Chii miigwetch for your interest in American Indian and Indigenous Studies (AIIS). We hope you will consider joining our vibrant community of scholars, students, activists, artists, elders, community-members, and youth. Please keep your eyes on our website and Facebook page as we continue to develop new programming. We have a highly supportive Indigenous community here and many exciting projects are happening in Nkwejong – the greater Lansing area. To borrow, and slightly alter, a quote from John Trudell's character in Smoke Signals (Chris Eyre, 1998): 'It is a good time to be Indigenous at MSU.'
For many Anishinaabeg communities in the Great Lakes, winter is a time for storytelling. Certain stories should only be told when snow is on the ground. But, as I write this in February, I look around and do not see snow. With the unseasonably warm weather, all the snow has melted. It makes me wonder: what does this mean for the storytellers? What does this mean for the stories themselves? How will climate change effect Indigenous cultural practices?
We all should be concerned about the ramifications of climate change on American Indian and Indigenous communities, as well as on the entire planet. Indigenous people are among the first to feel the violent impacts of changing climates and ecological shifts. Potawatomi Prof. Kyle Whyte (AISP and Timnick Chair in the Humanities) has published on climate change in Indigenous communities, as well as the ways that Indigenous peoples are working to address these impacts.
Last year – after a panel on Indigenous contemporary art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art – I spoke with Kelly Church, a renowned black ash basketmaker and expert on the Emerald Ash Borer. During our conversation, Kelly spoke with me about the impact of the ash borer on her ability to make baskets. Kelly comes from an unbroken line of black ash basketmakers going back centuries. Although she is actively saving seeds, she shared with me that they cannot be planted until all ash populations have been decimated. Although Church and her community have a plan, it could be said that process is ecological colonialism. How do we – as an intellectual community of Indigenous and non-Native students and scholars – respond without sounding as if the sky is falling?
In Anishinaabemowin, there is a word that I cannot stop thinking about: gikinawaabi. The verb loosely translates as 'she or he learns by observation'. As we know, there is often a direct-relationship between Indigenous languages, the world-views embedded within these languages, the natural world, and the art and culture we make. As many Native folks understand, observation is a crucial process in Indigenous education. You learn, not only by being told, but by watching someone else do it and through the stories that accompany this process.
What happens, however, when violent colonial removals, or forced cultural change, or cultural assimilation, or climate change push cultural practices and Indigenous knowledge(s) into hibernation? How, then, do we learn? How do we learn if no one around us continues to do something? What happens when people leave their home communities? Is it time for us to just move on and forget? Or is it time to revitalize these cultural practices?
In American Indian Studies, we think critically about these and many other questions. As a community and as an academic program, we are investigating these issues and creating a 'community of practice' in which we both think critically about our various places in the world, but also establish a sense of community at MSU and in Nkwejong. American Indian Studies is about the assertion of American Indian and Indigenous sovereignties, as well as connecting Indigenous knowledge to the larger university community. We welcome you to join us in our conversation, in our listening and telling of stories, and in our learning through observation.
NKWEJONG, ANISHINAABEWAKI – FEBRUARY 21, 2016
Summer 2016 Office Hours: BY APPOINTMENT
American Indian and Indigenous Studies is located in Baker Hall, Room 414 and 416. Because we may be out of the office for meetings or programming, please contact GA Jaquetta Shade or Prof. Dylan Miner before stopping by.