JOLENE RICKARD: Good afternoon. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Welcome to our guests here at Cornell University and to the audience that will be live streaming with us this afternoon. It is protocol in the field of Indigenous Studies to recognize the host indigenous territory. In this case, Cornell University is located within the homelands of the Cayuga Nation.
Within the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program, we are fortunate to have a respectful relationship with the leaders of the Cayuga Nation and would like to recognize the current Cayuga effort to resettle their ancestral lands, which is a profound demonstration of Haudenosaunee sovereignty.
I am Jolene Rickard, and my Tuscarora name is [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. I am an Associate Professor in the History of Art department here at Cornell University and also the Director of the American Indian and Indigenous Study program. This conference is a collaboration between the History of Art department and the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program.
We would like to thank the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for supporting this conference. Specifically, I am forever indebted to the staff of the American Indian program-- Dr. Ula Piasta-Mansfield, Kathy Halbig, Ansley Jemison, and Natani Notah, and Polly Nordstrand, and the History of Art staff Keeley Boerman and Jessica Smith for their good work on behalf of this conference.
This afternoon, we will consider varied approaches that seek to locate indigenous methodologies within the field of art history. Considerable progress has been made in the field of indigenous studies since the groundbreaking text by Linda Tuhiwai Smith Decolonizing Methodologies in 1999. But the principles that she discussed continue to influence and situate knowledge as being committed to indigenous voices with emphasis on experience and expressions of self-determination and sovereignty.
The question of how these ideas and practices impact or shape the field of art history is at the center of the discussion this afternoon. The invited scholars recognize that the discipline of art history and indigenous art have been in dialogue since the inception of the field in the late 1800s. But the encapsulation of indigenous visual expression within a framework that doesn't recognize the central tenets of indigenous thought encoded in this relationship is a form of ongoing colonization.
Conditions shifted in the late 20th century with the radical reordering of the field of art history by the discourse of feminism, making gender a critical and unavoidable site of analysis. The emergence of alternative modernities was foregrounded by the postmodern critical cultural turn, which identified then decentered the problematic west and thrust the field of art history into considering how different epistemologies impact the visual.
The question under consideration is if these seismic theorizations-- if these seismic conceptual shifts provide an opening or connection points for indigenous methodologies and theorizations to be situated within the disciplinary boundary. Or perhaps this dialogue continues the transformation of a disciplinary practice that is now called upon to transcend its philosophical point of origin.
I'm not sure we will fully address the depth of this project, but this dialogue continues to demonstrate that the colonial settler project in North America has not been successful because indigenous people signal the aspiration of our being through artistic expression. And it is the art historian that sutures these statements into a broader cultural narrative, which will be recognized as an indigenous art history.
This conference was inspired by an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Heather Igloliorte and Dr. Carla Taunton, who are working on a text and symposium titled Theories and Methodologies for Indigenous Art History in North America, which is tentatively slated for October 25th, which is the day before the University Art Association of Canada's conference begins and takes place in Montreal. So if you're interested in continuing the dialogue, consider that symposium.
Further, I'd like to thank the History of Art department at Cornell University, and in particular my colleague Professor Salah Hassan, for bringing together a group of scholars like professors Kaja McGowan and Iftikhar Dadi, to name a few, whose work represents both the ruptures and bridges that create a space for this thinking to begin. They will be joined this afternoon by indigenous scholars Dr. Mique'l Dangeli, David Garneau and Candace Hopkins
Additionally, it is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce two indigenous students who are in the PhD program in the History of Art department at Cornell-- Polly Nordstrand and Bradley Pecore, who will provide introductions for our guests this afternoon.
I'd like to thank Polly, and I would like to invite Polly up to the mic to introduce our first presenter. This afternoon, each presentation will be followed by commentary from the Cornell faculty and question and answers. I encourage you to look at the event website to see the full biographies of all of the participants. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Polly?
POLLY NORDSTRAND: Thank you, Jolene. I wasn't going to introduce myself, except now I feel obliged to share my Hopi name, which is [? Lalumina. ?] I would like you now to join me in welcoming Dr. Mique'l Dangeli, who is from the Tsimshian Nation. She is the instructor of First Nations in Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia, where she received her PhD from the Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory in 2015.
Mique'l is a dancer, choreographer, art historian, curator, and author. Her work in dance led to her doctoral research, and she has actually much more interesting story from when I think she was 13-- maybe she'll share that with you later-- which focuses on the processes through which Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists compose, choreograph, and collaborate. She examines the ways in which dance artists assert, negotiate, and enact protocol as part of their process, and how it can be understood as an embodied form of sovereignty that affirms First Nations' land rights, epistemologies, and hereditary privileges among diverse audiences and collaborators.
Following her paper, we will have a response from our own professor Kaja McGowan, who also got her PhD here at Cornell. She is the Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Studies, and she's the Director of the Southeast Asian program here at Cornell.
Kaja's areas of interest involve South and Southeast Asia, with emphasis on Indonesia, particularly Java and Bali, both historically indic in orientation. Her research explores the flow of ideas and artifacts along this highway. Architecture, bronzes, textiles, ceramics, performance traditions, and visualizations of text like [? Panji ?] [? Malat, ?] Ramayana-- hope I'm saying this correctly-- and the Mahabharata, artifacts that move and those that are locally produced. We will also have an opportunity for question and answer after each of the speakers. Mique'l?
MIQUE'L DANGELI: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
In [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], in my language, I've said I'm very happy to see all of you here today. It makes me very happy that you've come here to participate in this important event. My [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] name-- my Tsimshian name-- is [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. My Tlingit name is Taakw Shaawat. I'm from Metlakatla, Alaska, and I live in the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, known by its colonial name of Vancouver, British Columbia.
I also introduced myself in the way that we are taught through our protocols, which is through our matrilineal line. We are everything that our mother and our grandmothers are, and so I introduced my mom, my grandmother, my clan. I am of the [? Laxsgiik ?] of the Gispaxlo'ots people born and raised in Metlakatla, Alaska. I've thanked our hosts in this traditional territory that we're in today-- the Cayuga people-- for allowing us to be here to take care of this important work.
So the name of my presentation today is "Dancing, Witnessing, Gifting, and Writing: a Potlatch-based Indigenous Research Methodology." It concerns my recent experience researching and writing my dissertation, the indigenous methodologies that are central to my work, and the institutional resistance that I encountered in both my doctoral program in art history and most recently in an academic job search-- during the interviews for an academic job search for an art history position.
My objectives in sharing these instances of just two of many instances where I've countered such resistance for indigenous research methodologies in art history in this very public way is to, first of all, lend support to indigenous graduate students, faculty, who are also facing the same sort of resistance, and also to take this opportunity to generate a dialogue that is specific to our study to indigenous art histories, where we can come together and consider what ways that discriminatory practices like this can be addressed in order to not only create more space for indigenous methodologies, but explicit support for them within art history.
To launch right into the topic of my research, I would like to begin with a quote from Chuuchkamalthnii, Ron Hamilton, Nuu-chah-nulth artist and scholar. "When are the Indians going to dance?" Known to make this sarcastic inquiry at First Nations' exhibition openings, museum events, and other art-related occasions with a high number of non-indigenous people in attendance, Chuuchkamalthnii's ironic jab-- which, feel free to laugh-- Chuuchkamalthnii's ironic jab parodies ongoing settler assumptions. Said in jest, it problematizes commonly held assertions that for indigenous people, singing, drumming, and dancing are known not only to be expected, but that they're innate abilities that neither require work nor should be considered an artistic practice.
And of course, the slide's not-- there it is. There's the quote. "When are the Indians going to dance?" So this quote, Chuuchkamalthnii shown here-- he brings to our attention, through his trickster sensibilities, his poignant and wiry critique of this flattening and de-politicized caricature of indigenous dance. Specifically, Northwest Coast First Nations dance provokes, through discomfort and humor, a discussion of their complexities.
By using the term Northwest Coast First Nations people, I'm referring to the indigenous peoples whose territories are now known by their colonial names of Western Washington, the coast of British Columbia, and all the way up the southeast Alaskan panhandle, as far north as Yakutat, and as far inland as Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada. I have two maps here because most maps either cut off southeast Alaska or cut off British Columbia. My community-- I think I can get this pointer to work-- is right here. Metlakatla, Alaska right there.
So the Northwest coast is one of the most diverse regions of indigenous people in North America, with approximately 59 languages spoken by as many as 70 First Nations. This does not include the huge number of bands underneath the wider designation First Nations as well as the vast number of dialects within each language.
The term dance group-- not dance troupe or company-- is commonly used by Northwest Coast First Nations people to refer to collectives of singers, drummers, and dancers who perform songs and dances belonging to their nations, families, and communities. These dance groups are not state-sanctioned or sponsored. Their composition in terms of membership and activities is entirely self-determined and funded.
Northwest Coast First Nations dance practices cannot be separated from their criminalization in Canada through the amendment to the Indian Act, which outlawed potlatching, the central ceremony held in common to a wide variety of nations in this-- held in common to a wide variety to nations in this area and associated songs and dances from 1884 to 1951. From 1884 to 1951 in Canada, it was illegal for us to sing our songs and dances, to hold our ceremonies.
The widespread formation of dance groups throughout both urban and rural communities in the Northwest coast since the 1960s has been a powerful social movement of Nation culture-based resurgence. [INAUDIBLE] scholar and activist Leanne Simpson describes this Nation and culture-based resurgence as quote, "reinvesting in our own ways of being, regenerating our political and intellectual traditions, articulating and living our legal systems, learning ceremony and spiritual pursuits, creating and using our artistic practices and performance-based traditions."
Currently in this area, there are over 300 dance groups along the Northwest coast, with both newly formed ones every year in rural and urban communities. Yet the scholarship on their practices and performances is nearly non-existent in anthropology and other areas of study as well. In Northwest Coast First Nations' art history, Judith Ostrowitz is the only art historian to my knowledge that has written about dance group performances.
As a lifelong dancer, teacher, and choreographer of Tsimshian First Nations dance and leader of the Git Hayetsk, I feel that dance practices of Northwest Coast First Nations people are overlooked by many fields of study due to the stereotypes that Chuuchkamalthnii's quote, "when are the Indians going to dance" brought to our attention, and also because our style of dance is thought to be as a tradition in the most oversimplified sense.
In the experiences shared with me by dance group leaders and dancers as well as those I faced in my own practice, it is common to be confronted on a regular basis by preconceived notions suggesting that dance group performances are merely unchanged routines of ancient songs and dances unconsciously performed and unengaged with the present. The dominance of this misnomer in both popular and academic discourses discredits the work of Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists, dance group leaders, composers, and choreographers who are actively producing performances of both ancestral songs and newly created works that are critically engaged with pressing political issues.
In my effort to decolonize my own approach to indigenous art histories, I've challenged myself to move away from object-centric Western-based approaches art historical methodologies that have come to dominate this area of study. In the literature on Northwest Coast First Nations art history, performance is typically the context of research rather than the subject. My approach foregrounds dance group performances and practices through which they are created as an art form.
Central to my research is the work of Squamish dance artists S7aplek-- Bob Baker, shown here-- leader of Spakwus Slolem Dancers, a Squamish dance group based in Squamish territory, which is now referred to as north Vancouver, Gildedowet-- Margaret Grenier-- who is of the Gitxsan Nation and the Artistic Director of the Dancers of Damelahamid, and Waxawidi-- Chief William Wasden, leader of the [? Gwa"wina ?] Dancers. He's of the Kwakwaka Nation.
The interdisciplinary nature of my approach led to my engagement with the field of dance studies, where the term dance artist is commonly used to refer to dancers who are also choreographers. Similar to the way in which the term art is applied to tangible cultural expressions produced by First Nations people on the Northwest coast, I see my use of this designation as giving their work the due credit for its complexity, sophistication, as well as bringing it into dialogue with both the fields of art history and dance studies.
Through my dissertation research, I founded the concept of dancing sovereignty, as Polly shared in her introduction. Dancing sovereignty is a theoretical framework from which to critically engage with the way in which sovereignty is embodied in Northwest Coast First Nations' dance practices through complex and responsive assertions of protocol-- bodies of law which form indigenous legal systems.
Through my research, I've examined the process through which protocol is asserted, negotiated, enacted by First Nations dance artists through their selection of ancient songs, their creation of new songs, their collaborative process with non-indigenous dance artists or other First Nations dance artists of different nations, and throughout the performances themselves. My use of the word sovereignty specifically refers to the maintenance and expansion of indigenous laws and legal systems.
I define dancing sovereignty as self-determination carried out through performances that adhere to and expand upon protocol in ways that affirm hereditary privileges and territorial rights amongst diverse audiences and collaborators. These assertions of sovereignty are not moored to Western legal definitions. Rather, they are articulated through indigenous nationhood and the protocol and epistemology thereof.
Just to give you a brief snapshot because I'm not talking so much about dancing sovereignty today as I am the indigenous research methodologies that led me to this concept. Dancing sovereignty primarily builds upon the literature on Visual Sovereignty put forward and founded by Tuscarora artist and scholar Jolene Rickard, seminal Muscogee Dine artist and scholar Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, Seneca scholar Michelle Raheja, visual anthropologist Kristin Dowell.
It also expands upon Anishinaabe scholars Gerald Vizenor's concept of transmotion-- indigenous practices of sovereignty and Canadian philosopher and dance artist Erin Manning's work on relationscapes, which talks about the relationality between people and land.
So I'm not going to discuss dancing sovereignty in greater depth in my presentation today, as the focus of our time together is indigenous research methodologies. I have to mention it, though, because, as I said, this concept developed out of my process-- specifically, the research process that I refer to as witnessing. Witnessing is a Potlatch-based indigenous research methodology that I use to carry out my work.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term potlatch, to put it very succinctly, among Northwest Coast First Nations people, potlatch is our complex systems of indigenous governance, where hereditary privileges, kinship, and their associated histories are asserted through oratory songs, dances, totem pole raisings, and other ceremonies that validate such claims through feasting and distribution of gifts to witnesses. Witnesses for us play a very important role in our ceremonies in that they are a walking archive-- an embodied archive of our oral history and laws.
The gift of witnesses is the way that we ensure that we are reciprocating them for their time and their energy. The accepting by witnesses of gifts means that they are accepting that responsibility to remember-- not just to remember to keep it to themselves, but to remember to share what is allowed to be shared. My practice of witnessing as an indigenous research methodology is based upon my upbringing, training, and responsibility as a witness to potlatches, feasts, and other First Nations ceremonies along the Northwest coast. This indigenous research methodology comes out of my situated knowledge.
It is informed by the indigenous ways of knowing and being that are intrinsic to my identity, much of which is shared by those that I worked with in my research-- by the dance artists, and dance groups, also people who are of the potlatch. During potlatches, witnessing requires attentive listening and observing with the objective of remembering in great detail and responding in ways that recall the most important aspects of what occurred during the ceremonies. Among many nations, towards the end of a potlatch, selected witnesses come together to publicly describe through oratory their experiences and restate the histories, genealogies, and claims to hereditary rights made and validated through ceremony.
As a part of their oratory, they also reflect upon the historical significance of the work that has taken place by situating it within a much longer, and, in some cases, ancient history. Through their words, they affirm and validate through sharing what is allowed to be shared with those who also witness the potlatch, and eventually, the wider community after the ceremonies.
My methodology of witnessing puts relationship building and earning permission first. Regardless of my lifelong connection with dance groups throughout the Northwest Coast, it has taken me, as it would anyone else, a great deal of time to establish the trust necessary for more in-depth inquiry into their practices. Foundational to trust is informed consent. My research and writing is done with the careful consideration that through building relationships, I have been entrusted with cultural knowledge that I have absolutely no right to share.
Out of respect and protection of this privileged knowledge, and an adherence to protocol, I made it clear during that time I spent with dance artists and their dance groups before I began my research that at any time, they had the right to request that I withhold information that they have shared. In our ways, this is the strength of my methodology, even though it runs counter to the emphasis of universal access to knowledge, which is foundational to the academy.
I am grateful to S7aplek, Waxawidi, Gildedowet, and the nine dance groups, and many dance artists, some of whom I will show you through photos that I have in my slides, for their trust and permission in allowing me to witness their work. Working with dance groups who frequently perform in Vancouver created more opportunities for me to witness the ways in which their performances addressed a wide variety of contexts and intercultural audiences. I witnessed as many performances as I possibly could over the span of five years and interviewed several dance artists.
In the same way that we as witnesses would respond during a potlatch, first to the host and the witnesses who were also at the event before speaking about it widely, I shared with the dance artists my work in the form of writing and visiting about what it was that I was doing because not all people want to sit down with a chapter draft, but to sit and visit over it, to talk about what my work was doing, my hope for my work, what I had written about them, and the objectives, to give them an opportunity to correct any information, or to contribute additional information before distributing it to my committee, which, as you can imagine, took a long time to get drafts of my writing to my committee. But this is my process-- was my process. Thank goodness it's over now.
So ensuring that they are fully aware of and consent to my written response is a part of strengthening and maintaining these relationships. During potlatches, taking on the responsibility of witnessing is always reciprocated with gifts from the hosts of the ceremony.
As a part of my witnessing methodology, however, I view being allowed to witness as a gift. I reciprocate the time and effort that these dance artists have contributed to my-- these dance artists and their dance groups have contributed to my research by gifting them throughout the process of my work with traditional foods, photographs that I've taken of their work, and other gifts that are normally distributed at a potlatch.
At the completion of my PhD, my husband, Mike Dangeli, who is an artist and carver, and our son Nick hosted a potlatch, where each dance artist and their dance group received numerous gifts, including a chief's headdress [INAUDIBLE]. For those of you that remember the actor and political activist Chief Dan George, this is his grandson Gabriel George, who leads the dance group that Chief Dan George started in the '40s when it was still illegal for us to dance publicly. The Children of Takaya is the name of their dance group, and they've done incredible work to bring our songs and dances into the public and really set the standard for political engagement for Northwest Coast First Nations dance groups in Coast Salish territory.
So during the potlatch, Waxawidi, who's right here-- my husband traded with him the regalia that he's wearing for a song to give to all of the dance group leaders for their [? amhalite-- ?] their chief's headdress. When I started the process of my research, the process of my witnessing as an indigenous research methodology my research, it quickly became apparent to me, as you've probably seen already, that the roles and responsibilities that I have in my community and with my dance group, as well as the wider aboriginal community in Vancouver, converges in all sorts of unexpected ways-- two ways I'll share with you in this paper.
The first is that when my dance group was performing at many of the same events, and-- because I just look at public performances, I didn't look at ceremony-- so many of the same events as the dance artists and dance groups that I was witnessing, initially, I found it very challenging to find the time and space away from my own practice to do this research. There were many instances where I couldn't stop dancing to research, and I couldn't stop researching to dance.
And so it just became pretty normal for me to carry my camera around my neck, and a notebook, in my beaded rattle bag right here, which is the type of bag that we share with the people back this way too, that it just became a common practice that I realized was the most effective. And that's also why I was quick to realize that my dance practice and indigenous research methodologies were strengthened by this conversion due to the way in which it allowed for the relationships that I was fostering throughout the process of my research, and then also preexisting relationships, for me to continue to uphold those responsibilities.
If I just would have stopped dancing in order to do the research, it would have been alienating not only for me, but I really believe that the people-- the dance artists, the dance groups who participated in my research. The second convergence resulted from the way in which taking photographs and notes at public events made my research highly visible. As dance artists, dance group members, and elders took notice of my camera, some of them would jokingly refer to it as the new addition to my regalia.
They asked questions about my research. They were used to seeing me perform with my dance group. They knew that I was a student at UBC, and they got a kick out of seeing me carrying these rolls together. And these are photos that people would post on my Facebook after events. Everyone from youth to elders would take photos of me taking photos in my regalia. The positive response to seeing me both as a dancer and a researcher was more than I could have ever hoped for.
That's carrying my camera and notebook with me in my regalia became a symbol of carrying my academic responsibility into our dance world. It created another layer of accountability. While First Nations people readily asked me about my regalia-- non-First Nations people would readily ask me about my regalia when I was carrying a camera and taking notes, our community members would ask me, how is your research going? How far along are you? When will you be finished?
Some were even kind enough to say that they would love to read my dissertation when it was done. And some of them have. I've emailed them. That this convergence colored my interaction with Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists, dance groups, and other members of our wider First Nations community for five years.
There were a few times where these questions, as anyone that's been in a doctoral program felt like, added pressure. The last thing you want to ask a doctoral student is, when do you think you'll be done? But the majority of the time, their inquiries were gentle reminders to stay focused and remember that the completion of my degree had become meaningful to many people in my community, and not just of my Nation, but in the wider Vancouver Community who have watched my process, encouraged me, and now were celebrating my milestones.
I was under a lot of institutional pressure, however, to separate my roles and to distance myself from the topic. No moment in my academic career was it made more explicit than when a committee member put their hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes as though they had my best interest in mind, and said the following-- "We want to hear from Mique'l the researcher, not Mique'l the dancer."
This was debilitating, to say the least. How can I be one without the other? There were so focused on my critical engagement with the development of theory, as I shared at the beginning of my presentation, with it being an emphasis, even in the name of the department I graduated from, that they couldn't see that my theory came out of my indigenous research methodologies. In fact, there wasn't any support for me bringing the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Margaret Kovach, Shawn Wilson, or other indigenous scholars who have done groundbreaking contributions to indigenous research methodologies.
I did that reading on my own, and I didn't bring it into my dissertation because there was no art historical engagement with those texts. My wanting to use them was treated as though I was making the process unnecessarily more complicated. Isn't this just the participant observer thing you're doing anyways?
I spent weeks and months sitting at my computer, unable to decide what pronouns would satisfy their requests for me to disembody from the very process I embodied-- to be a researcher, a dancer, not simultaneously both. What position would I speak from?
Did I need to stop dancing in order to be far enough away from my topic? I sat at my computer stunted thinking, is this dissertation arguing, or am I arguing? How could-- but I'm the dancer, so how could I argue this dissertation? None-- I mean, just to the point where I pretty much had writer's block. I just couldn't-- I didn't know what to do.
My lifetime of training as a dance artist in our dance practices, as a composer, and choreographer, and much more, I wasn't allowed to put in the body of my dissertation. It's all in the footnotes.
It felt dishonest. I let them know of my concern that if I were to find out that an author of a text was indigenous through their footnotes, I would wonder about their credibility. Why would you have to hide your positionality?
To get a chapter draft done, I had to assimilate into this bipolar state of so-called academic distance for the sake of pseudo but highly regarded objectivity. It made me quite ill emotionally, physically, spiritually. Without the mentorship of indigenous scholars in a wide range of field-- I should say both indigenous and non-indigenous scholars in a wide range of fields who value indigenous research methodologies, I would have never finished my doctoral program.
It finally took an intervention in the summer before I defended, where I brought an indigenous scholar onto my committee very late in the process. And when I did that, two non-indigenous committee members who aren't part of the art history faculty-- one of them said, I'm so glad you did something. The racial tensions on your committee, I've never seen anything like it. And I didn't know how to respond.
The mentorship of Cherokee scholar Daniel Heath Justice was pivotal to my successful completion, as he had to challenge those racial tensions that overwhelmed my process. In hindsight, my search for the right time and place for my research came out of this intense pressure to separate myself into two. Regardless of the concessions I tried to make to conform to Western standards of scholarship, however, all my efforts were overwhelmed by the indigenous movements and methodologies driving my life-- my relationship with Northwest Coast First Nations dance, protocol, and the relationships with First Nations dance artists and dance groups that have been formed through both.
My accountability to these relationships as well as this man right here-- [INAUDIBLE], my uncle, my 96-year-old clan elder who I found out on the flight on the way over here passed away. That's-- he and many others from my community fueled my determination to overcome the challenges to complete this dissertation.
So this ceremony happened two days after I completed my dissertation. My uncle called me in September and said, in April, I'm giving you a name for earning your PhD. So he made all the stars align, and I defended two days before the day that he had set this potlatch.
I'm forever grateful. I know that my experience, unfortunately, is not rare for indigenous graduate students, especially those in fields outside of education studies. I've had a tremendous amount of conversations on this topic with indigenous students, a lot of who were in art history studying at all levels and trying to employ indigenous research methodologies in their work. They have met resistance. They're currently taking it on or making concessions to it.
Unfortunately, the institutional resistance doesn't end with the power relations inherent to the dynamics between professors and students, advisors, committees, and so on. I was recently shortlisted for an academic job in art history when I received this question.
"Isn't it convenient that you're a native person studying Native art history?" They were asking me seriously. "Specifically a dancer studying dance." This question is brimming with assumptions that for indigenous scholars who focus on indigenous topics that our research is easier, as though it's handed to us on a silver platter, or, in my case, a cedarbark mat if we want to be culturally appropriate.
I decided to throw this in.
I did not pose for this picture. I taught-- in my Introduction to First Nations and Indigenous Studies, they taught out of this book. And I had to remind myself of it. But I just thought I would take the-- you know, I don't know if he knows that we're actually pretty convenient.
But as Thomas King-- and I'm wrapping up now-- is one of the main issues that I-- have my students look at in King's Inconvenient Indian is the tension between what King refers to as the live Indian and the dead Indian. And being a live Indian, I think the stereotypes around dead Indians and what people assume is our lack of sophistication, complexity, critical thinking-- I think that's really the resistance that I'm running into.
When I was asked this question, I went all the way back to Linda Tuhiwai Smiths' text-- as Jolene mentioned, written in 1999, and still so relevant-- that this idea that being an insider researcher being easier she problematized so long ago and disrupted that the dynamics-- the insider/outsider model of indigenous research means more responsibility for indigenous researchers, that our research has an impact on the lives and the lives of our communities far beyond the [? training ?] [? and ?] of the dissertation, or writing up an article, or whatever the outcome is, it's for the rest of our lives.
If I didn't go about my research in the way they did, I could have jeopardized these relationships forever. We are part of the same First Nations dance community, even though we're of different nations. In the end, my research methodologies made my work more meaningful for our people, their families, communities, and nations.
I've been to many conferences, where I've seen sessions on indigenous research methodologies. But I've yet to see one that navigates institutional resistance, specifically the types that I've shared today that is specific to art history, I feel.
I realize that I'm taking considerable risks in presenting this, especially because I'm considered a junior scholar. I work sessionally. But I'm a firm believer that change cannot be made without making risks, and decolonial interventions, like this conference today, is the catalyst for this change. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
JOLENE RICKARD: And I'd like to welcome Professor Kaja McGowan to offer comments this afternoon, and then we'll move to question and answer.
KAJA MCGOWAN: Thank you, everyone. This has been a very exciting opportunity for me. And I'm very grateful to my colleague Jolene Rickard, and Polly Nordstrand, and also very much Mique'l Dangeli-- I hope I'm saying your name correctly-- for your amazingly important risk taking at this point. These kinds of deep colonial interventions are so important. And to have you voice them in the way that you do takes great courage, and I commend you for that.
At the same time, I feel bereft because I really don't have any other name to have to supply here. And I am aware of the richness of these-- profound richness of these traditions. I can't begin-- my work primarily is on southeast Asian performance, and I can say that I also experienced, as a scholar writing a dissertation, some similar problems in terms of that notion of being a dancer, and how dancing is accepted within academic parameters.
And so I would like to speak a little bit to that. But I'm also struck always by the ways in which the very title of your paper-- Dancing, Witnessing, Gifting, and Writing: Potlatch-based Methodology-- brings to the fore what Anya Petersen Royce has talked about so importantly, as a dance historian, about the problem of dividing what shouldn't be divided and the problematic of how we write that in a dissertation. It's almost as if you have to unpack everything, distort it beyond imagining in order to put it into a dissertation. And it's very hard to stay true through that process to the blood-filled, richly embodied work that you're doing. So I salute you for that and for the difficulty in that.
I really didn't-- I hadn't read your paper before this, and I did Google you and was completely entranced with the work that you've done. And I think one of the questions I'd like to ask is that so often in the framing of Northwest Coast First Nation performers, there is a tendency to break down the costumes-- to look at the costumes as somehow separate from the body, to look at the costumes as somehow detached, and even to call them costumes is not appropriate, right? The headdress-- this is true in Southeast Asia as well-- that these artifacts-- and even that word doesn't fit-- that we use that we move with, that we move through space with, that were worn by ancestors before have within them a life of their own and a way of interacting with the dancer and the dance.
So I guess as a respondent, one of my questions would be-- and I am just struck by the beauty of the costumes, the textiles, the headdresses-- what role in which these elements are conferred upon you at what point in your life as a dancer, what meaning do they convey, and the very symbols themselves, what story do they tell? And that when you move through space and engage ritually with them, how do you transform the things you wear and the objects themselves transform you? So that would be one thing that I'm very intrigued by.
I think sensuous scholarship reawakens profoundly the scholar's body by demonstrating how the fusion of the intelligible and the sensible can be applied to scholarly practices and representations. There are multiple modes of communication that are canvassed-- written, theoretical communication is always given more weight in many of these academic circles, whereas the non-verbal expressions of the body are often more difficult to bring into a dissertation, since you've talked so much about that.
Intellectual knowledge without concomitant integration of somatic intuitive understanding-- the spiritual wisdom and their combination yields, as you pointed out so clearly, disembodied knowledge. And how do we, as faculty, as mentors-- how do we help students to find the voice to allow for that kind of embodied writing?
In my own experience in Southeast Asia, the person who did that for me was Claire Holt, who actually was one of the founding members here of the Cornell modern Indonesia project. Her work on dance in Indonesia is famous. But at the same time, she didn't have the proper degree, and she didn't get the jobs that she applied for. And her life was very fraught, precisely because of her dancing connections.
She was not taken seriously as a scholar. So we need to change the very ways in which we work with our students who bring this kind of embodied knowledge to the stage. And I hope that in my lifetime, I can begin to see a change.
But that being said, I like your comment on the use of this idea of relationscapes. And I would like more commenting about that. You show dancers dancing, moving through space. The fastening-- what I see in Southeast Asia, and what I think is similar here-- the sort of fastening of the human world to the spiritual world, the body to the land.
Those kinds of relationscapes that occur through the bonding of differing spheres of existences is done through the dancer and through the dance. And this idea that it's somehow an ossified, old dance that one keeps drawing out of the closet and reconstructing, when, in point of fact, it's a vivid, living, changing entity in and of itself-- how do we write that? How do we incorporate those kinds of ideas? I think that's it's important to find a whole new way of writing, basically, that allows us to do that.
I know that a growing number of scholars have more recently attempted to reformulate the place or the significance of the dancing body in social thought-- not that all of them have done well at this. And I think it is very difficult. As a poet who introduced the work of [? Beryl ?] [INAUDIBLE], a dance ethnographer of Indonesia, said that the writer limps behind the dancer-- limps, in the fact that they're crippled.
That we begin to think about that, I think, is an important and new way to explore dance as a form of writing. It's an interesting thing. But in my own work in Southeast Asia, I have discovered that writing-- really, the meaning of writing [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] is also drawing. It's also painting.
It's also giving or gifting. It also implies weaving. And it implies movement through space.
So in order to interrogate those kinds of ideas, I think you are doing that kind of work. And that's groundbreaking and very important.
Even sometimes the most insightful scholars, who look at the scholarly impact of the body-- they tend to weaken their work by considering the body always as a text that can be read and analyzed. And I think what you're doing seems to be bringing fresh blood and energy to that endeavor.
And I really would like to read your dissertation. I feel like I don't know what I'm talking about. I need to get to know your work better.
But in a way, this works-- sometimes strips the body of what [? Stoller ?] calls its sensuousness. And it seems that is something that your work is vividly bringing through this idea of sovereignty and protocol-- the ways in which the body attends to and witnesses the importance of not only the ways in which people interact with the land, but with legal treaties and mechanisms in place.
Also, often, the language that's written that attempts to bring the body to bear is disembodied. And even Judith Butler, who has presented here many a time in her gender trouble-- in the very process of trying to engage the body, sometimes the writing, through the various scholars we use-- because that's part of academic writing, right? We have to show the list of all the names we've read, and all the books we've read. And all of that colors our discourse.
So with her, the Foucauldian way of looking at things-- in a way, that bloodless language-- I hate to say it, and metaphors sometimes reinforce the very principles that they're critiquing. And that is a difficult thing.
And I'm struck at the beginning by the beauty with which you spoke, and that sense of witnessing when we don't understand what we hear. So often, in academic circles, we have to-- I have two very fine contemporary artists from Myanmar currently here at Cornell. And they might be here in the audience. I'm not sure.
But they spoke at the Johnson Museum. And afterwards, they spoke about their work and brought vividly to bear the pain, and trouble, and the political restrictions on their lives. And afterwards, someone came up to me and said something to the effect that, if they could only speak English better, right? And it just makes it so problematic.
So one of the things I'm struck by, too-- this way in which you tie together the names of yourself, and your mother, all the maternal line-- the matrilineal line-- almost like beads on a string, you bring them to bear here. You bring them to witness. That kind of fastening of an ancestral line is something quite common in many, many parts of the world. But it's not something that is done so much in academic circles in the west. And I think it is very important.
The sadness that I hear when you're putting so much of the physical importance of your research into the footnotes-- I'm always telling students, bring the meat out of the footnotes. Put it into the text. And how do we traverse that is fraught.
So I guess my questions for you, really, are, you know, I'm encouraged by all of what you've said. I feel humbled by the beauty with which you've expressed this material. I'd like to know more about the ways in which the body, when it moves, how it transforms the very costume or the elements that are worn in its relation to the land.
There seems to be a way of writing about convergence, you call it-- kind of confluences that tie these things together in conversation in ways that art historians tend not to do. We keep them all separate, right?
And I guess my final question is this one of humor. For whatever reason, academics have a hard time maybe with being humorous. I think maybe we all are, somewhere in ourselves, but we forget to be when we are writing a dissertation.
I'm struck by the beauty of the photographs that all your friends, and family, and your informants took of you photographing, right-- that idea of all coming on board to help you in that process. And that is very heartening.
But I would like you to comment a little more about that sense of community through humor, that trickstering-- turning things on their head playfully, which is so often misunderstood in academic circles. So I guess that-- I hope that gives you some where to begin. I don't know if we have a chance for you to respond to my questions, or whether we'll open it up to the larger audience. But your decolonial interventions here today I think are profoundly important. So thank you very much.
I'd love to work with you.
MIQUE'L DANGELI: I can honestly say I could sleep now because that's a lot to put on the line, I think, where the power dynamics are such that we go from being silenced to self-silencing in academia. And I know that once I go into a tenure process, right, I'm going to start feeling that self-silencing creep in again.
But now that I'm on the in-between-- I'm done with my PhD and on the job market, I just thought that this was a great opportunity. And I wanted to thank Jolene and Polly for organizing this event.
You asked many great questions. And first, I think the one that I would like to address is something that we constantly are educating people about. And I feel that indigenous dancers from all over do this same work.
We don't use costumes because the term the term costume denotes that you're dressing up as something other than who you are. And regalia is what is very common on the Northwest coast. But you hear our people who pow wow say gear. You know, they'll talk about their gear.
And so everyone-- I see heads shaking back there. So I think that we're-- just like with the word protocol, we are appropriating from the colonizers and repurposing for our own uses. And sovereignty, in that same way-- we're not talking about colonial sovereignty. We're talking about indigenous sovereignty.
And the people that argue with me about sovereignty, I can go round and round and round when they want to talk about the sovereign rights of the King, and go back to bridges the British etymology of sovereignty. That's not at all what we're talking about. To say that that's the only form of sovereignty denies the existence of indigenous sovereignties-- plural.
So the same with regalia. On the Northwest coast, it's just been adopted, appropriated, and repurposed for our own uses. In the questions about--
KAJA MCGOWAN: [INAUDIBLE] ask is regalia [INAUDIBLE] headdress will be named after the person who wore it before you. So it takes on the [INAUDIBLE].
MIQUE'L DANGELI: Yes. There are-- I use the term ceremonial being rather than object or artifact. I use cultural belonging as well. But ceremonial beings-- I published an essay through Bard Graduate Center in the catalog called "Objects of Exchange." And my essay was to problematize the word object because ceremonial being-- to me, the lives of ceremonial beings is our ceremony.
And we need to breathe life into our ceremonial beings, as it needs to breathe life into us. And the comments that were made about talking to the Wampum belt and about touching the Wampum belt-- they don't just [? plain ?] [? need ?] touch and [? plain ?] [? need ?] people to talk to it, but people that know how, that have the training, that have the ancestral knowledge, that have the ancestral connection.
And so there are names that are given amongst many different nations to masks, to headdresses, to drums, to copper shields like the one that-- I think my thing's down now, but the one that I had showed during my presentation because they're living and breathing. They have their life when they're brought into the world, and they're not meant to live forever. They're vessels. They're vessels for that what we refer to as [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].
Yes. I wasn't sure if this was you and I, or--
POLLY NORDSTRAND: We have a little bit of time for a couple of questions. Are there any questions from the audience? OK. I'm going to walk across.
MIQUE'L DANGELI: Thank you for your questions. There were so many of them, I had a hard time deciding on which one.
KAJA MCGOWAN: [INAUDIBLE] inspired.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you so much for that. It was incredibly interesting. I was wondering if you could very quickly talk a little bit about your methodology that you mentioned at the beginning and sadly said you wouldn't be able to talk about. Can you talk a little bit about--
MIQUE'L DANGELI: Oh, you're talking about my theoretical framework-- dancing sovereignty.
MIQUE'L DANGELI: So my methodology is witnessing, which is a potlatch-based research methodology. My theoretical framework that I created, dancing sovereignty, is specifically about the way in which our indigenous governance systems are embodied in our songs and dances and the way that protocol-- because protocol goes through this process.
It's live. It's dynamic. It's context-based. It's person-based in terms of the different teachings that each of us carry. Not all of us carry the same protocol, even being the same nation, same community. Then it's also about the political demands. So it's driven by that.
So dancing sovereignty looks at the way that specifically protocol is asserted-- there's an assertion of protocol-- the way it's negotiated in many different contexts, and the way that it's enacted through songs and dances and oratory and what that does. So to give you a really brief example is the acknowledging of the territory that I did and Jolene and others have done today-- that happens between dance groups.
In Vancouver, the majority of the dance groups that are there are non-Coast Salish Nations. So there's about 30 within the lower mainland, and about five of them are Coast Salish, and from all different nations because Vancouver is a hub for indigenous people from across Canada and Northwest coast people from all over the coast. And so you may or may not know that the majority of lands in British Columbia are unceded, meaning they've never been surrendered through treaty or warfare or any other process, that nations are still undergoing-- some nations-- very many-- are undergoing the treaty process.
And so where Vancouver is, that is the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. And when we and other dance groups-- any time that we dance, depending on where we are at in the city, if it's overlapping territories, we acknowledge all three nations. If it's closer to [? Berard, ?] where the Tsleil-Waututh-- even though all of those nations have been in each other's territories, as we all have-- it's not as stagnant as the colonial government wishes it was-- that we acknowledge where we're at on the land in relation to our ancestral hosts.
So I really feel that the work that dance groups have done-- because the performances in Vancouver-- there's several dance performances per day. There's such a large amount of dance groups, and there's a large demand for their performances. I really feel that the work that dance groups did lead to the city of Vancouver-- their official acknowledgment of being on unceded Coast Salish territories, that the public work that dance groups do in this type of education-- because our oratory is a part of our songs and dances. They're not separate from it.
So the work that I'm doing even right now-- that's an extension of our oratory that goes with our songs and dances. So in 2014, the city of Vancouver-- the Council-- the city of Vancouver mayor and council made their official acknowledgment of being on unceded Coast Salish territories. Within motion, they specifically are working towards adopting appropriate protocol for acknowledging the land.
AUDIENCE: You know, what you say about dance-- I mean, oftentimes, people just look at it as, this is, like, entertaining the white man, OK, to be very blunt. And so events are always thought of as, like, there's got to be dancers. Otherwise, the people won't come.
MIQUE'L DANGELI: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: And yet we-- I'm one of those dancers-- really get a real strong feeling from doing it, even when we're doing it in that kind of artificial setting, where we're performing. It's still continuing our way. It is still being a part of it. It's still feeling those songs, and participating in it, and being made healthy by it-- by participating in it. And I guess all of that goes with it.
But I really appreciate the way you have elevated your discussion here about the importance of it and seeing it as the art form that it really is. That's ace.
MIQUE'L DANGELI: Thank you. Thank you. That's one of the reasons why I use that-- and I apologize for not knowing how to work this thing. But that's one of the reasons why I use that comment-- that question that Chuuchkamalthnii Ron Hamilton raises, "when are the Indians going to dance" because I think that that right away brings to mind all the stereotypes. And people are so invested.
That's one of the reasons why indigenous performances are in such high demand in Vancouver. And dance groups utilize. They utilize it as a political platform.
We talk about fish farming. We talk about the pipeline. We talk about residential schools. We talk on and on and on.
When we have that stage, they have no idea that we're-- they have no idea what they've done. We're going to extend our longhouse floor-- we're longhouse people, too. We're going to extend our floor, and we're going to teach them about our protocols and people's ways in relation to the territory.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. It's been extraordinarily interesting. You might have already partially answered my question, but I wondered if you could speak to your hope for your work. You mentioned briefly about that, and also what it is doing in your sense and your objectives with it.
MIQUE'L DANGELI: My objectives in it-- my hope for the larger research project is I feel that-- so dance scholar Diana Taylor talks about percepticide, which I find a very helpful term in the way that through perception, people are conditioned to not see. So percepticide.
And I feel that some of the stereotypes that you'd mentioned about indigenous dance-- that through those stereotypes, in ways that the general public is conditioned to see First Nations people-- Indian people as this really simple equation that Indians and dancing, that it's been depoliticized.
It's highly political. It's politically entrenched within local politics in terms of community. It's international politics, and it's global politics.
And the work that I've done in my dissertation on Dancing Sovereignty looks at all of that-- the way that it's intimately and inextricably connected to land rights, to territorial rights. So for us on the coast, territorial rights are both waterways and land.
And I think that that's my objective for the bigger-- for the project is to-- I can't say repoliticize because there are political on their own, but bring attention to diverse audiences as yourself about the politics-- the intense politics embedded in indigenous dance, and specifically around protocol, and to open up the complexity. I do a really thorough analysis of song composition, of choreography, of the choices that dance artists make when they create new work, and to not just assume that when you see First Nations people dancing in regalia, that what they're dancing is old.
For Coast Salish people in particular, and in Vancouver, because their songs don't leave their winter ceremonies, everything that you see in the public is made for the public. And it's made for the public in a way that-- Vizenor's concept of survivance. It's about creating presence within their territory. So those are some of my main objectives.
Do we have room for one more? [INAUDIBLE] I'm happy to talk to anyone after-- one more?
AUDIENCE: This is a followup on this question. I wonder what are your hopes for the discipline of art history. And how would you think that eventually your methods would change the field? I'm talking as a classical archaeologist-- so ancient Greece and Rome, that, from the historiographic point of view, is at the very core of the Western way to approach art objects, et cetera.
On the other side-- of course, listening to your presentation, I also felt, well, you know, in a way, we also colonialize the past. Inhabitants of ancient Greek cities and the Roman Empire cannot respond anymore. And is there any way that you think we could sort of try to revive certain of their traditions, and because it completely different initial situation, but I don't know if you have thought about it.
MIQUE'L DANGELI: Well that would be up to their descendants, right? I mean, how presumptuous of us to revive other people's traditions. But it happens all the time. I mean, look at the Indian encampments in Germany, right, the Germans taking it upon themselves.
It's very paternalistic, and it's typical of colonialism's culture to say, well, they're not doing it. They can't take care of themselves. Therefore, we'll do it for them, and we'll do it better than them, or all of those colonial presumptions.
But I think to get to your question about my hopes and dreams for the field, I'm going to talk Northwest Coast specific right now for just a moment and then talk about the wider field of indigenous art history. When I graduated this past November, I became the first indigenous person to hold a PhD in the study of Northwest Coast First Nations art history.
That doesn't make me feel special. It makes me feel anxious about the future of the field. I started in art history as an undergrad. And I thought by the time that I got my PhD, I would be graduating with Tlingit art historians, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] art historians, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] art historians.
And I think that there is something about the discipline. It's not at all a discipline that is bringing indigenous scholars from the territories in. And my hope is to get in a position where I can train indigenous scholars from those nations to be seen as the academic experts and authorities on their own people's art histories. That's one-- if I'm going to write out the academy, no matter how brutal it is because I think that it's a huge injustice that there are not more of us.
So in terms of greater art history, I that we, thanks to the work that Jolene and others have done, that we're making significant strides. And I hope that Northwest Coast art history-- and I think that those strides are significant because they've been indigenous-driven with the support of non-indigenous allies, Ruth Phillips being one of them.
But I'm but I'm just hoping I work well with my non-indigenous colleagues in Northwest Coast First Stations art history-- that we'll meet up with the rest of studies of indigenous art histories.
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Talk by Mique'l Dangeli (Tsimshian Nation) PhD, Instructor, First Nations and Indigenous Studies, University of British Columbia. Respondent: Kaja M. McGowan, Associate Professor, History of Art and Visual Studies Department and Director, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University. Part of the Indigenous Methodologies and Art History conference held at Cornell on April 29, 2016, hosted by the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) and the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies.