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The Legend of Elvel: Technology, Decolonization, and the Powerful Trails of an Itelmen-language story

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Title:The Legend of Elvel: Technology, Decolonization, and the Powerful Trails of an Itelmen-language story
Authors:Degai, Tatiana
Thom, Brian
Contributors:Degai, Tatiana (speaker)
Thom, Brian (speaker)
Date Issued:04 Mar 2017
Description:Western coast of the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia is home for a small population of Itelmen peoples, an aboriginal group of about 3000 traditional fishermen who today reside in various parts of the globe. Itelmen language is considered severely endangered with only 5 fluent speakers remaining and a handful of middle-aged generation who grew up hearing conversations in Itelmen. Our paper presents the power of legend to help Itelmen people recover after the years of the assimilation policies of Tsarist and Soviet Russia. Here, storytelling has been a core component of the resurgence of Itelmen language and culture. Our research presents how drawing on innovative, accessible digital technologies, such stories can be a fundamental component of healing and revival of indigenous language in the contemporary world. One story in particular has inspired our research and community practice. The Itelmen legend about the Elvel Mountain tells about the creation of important geographical locales in the region. The story has been documented numerous times, including a remarkable, lengthy version in the Itelemen language shared by an elder in 1970s and since translated into Russian and English. Through the re-telling, translation and performance of this story, Itelmen peoples assert their distinctive connections to their ancestral landscape, shaping their vision of a future profoundly connected to their senses of the places and ancestral figures in the story. This research is a result of the joint initiative of the University of Victoria, Canada and the Community House of Kovran, Russia, aimed at following the trails of the Elvel legend in the contemporary lives of Itelmen people. We draw on Google Earth-based technologies to create spectacular, immersive maps of traditional stories, to develop an educational movie about Elvel dubbed by the native speakers of Itelmen and representatives of the community. Our collaborative, community-based research project has raised important questions that connect place-based story-telling, technology, and language revitalization. How can Itelmen peoples continue using classic tellings of a legend for further development of Itelmen language? In what ways can innovative technologies be mobilized to help engage Itelmen peoples with their language and sense of place? In particular how can the widely available software like Google Earth be utilized in novel ways for language revitalization purposes? Through the re-telling of legends shared by the previous generation of master story-tellers, how community be newly engaged in honoring and respecting their traditional lands as economies and livelihoods are decolonized?
Appears in Collections: 5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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