I just got back from a conference in Wendake, the Huron-Wendat Reserve in Quebec City. There’s so much that I want to write about from this trip, but I need to figure out how to organize my thoughts. So let’s see what I see as major themes, and then I can follow up on them with a few distinct blog posts:
1) Couchsurfing as cultural immersion. Couchsurfing is one of the modern trends in travel that tends to be made up of a unique sub-group of people around the world. People who a) have internet access and b) are willing to open up their homes to strangers. But there is more to couchsurfing than that – like other sub-cultures it has implicit rules that you learn as a member of the community, and there are some expectations on both hosts and surfers. I love it and think it is a great way to get to learn about an area, but the idea is intimidating to a lot of first-timers (including me when I started!). But I get so much out of my couchsurfing experiences, so I’d like to write about them.
2) Community-based conferences: The conference I attended was primarily organized by a joint team from the Wendake Reseve and Laval University. I love community-based conferences. Just like couchsurfing – they are intimidating, but in the best way. As an academic, you are putting yourself in a vulnerable situation, expressing your research to the community that it is about, and preparing to hear their thoughts on your work. However that willingness to hear what the community has to teach you, and what they have to say about your work, is, to me, the crux of doing good scholarly work in Indigenous Studies today. One of the reasons I came to Michigan State University for graduate school was because I was seeking out this type of connection – I didn’t feel comfortable studying and publishing reports on someone else’s history without actually talking to them about it. I also felt that I could learn a lot from the modern descendants of the communities I study – there’s a big difference between reading about feasting practices and actually sitting down to dinner with community members, and if you really want to develop a sense of someone’s culture, those interactions can do nothing but enhance it. So I’d like to write about the interactions I had with community members and what I got out of this conference. I’m really glad they decided to get us all organized and in the same room.
3) Interdisciplinarity – This is the crux of Indigenous Studies today, and I get so much out of it. Most academic conferences (thought not all) tend to focus on one discipline or another. I’ve always been a settler of the borderlands, so I prefer interdisciplinary situations because I feel like I fit in better there (since I don’t fit into any classical categories particularly well!). I’d like to talk about this notion of interdisciplinarity, what it really means, how we achieve it, and what we get out of it.
4) Cohorts and comeraderie – There are a set of scholars I work with who are all at about the same place in their academic careers, and we all share a common interest in studying the history of the Wendat/Wyandot post-1649. I have been fortunate to fall into this group of scholars. We all support one another, and see how our research enhances each others projects. I’ve had the opportunity to present my research in sessions with some of these people on multiple occasions, and I think we all feel that our teamwork improves ALL of our research projects. Each time we get together we get to meet new young scholars and I feel like we’ve developed a real cohort that is moving the research forward. This is exciting and rewarding – by developing a collaborative interdisciplinary group of young scholars we are all moving forward with our work. This benefits us in our careers, but it also keeps the research thriving and, hopefully, improves the quality of all of our research, which will benefit the community as well.
5) Material culture studies. I met (and re-met) some specialists on material-culture from non-archaeological contexts at this conference. I LOVE material culture specialists, and I think they have a lot to offer to my research. The work they do is very difficult, so it is rare to find someone with such expertise. I’d like to talk a bit about the importance of this kind of work.
Phew! I think that’s where I want to go. Not sure which of these I’ll write about first, so if something sounds particularly interesting, let me know and I can focus on that.