The 2015 meeting of the American Indigenous Research Association, held October 22 to 24, was our biggest yet! Almost 300 people from more than 60 Indigenous tribes and nations attended two days of presentations and poster sessions Friday and Saturday, plus an inaugural slate of workshops on Thursday.
Meeting in the Joe McDonald Health Center and Gym on the beautiful Salish Kootenai College campus gave us more room than we’ve ever had previous years. Presenters from five continents didn’t just address the issue of diversity in research; they manifested its awesome power in their talks, posters, conversations, relationships, and physical presence. Also at this year’s conference, we attempted to address evaluation comments from 2014 participants in having more time for networking, questions and answers to the presenters, and getting out on the land.
The highlight of this year’s meeting was the amazing Dr. Bagele Chilisa from the University of Botswana, whose talk Equality in Diversity outlined exactly how Indigenous methods are done. Dr. Chilisa challenged people to ask: “What is our/my story that drives me to do the research that I do?” A warm and gracious person, Dr. Chilisa signed copies of her 2012 book Indigenous Research Methodologies, and during the meeting she met and spoke with professors and students who are inspired by her work and her life.
Dr. Liz Rix’s deeply powerful reflection of her efforts to apply Indigenous methods to Australian Aboriginal renal patients asked “Can a white Aussie woman ‘get it’?” in a way that showed the answer can certainly be a resounding and community-building “yes.” And everybody’s “favorite son,” Frank Finley, Coordinator of the Cultural Arts division SKC’s Art Department was finally (after giving up his slot in the agenda last year due to time constraints) able to share his thoughts this year about how a Sense of Place should guide our research.
Dr. Patricia Cochran, Executive Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, presented a keynote on the impact of climate change on Indigenous peoples of her homeland. Dr. Lilian Alessa from the University of Alaska, Anchorage and Director of the Center of Resilient Communities at the University of Idaho deconstructed “science” of the past and explored new avenues of method in her banquet presentation. Other speakers included Drs. Leonie Pihama and Rihi Te Nana, who explained Kaupapa Maori Theory, an organic and evolving method distinctive to Aotearoa and defined and controlled by the Maori. And in a particularly exciting move Dr. Regina Sievert and Cecelia Arnot from SKC presented the results of a self-study and formative assessment on planning an Indigenous Research Center that has everyone excited and eager to see future developments. The poster session of over 30 posters was also organized by Dr. Regina Sievert and Cecilia Arnot.
Two insightful graduate school presentations focused on a rebuttal of Dr. Joe Gone’s 2014 AIRA presentation. The ever-entertaining Dr. Sweeny Windchief of MSU led one amazing group of graduate students and Jessica Venable aptly led the other group, the Student Storytellers Indigenizing the Academy graduate student group of AIRA.
This year, for the first time, we also had a total of five pre-conference workshops. AIRA’s favorite mentor, Dr. Shawn Wilson, author of Research is Ceremony, traveled from Australia to lead one of the most popular workshops, entitled Implementing the Indigenous Paradigm in the Research Proposal. Ebullient and energetic as ever, Dr. Ku Kahakalau flew in from Hawai’i to lead a workshop on preserving Indigenous languages. Dr. Ed Galindo helped graduate students dance through the hoops of navigating the graduate school process. On Saturday morning, Ed along with Dr. Tod Shocky, led a small group of SKC undergraduate students through a workshop on passing the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Dr. Renee Louis, and Dr. Lori Lambert also lent their talents to pre-conference workshops. Lori and her group traveled to the National Bison Range for a workshop entitled The Earth Speaks. Accompanied by Steve Arca (Salish) they told the story of how the bison were saved from extinction.
This year’s meeting was dedicated to beloved Kainai Elder Narcisse Blood, who died in a tragic automobile accident last February. Several of his students came to the meeting and shared their memories of Narcisse and their experiences of traditional learning in the program he established at Red Crow College, which has since been shuttered. Yet we ended our meeting, as always, with a traditional Round Dance that brings healing from the trauma of colonization – paralleling, as Maggie Kovachs has written — the healing that Indigenous Research Methods bring our people as we continue to heal from all the research that has been carried out on us, used to control us, and invoked to restrict the ways our students are allowed to learn and grow. We came together as individuals struggling with the intense pressures of colonization on a daily basis, and separated as a newly-strengthened community united in hope and resolve.
As we embark on planning for the 2016 conference, we are continually grateful to our incredible supporters and funders: Montana State University INBRE Foundation (a program supported by National Institutes of Health), Dr. Allen Harmsen and Dr. Ann Bertagnolli; Co Carew, MSW PhD candidate and Interim Department Head Salish Kootenai College Social Work Department; Emily Salois, MSW and tribal liaison for INBRE. We also appreciate the hard work of Michael BigCrane and his amazing crew for their hard work in setting up the Joseph McDonald Health and Fitness Center, and especially the giant Jumbotron. Thanks goes to Maryrose Morigeau for organizing the amazing vendors and to Dr. Frank Tyro for his tireless efforts in videotaping the major keynotes. And most importantly, thank you to Cheri Houle for her fabulously fantastic meals served on the SKC campus which included full breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. The conference banquet Friday night at the KwaTaqNuk Resort, prepared and organized by the hotel’s Event Staff and Ashlee Cheff, gave participants an opportunity to sit and network with keynotes, presenters and other conference participants.
Join us next year and become part of the change we are living into existence.
Remember to follow us on Facebook to learn more about the 2016 meeting as plans are completed, and to watch for our call for abstract submissions to present in 2016!