Barre Toelken and Academics

Barre Toelken, an American folklorist at Utah State University, has done lengthy research on American and Native American folklore. His academic publishing and research in this field is widely recognized and accomplished. What many do not know is that Barre is also an old family friend of the Yellowman family who have helped him develop his approaches to folklore and the Navajo worldview. Some of Barre’s own life story can be found here.

In this documentary, he talks about his experience and first interactions with the Navajo in Northern Utah. He speaks of his early prospecting days before he become a scholar in which he became lost only to be found by a Navajo family who took him in. This early relationship developed closely with the family over decades demonstrates a different and holistic human approach to how and why academics should be culturally sensitive and adaptable to the needs and requests of the indigenous communities collaborating with scholars. This is also recognized among his peers and colleagues as written in this blog.

His books and works are numerous but among the most notable are:

Some of his writing and publications can be found online as well:

“Beauty Behind Me, Beauty Before Me”

“The Yellowman Tapes, 1966-1997”

“The Heritage Arts Imperative”

Barre is an example of someone who is not native or Navajo but did his best to work and collaborate on equal grounds with the Navajo families and communities he connected with. He has made a great contribution to our story by being a part of it: witnessing the outsiders coming in and exploiting the land for mining and oil, testifying to the removal of the Yellowmans from their homes and having firsthand knowledge of their relative Little Wagon, who was first asked to concede those lands. In addition, he was pressured by folklorists, historians, institutions, and archivists to keep the culturally sensitive data of his Navajo folklore research and ultimately decided to give them back to the family it belongs to. His approach is something that all scholars, academics, and researchers can learn from.

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