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A New Project on Indigenous Studies Scholars

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Lenape, the traditional caretakers of the land on which Ithaka S+R is located. Today, Manhattan (from the Lenape word Manahatta) is still the home to many Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island and beyond. I am grateful for the opportunity to work for Ithaka S+R on this land.[1]

Here at Ithaka S+R, we have developed a certain kind of expertise in scholars’ information activities, both through our triennial U.S. faculty survey and through our in-depth studies on research activities of scholars by their disciplines. This work has been the basis for exploring new models for supporting scholars in their work, such as through the issue brief Roger Schonfeld and I recently published on re-thinking liaison librarianship models in the humanities. However, Ithaka S+R’s work, like most work in the mainstream library world, has only attended to how academic practices converge and diverge according to Western perspectives of knowledge creation, thereby perpetuating hegemonic Western library practices. The historical and ongoing patterns of colonial injustice endemic to Indigenous-settler relations, both within the academy and more widely, cannot be contested without recognizing these patterns and seeking redress.

Indigenous Studies scholars utilize methodologies that are unique to and often challenge dominant Western conceptualizations of what constitutes knowledge and research, which necessitates library services and tools that diverge from Western models of research support, including those provided by libraries, archives, museums and special collections.[2] In recognition of this, Ithaka S+R is now facilitating a collaborative project with 12 academic libraries engaging with Indigenous Studies scholars. The project seeks to contribute to the vital, ongoing work examining how mainstream cultural institutions contribute to and can begin to rectify historic and ongoing practices of colonization and foster Indigenous approaches to librarianship and scholarship.[3]

The protocols for working with Indigenous knowledges must be determined, developed and overseen by Indigenous communities, including, but not limited to how the information is collected, described in catalogues or finding aides, and determining levels of access. The protocols for working with Indigenous knowledges often exceed or are in conflict with mainstream Western standards, and, there is often no one universally accepted standard.[4]

Understanding how Indigenous Studies scholars conduct their research will help identify tools, policies, and services for working with Indigenous knowledges that does not re-inscribe colonial practices and fosters Indigenous approaches to working with information. To effectively facilitate this process the project’s methodologies are also informed by Indigenous approaches to research, which have been developed in consultation with advisors who are leaders in Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Librarianship. As per the work of seminal Indigenous scholar Margaret Kovach (2009), the goal is for the project to do work that is beneficial to Indigenous Studies scholars in ways that are also beneficial to Indigenous communities more widely.[5]

Methodology

Eleven teams of researchers from 12 academic libraries will conduct research with Indigenous Studies scholars at their own institutions and write reports on their local findings. I am deeply appreciative of these teams’ support and contributions to the project.

The participating teams are as follows:

  • Dartmouth College: Wendel Cox, Ridie Wilson Ghezzi, Julia Logan, Amy Witzel
  • Haskell Indian Nations University/University of Kansas: Carrie Cornelius, Sara E. Morris, Rebecca Orozco, Michael Peper
  • Northwestern University: Scott Garton, Michelle Guittar, Michael Perry, Gina Petersen
  • Simon Fraser University: Jenna Walsh, TBD
  • University of Alberta: Tanya Ball , Anne Carr-Wiggin, Gabrielle Lamontagne, Sheila Laroque, Kayla Lar-Son, Lorisia MacLeod
  • University of Arizona: Verónica Reyes-Escudero, Anthony Sanchez, Niamh Wallace
  • University of British Columbia: Sarah Dupont, Kim Lawson
  • University of Hawaiʻi System: Kawena Komeiji, Keahiahi Long, Shavonn Matsuda, Annemarie Paikai, Kapena Shim
  • University of Manitoba: Lisa Hanson O’Hara , Janice Linton, Cody Fullerton
  • University of Saskatchewan: MaryLynn Gagne, Deborah Lee, David Smith
  • University of Toronto: Monique Flaccavento, Desmond Wong, TBD

At this stage the researchers are participating in workshops (University of Alberta November 2-3; Haskell Indian Nations University/University of Kansas December 13-14). In addition to becoming familiar and practicing aspects of the project’s methodologies, other main goals for the workshops include building relationships among the research team members and teams, providing an introductory space where Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers can engage with local Indigenous culture, and providing opportunities for the researchers to engage with local Indigenous Studies scholars.

Following the workshops, the teams will commence research with the Indigenous Studies scholars at their institutions. In addition to the local reports authored by the research teams, I will also create a public report reflecting on the Ithaka S+R’s role and the project’s outcomes.

All aspects of the project’s methodology, including the definition of Indigenous Studies, recruiting practices privileging Indigenous scholars, the structure of interviews, methods for having the participants vet their contributions and be recognized for those contributions, and strategies for the researchers to work and share their findings with their participants and other stakeholders throughout the process, have been guided through engagement with advisors (discussed in further detail below). Crucial to the project design is the opportunity for each team to adjust the methodology as needed to honor their local contexts, as determined in consultation with their stakeholders (see below). Future posts will share more in-depth information about the workshops and methodology.

Advising

Crucial to the project’s ongoing development is seeking insight from those with expertise in Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Librarianship. We are prioritizing advice from those who self-identify as Indigenous in recognition of ongoing under-representation of Indigenous perspectives in academia. I thank the following for their contributions as advisors on this project:

  • Te Paea Taiuru (tribal affiliations to Waikato and Ngāti Porou) provides insight in her capacity as Chair of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Indigenous Matters Section. IFLA Indigenous Matters section is endorsing the project and their ongoing support is appreciated. Te Paea is also immediate past president of Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) and Customer Services Manager, Learning Teaching and Research at the University of Canterbury Library. I am deeply appreciative of the ongoing work that Te Paea has undertaken to help develop the project and foster the project’s relationship with IFLA Indigenous Matters Section. Her leadership work in Indigenous librarianship brings valuable insight to the project and her incredible work in these areas is greatly appreciated.
  • Camille Callison (Tahltan Nation) provides insight in her capacity as working on the Standing Committee for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Indigenous Matters Section. Her insight is further informed through her work as the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ (CFLA-FCAB) Indigenous Representative and Chair the CFLA-FCAB Indigenous Matters Committee and chair of the Truth & Reconciliation Committee. Her perspective as a leader in the field of Indigenous librarianship in Canada and internationally is of incredible help to me and it is an honor to learn from her on this project.
  • Deborah Lee (who is of Cree-Métis, Mohawk, French, and Welsh ancestry) is providing ongoing advice on the project as a recognized leader in and researcher on the field of Indigenous Librarianship. She provided extensive review of the project’s methodology and ethics protocols and I am deeply grateful for the time and ongoing support she will be providing. The project also benefits greatly from her being a researcher on the University of Saskatchewan team. Deborah is an incredible support for me and others in the project, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to work with and learn from her.
  • Loriene Roy (Anishinabe; Enrolled: White Earth Reservation; Member: Minnesota Chippewa Tribe) provided preliminary insight into the viability of the project from her perspective as leader in Indigenous Studies. Loriene is a Professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin.
  • J. Kēhaulani Kauanui provided preliminary insight into the viability of the project from her perspective as leader in Indigenous Studies. Kēhaulani is Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University.

Each research team will also engage in consultation with their local stakeholders to provide advising on how the project will be implemented at their institution. The local stakeholders will be identified by each research team based on the unique requirements of their institutions and wider local contexts.

Self-Acknowledgement

This research, like all research, has personal dimensions. Attending to researcher self-location is a cornerstone of the project’s methodology. As this blog post is the setting in which I am introducing the project to the wider public, it is important for me to also introduce myself here, including my purpose for undertaking this work, and how my motivation for doing so can be found in my own narrative.[6]

I come to this work as a white settler and my research background is in studying grassroots LGBT information organizations, which are spaces created by and for LGBT communities in response to mainstream marginalization of their histories and knowledges. I benefitted from the opportunity to learn from LGBT communities that I also identify as being a part of. I also come to this project with experience studying scholars and their research support needs through my work at Ithaka S+R, which has given some perspective on how scholarly disciplines constitute distinct communities.

The project I am now undertaking here represents a moment where I am just beginning to build relationships as an ally to Indigenous communities. I proceed with humility and gratitude for the patience of those working with me on this project as I learn. For this project my goal as a non-Indigenous ally is to do work that not only assists in making space for Indigenous scholarship, but also for making space for challenging Western models for what constitutes meaning making.[7] I hope to help make space both within my organization and within academic libraries and academia more widely. Margaret Kovach (2009) highlights that some forms of qualitative research can be considered allied to Indigenous scholarship, specifically when the work is undertaken in ways that focuses on developing the relationship between researchers and research participants that mitigates power differences, and, when the research attends to process and making that process visible as part of the work.[8] I received some training and experience in these approaches through my PhD, which is in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies, however, in undertaking this new work, I am more aware than ever that there are shortcomings to my previous training, particularly pertaining to how I have worked with research participants.

Those who have advised me on this project have taught me so much. I and my organization are benefitting greatly from the opportunity to undertake the work in this way.

Concluding Thoughts

I have so much more to learn and I am privileged to be doing so alongside this project’s research collaborators. And that’s what this project is all about: listening, learning, and working hard to build the relationships in order to do good work. As this project unfolds over the next year I hope that others who have not done so already in the academic library world will take this project as invitation to take a look around and see what is happening in Indigenous research and Indigenous librarianship and then also reflect on what you can do in the work of decolonizing libraries and other spaces you are a part of. And for those who have already been doing this work (and there are many), thank you.

 

Endnotes

  1. The practice of offering territorial acknowledgements in mainstream contexts, such as universities, is uneven, with it being far more common in some parts of the Canada in relation to others, and less common still in the U.S. and elsewhere. I am offering my land acknowledgement on a blog, which is a digital context, in recognition of the physical land on which my work for Ithaka S+R is taking place. The Beyond 150 conference, which was delivered exclusively online, has been helpful for my thinking around the challenge of acknowledging territory in online spaces: https://beyond150ca.wordpress.com/about/. The Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ (CFLA-FCAB) Truth & Reconciliation Committee’s (2017) report and recommendations includes a section with suggestions towards developing territorial acknowledgements, which has been generally important for my thinking on this: http://cfla-fcab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Truth-and-Reconciliation-Committee-Report-and-Recommendations.pdf. The practice of non-Indigenous folks offering these acknowledgements can be highly problematic, for example, when recommendations such as those developed by the CFLA/FCAB are not followed. âpihtawikosisân’s thoughts on this have also been particularly generative for my understanding of these issues, see: http://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/ . The land acknowledgement offered is informed by âpihtawikosisân’s argument that that these kinds of statements have the potential to do good work when they disrupt the status quo of Indigenous erasure. To my knowledge, the territorial acknowledgement shared here is the first public recognition of Ithaka S+R’s relationship to the land, which represents a rupture in organizational practice. I make this acknowledgement in the context of ongoing work that Ithaka S+R will be undertaking. The disruptive nature of my acknowledgement also extends beyond Ithaka S+R’s specific organizational culture to the wider contexts in which Ithaka S+R engages, including the not-for-profit sphere, the mainstream western academic library and publishing worlds, and academia more widely.
  2. For further information on Indigenous methodologies, see, for example, Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications; Wilson, S. (2008), Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Manitoba: Fernwood Publishing; Kovach, M. E. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  3. See, for example, Becvar, K., & Srinivasan, R. (2009). Indigenous knowledge and culturally responsive methods in information research. The Library Quarterly, 79(4), 421-441; Burns, K., Doyle, A., Joseph, G., and Krebs, A. (2099). Indigenous librarianship. In M.J. Bates and M.N. Maack (Eds.), Encyclopedia of library and information sciences (3rd edition). Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis; Lee, D. (2008). Indigenous knowledges and the university library. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 31(1), 149; Mills, A. (2017). Learning to Listen: Archival Sound Recordings and Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property. Archivaria, 83, 109-124; Nakata, M., Byrne, A., Nakata, V., & Gardiner, G. (2005). Indigenous knowledge, the library and information service sector, and protocols. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 36(2), 7-21.
  4. The Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ (CFLA-FCAB) Truth & Reconciliation Committee’s report and recommendations, which provides a comprehensive framework for these protocols in Canada, is an important resource for Ithaka S+R as we undertake this project, see: http://cfla-fcab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Truth-and-Reconciliation-Committee-Report-and-Recommendations.pdf.
  5. Kovach (2009), 35.
  6. The structure of this informed through Kovach’s (2009, p.115) guidance on how to undertake self-reflexive work as a researcher.
  7. My goals are informed by what Kovach (2009, p.87) identifies as the work that non-Indigenous folks must undertake in support of Indigenous scholarship.
  8. Kovach 2009, 13.

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