As a student in a Cultural Studies doctoral program a huge responsibility is reading, and a lot of it. The father of Cultural Studies, Stuart Hall believed in creating a movement in the social sciences that is rooted in Marxist theory and one that includes critical pedagogy. Hall’s introduction of Cultural Studies from the UK during a time when US society was post Civil Rights has been viewed as a seemingly progressive movement with “cutting edge” theory. Since that time, the US, a first world country, still struggles with social issues such as racism, feminism, sexualization, and other issues of marginalized oppression. Despite the “cutting edge” theory, institutions on the front lines of a first world country are plagued with one step forward, two steps back type of progression. It’s been slow, it’s still “new”, and roughly, still being shaped. While Hall does not mention once Indigenous people, I have learned to create the space where I have inserted my Indigenous worldview in Cultural Studies using applied critical thinking.
While I work with professors who research areas of globalization, gender, critical race, and feminism, as an Indigenous woman, I’ve had to insert and create spaces for myself resourcing Indigenous scholars. To name a few, Vine Deloria, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Linda T. Smith, Margaret Kovach, Jeff Corntassel, and Taiaiake Alfred. In this progression of change, back in 2009, in the first year of my doctoral program, I took a research in epistemology course. Class discussion was after reading Frantz Fanon. As we went around the classroom sharing our comments and reflective reading notes, a white female colleague talked about being a “post-colonial” society and shared that Fanon’s writing was during a time when African nations were still forming their countries, therefore times and things have changed, “we are no longer where they were then.” Funny thing to me, her understanding of Africa was introduced by popular media and she did not know who Fanon was prior to the class. While other white peers talked about their reading notes, I couldn’t help but reflect on how the class was talking as if that era or time in history was a relic. Something of the past and that today was a much different story.
The discussion group continued and it came to my turn. My first question was “are we really even post-colonial?” which was met with one person’s eyes looking directly at me, another classmate smiled, and my Libyan colleagues all shook their heads no. Class discussion was officially on its way! Since that time and several more courses and theory reading assignments later, I don’t believe we are near a post-colonial state. If there is any theory about being post colonial, it is a theory worth critiquing because in my not so humble opinion, anyone who believes/thinks we are post-colonial is most likely a white privileged person who supports the VRA and SCOTUS recent decisions. Consequently, the woman seems to have a better understanding of her white privilege today, however does that make her more aware and sensitive to oppression and the need for a revolution?
As I have come to understand, Cultural Studies looks at the impacts of structuralism with Marxism, post Marxism, feminist theory, in my program we have read in addition to Fanon, Foucault, Derrida, Hegel, de Beauvior, Gramsci, Freire, and Said to name a few in the cultural studies school of thought. Granted these are only a few of the theorists, these are the few who have made it to the world of Euro-American classics in social world theory.The classics are helpful and worth tackling and needed to question today’s society using applied critical thinking skills. I have learned, critical thinking or critical pedagogy is a habitual willingness and commitment to engage in purposeful deliberation. It’s looking deep into any claims or ideas and not simply accepting them at face value but looking at something critically. Critical thinking includes having an attitude and ability to use specific critical evaluative, inquisitive, skills and apply them into the context of reflection upon one’s own thinking. Pretty much, like what Pooh says, you got to “think, think, think!” One of my prof’s shared, “critical thinking is not to trash a source, but to question and create dialogue.” Further, it allows for ones background influences findings to present itself and create the opportunity for learning.
With each semester and course readings, I have come to learn Indigenous scholarly debates are left out unless I bring them forward or challenge my white colleagues to read. I also learned readings such as Fanon and Said, who named ‘the Other’, helpful in explaining how marginalization still affects Indigenous people as we are the minority of minorities when it comes to research data in the larger context of institutionalized racism. We are a small population of people in the world and Indigenous people are continually left out. While working through my dissertation proposal, I’m finding it’s important to work with Indigenous faculty and scholars, however, my frustration, while at a predominantly white institution, I work with non Indigenous faculty. In this learning process, I have come to the understanding that Indigenous intellectuals are far more outnumbered by academics in the academy at large. Simply put, we have more academicians than intellectuals.
Having been down the professional track working for a federal contractor, traveling the country working in Technical Assistance, private and non private sectors, and professional goals of executive management, I took a 360 turn and will be entering the fifth year of my doctoral program. As I begin defining my research, when approached from an Indigenous worldview, I realize there is still much work that needs to be done. Not only socially, but as it relates to the health and well-being of the Indigenous community. When grounded and rooted in one’s culture, one does not need to read research that has been produced already. One creates research… as I have been taught, research By the People, FOR the People is what we are here to do work on. At present, I am embarking on a proposal to be presented to my tribal council for IRB. This is not some random proposal, nor is it just a question. It is a proposal that indicates clearly what I will be doing, not next month or next week, but next year, with a guided plan and resource list with a proposed outcome. Imagine that presented to a community who lives from one season to the next, where hunting, fishing, and gathering on an ecological calendar is a way of life and not on a Gregorian calendar. Not only is the proposed project at question, but so is the outcome. What I have come to learn is, the definitive is not in what I will be doing, but how this will benefit the community and why should my tribe support me?
I’ve been diligently working on and planning my research project, which is not easy, nor is it meant to be. In fact, I was told by one of my faculty mentors (who is Indigenous), it is not something just any body can do. It’s no wonder why we have people stating we don’t need research. Speaking for my tribe and my tribe alone, we have a need for language revitalization and I am working on a proposal so that we could gain more knowledge to be shared with our people. When I look at members of the larger Indigenous community who view themselves as spokespeople for Indigenous Peoples (I’ve worked in policy analysis/development/legislative advocacy) been there, done that. This isn’t a new game nor is it some thing that’s been recreated for a new generation, Indigenous people have been presented with policies for over 500 years, we don’t need anymore policies, what we need is more people to hold the government accountable for the current policies, but also for the ones that have been made.
My point, in an applied critical thinking state, there is no conceptualization of new knowledge without questioning and reflection. It’s important to look at where we have come from, but also where we are going. As the Indigenous community works through issues of the larger discourse on what is Native (or not), it’s important to understand our place as a collective group and construct what we believe is important, for us, by us. My research is something I’ve identified within my home community as a need, and in the larger context, is necessary as it relates to our sovereignty and education. How I arrived at that conclusion took 4.5 years of struggling with what I needed to figure out for myself. My first idea of research is no longer the same… my letter of intent was ridden with policy (gross-gag) and I was going to save Indian Ed (he’s no longer taking resumes). Instead, I am looking to help my home community. I value and love who my People are, despite the lateral violence, substance abuse, dysfunctions, and violence against women and children and negativity that may exist, I know the flip side to that is there is also good. For what little work I am doing is not for me, but for the future children yet unborn. Creator willing, my legacy will become their legacies legacy. Applying critical thinking skills is more than just sitting down to think, read, write, it’s applying that knowledge gained and sharing so that others can also begin thinking critically and reflectively. How else will we as a community move forward if we are not teaching and sharing what we are learning?