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Learning to Support Indigenous Studies

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As the librarian for American Studies, I’ve supported a few relatively minor Indigenous Studies projects. Now, though, I’m supporting a class that’s just enough outside of my comfort zone that it’s forcing me to slow down and really think differently about what I’m doing. And I’m realizing that a) my past approaches aren’t going to work with this class, and b) I might have been wrong all along.

Just as a couple of examples, I hadn’t come to grips with the challenges of reconciling the essence of something as simple and work-a-day (for me) as a research guide (with all its implied and overt messages about Proper Research in Academia) with the realities of the harm that colonial epistemologies have done and continue to do. I hadn’t realized or grappled with the importance of foregrounding indigenous voices or ways of knowing, or of not relying on academic sources to legitimize observations and analysis (which is such a reflexive move in Western academia). I hadn’t ever coached students to recognize authority clues in contexts and constructions so far outside of my own background and training.

Of course, I haven’t solved these issues, and I’m sure I haven’t even recognized a whole world of similar issues. And on the one hand, one of my primary roles in the lives of these undergraduates is and should be to mentor them through academic ways of knowing. But on the other hand, I’m hoping to learn ways of doing this that don’t also do harm — ways that promote ethical, respectful, thoughtful approaches to research in general and to cultural research in particular.

As I start grappling with these questions, I’m reading. So far I highly recommend:

There’s so much to say about these readings, but here’s a quote that helped me come to terms with the uncertainties I was feeling.

“Because these culturally based hierarchies of access to certain domains of cultural knowledge are often determined by an individual’s gender, age, ancestry, clan, and status, they are directly in tension with some of the underlying principles of librarianship that place a high value on free and equitable access to information.”

Becvar and Srinivasan, page 422

The simple act of naming these tensions helped me sit more comfortably with the new-to-me epistemologies and their implications for my work, and it helped me begin the process of first recognizing and then integrating unfamiliar epistemologies. (From here, moving on to Christen’s article was quite lovely.)

And one last quote that stuck with me:

Can the imagination and technological prowess that promoted open access publishing, open source software, and Creative Commons licenses exist side-by-side with those alternative systems of knowledge production that rely instead on social relations maintained and forged through negotiated interdependencies, which have as their goal the mutual gain between stakeholders in social, economic, and cultural terms?

Christen, page 2880

Christen thinks this is possible, with work. I’m on board for the work.

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