies?

    F. Cultural Specific

    22. Who in the tribe has the right to conduct these ceremonies and who is in charge today?
    23. What takes place in these ceremonies?
    24. What has changed in these ceremonies?
    25. How do you feel about these changes? (if applicable)

    (V.) Wrap up:

    1. Are there any words of advice or a message you would like your decendants hear?
    3. Is there anything you want to add to this recording?
    3. Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

    (VI.) Restate:

    1. Ask the person you are interviewing to restate their full name and Indian name (if applicable).
    2. Re-acknowledge the people still in the room.
    3. Restate the date, time and location of the interview.
    4. Say out loud, "this ends this interview."


    "This is by no means the absolute, only way to conduct an interview. It is only intended to get you started. You can add, delete or change it to fit your needs."


    thats well ma was thinking herself to record couple interviews of our communites elder....but so far we got start though


    • #32
      I have to say

      I have to say when we die we go to the spirit world, so knowledge never dies, if you seek something go to the woods and pray. Or go on a vision quest and ask for what you seek. In time the answers will come to you. You have the power within to communicate with spirits. Things are not lost. believe me.
      "To follow the right path, is one to follow the mistakes he made in life, to learn off them. Learn to understand them..."


      • #33
        I have to say

        I have to say when we die we go to the spirit world, so knowledge never dies, if you seek something go to the woods and pray. Or go on a vision quest and ask for what you seek. In time the answers will come to you. You have the power within to communicate with spirits. Things are not lost. believe me. Words from the elders
        "To follow the right path, is one to follow the mistakes he made in life, to learn off them. Learn to understand them..."


        • #34
          Originally posted by WhoMe


          In answer to your question: For my purposes, I extract targeted information and have a transciptor put verbatum transcript onto hard copy.

          The information on interviewing that I shared is for general use that anybody can use to record interviews.

          I use this same basic format but ask specialized questions to individuals who are considered tribal historians, tribal liaisons or elders with specialized knowledge in individual subjects.

          I hope this answers your question.
          Is there anyway to have this history made availble to all those interested. Being in my forties it's getting kinda late to get this down because most of the Elders I knew all have passed away. So I would need some help.


          • #35

            Thank you so much for such great ideas on interviewing!

            I have been trying to interview family members about their earliest memories with their Grandmother and her stories. Now I can see what i have been neglecting to do in order to make them absolutely comfortable.

            It will be wonderful to finally get these stories!

            Thanks again!


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