Melissa K. Nelson—Anne Ray Resident Scholar

“The Eco-cultural Revitalization of the Southern Paiute Salt Song Trail”

Melissa K. NelsonMelissa K. Nelson2010–2011 Anne Ray Resident ScholarMelissa K. Nelson2010–2011 Anne Ray Resident Scholar

As the director of the Cultural Conservancy, Nelson has collaborated for more than a decade with the Salt Song Trail Project founded by Vivienne Jake (Kaibab Paiute) and Matthew Leivas, Sr. (Chemehuevi). They have produced digital audio recordings, award-winning films, media trainings, a cultural map, oral histories, and numerous articles and essays about the Salt Songs, an ancient cycle of approximately 142 songs that describe the thousand-mile journey along the Salt Song Trail, a path that wends through California, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada where the thirteen bands of the Southern Paiute people live. “It’s time to take a step back and reflect a bit more on the richness, diversity, and range of things we’ve already done,” Nelson said. “I want to contextualize the Salt Song Trail Project research within a larger body of scholarly work on the Southern Paiute done by scholars such as Edward Spicer, Isabel Kelly, Richard Stoffle, Catherine Fowler, and Carobeth Laird, but most importantly, focus on the tribal scholars themselves, the Salt Song singers’ narrations.” In her book, Nelson is developing her perspective that the Salt Song Trail Project is a modern tribal revitalization movement, in which Indigenous peoples not only return from the brink of genocide and extinction, but also bring their culture back to life in new and unexpected ways.

From the Interview...

“I wanted to focus more on contemporary tribal revitalization based in their own terms, in their own world views, with their own languages, so that’s why I focused on oral histories and methodology and multimedia. Even though we’re using modern technology, we’re hearing the oral tradition: their voices, their songs, their stories. We’re seeing their facial expressions, so that elders are able to speak from their own authority, no one is speaking for them or interpreting them or even translating them. So my focus has been to get back to the original stories and voices of contemporary Native people, redefining revitalization on their own terms.”

Quote from the Conversation with Kiel, Nelson, & Bessire...

“Eco-cultural or bio-cultural is the understanding that biological and cultural systems are actually intimately entwined, and it’s a fallacy to think you can understand one without the other.”—Melissa K. Nelson“‘Catch and release’ ethnography is a way to be of service to Indigenous communities for their own political agency, to express themselves without us actually retaining a copy of what is recorded—or retaining a copy only with their permission and instruction on how to use it. And that disrupts the normal power relationships between researcher and researched, so that the researched actually becomes more of the authority in producing their own knowledge and how it’s framed in publications, films, and other venues.”

Find out more about Melissa K. Nelson by visiting the SAR website (opens in new browser window).

Follow us: