Last week I participated in the Anishinaabe Inendamowin (thought) Research Symposium held at Algoma University. The theme of this year’s symposium was “Weaving Meaningful Anishinaabe Research Bundles” and there was an emphasis on enriching academic research through Indigenous ways of knowing. The symposium included community knowledge holders, post-secondary students from all levels, and established Indigenous academic scholars. The symposium also provided Indigenous students at AlgomaU an opportunity to see the range of work being done by Indigenous professionals and to interact with established scholars.
One of the things that stuck me about this conference was the richness of conversation across disciplines and silos. Students and established academics engaged with each other throughout the symposium and there was an emphasis on speaking personal truths in relation to research. For me, the symposium highlighted how much established scholars can learn from listening to students and non-academics. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge held by communities that is marginalized by academia. There are also valid concerns about Indigenous knowledge being appropriated or co-opted by academic settings. A number of the speakers expressed how they normally refuse academic speaking invitations because they do not feel welcomed in those spaces or feel the invitations are a form of tokenism. Organized by Indigenous academics and community members this symposium was an example of an effort to break down academic silos and build bridges between communities of knowledge.
A number of the presentations I attended focused on re-positing academic knowledge in conversation with community or traditional knowledge. There was an emphasis on seeing Indigenous traditional knowledge as worthwhile and as valid as Western ways of knowing. In the case of Naomi Recollect’s “Birchbark, memories, and language: Exploring museum collections containing Anishinaabek material” workshop Recollect positioned community members as the experts. She challenged the idea of museum curators and archivists as the only source of expertise in relation to material culture. This presentation was a fantastic example of the type of conversations Canadian cultural heritage organizations need to be having. How can we build relationships which position Indigenous communities in positions of power and experience in relation to their own material culture? How can collections be opened up and shared with the communities they represent?
The symposium left me with a lot to think about. I’m stilling working through everything I heard about the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge into classroom, administration, and cultural settings. I feel very fortunate to be at an institution that is openly engaging in these difficult and important conversations. These conversations are definitely ongoing but they need to start somewhere.