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Some Reflections on IRS Research as Transformation

Like most people who call Canada home, my entire life has been shaped by settler colonialism as both a structure and ongoing process. The space we occupy in relation to this structure shapes every aspect of our lives from how we think of ourselves and each other, to where we live, what we do, and why we do it. The thrust of my academic career has been to unpack this entanglement, but boy is there a lot to unpack. To that end, I would like to share a little of my relationship to settler colonialism and how my work with Narratives has created possibilities for healing and cultural re-connection.

To begin, I am a non-binary person of Anishinaabe and European descent that has lived their whole life in Winnipeg. My mother and her siblings grew up away from their Anishinaabe community in the foster system and my grandparents on that side both passed many years ago. Our experience of settler colonialism has been one of disconnection. We have spent much of our lives with the desire to reconnect with our family and culture. However, independently browsing genealogy websites and open archives can only take you so far.

Through a happy coincidence, I am now researching the impact of the residential school system on my own family and their communities through my work at Narratives. I never imagined that my journey would bring me here.

Admittedly, it is distressing to see familiar names in documents, to have vague notions of your relatives’ lives suddenly confronted with the concrete imagery of the residential school. The transition from thinking in terms of probabilities to thinking in terms of certainties when it comes to these things certainly comes with some trauma.

Previously I have engaged in work with of a similar tone, in collaborative repatriation. An Elder advising our team said something to the effect that it is our ancestors and those we are looking for that guide us — we are shown what we need when we need it. It is not only us on journeys, but those in the archives too.

Given that, I take it as a great honor to see familiar names, it is an honor to see any names at all.

Since names alone do not tell the full story, my work has also given me the opportunity to learn of the places and their histories throughout Treaties 3 and 9. Of the waves of settler development, displacement from flooding, and those communities that have, against the pressures of assimilationism, retained their languages at remarkably high rates. Of the industrial scale poisoning of the waters and people. Of recent legal victories which take us closer toward justice.

All this knowledge is an honor to receive and to in turn contribute to. In our work to better understand the world and change it, we also develop better understandings of ourselves.