- Destabilizing the Settler Academy: The Decolonial Effects of Indigenous Methodologies
The academy forms within settler societies as an apparatus of colonization. Indigenous researchers critically engage its colonial power by practicing Indigenous methodologies: an act that also implicates non-Indigenous people in challenging the settler academy. Indigenous methodologies do not merely model Indigenous research. By exposing normative knowledge production as being not only non-Indigenous but colonial, they denaturalize power within settler societies and ground knowledge production in decolonization. An activist impetus thus informs Indigenous methodologies, yet “activism” typically fails to invoke their full implications. Whereas “activism” in a settler society may invest social justice in state rule, decolonization anticipates that rule’s end. Decolonization is activist, but activism need not be decolonizing. Indigenous methodologies arise within the larger pursuit of Indigenous decolonization, a project that Indigenous critics theorize variously as ontological, psychic, governmental, and relational.1 Indigenous methodologies present what Dylan Rodríguez (referencing João Costas Vargas) calls an “urgency imperative,” which answers “the academy’s long historical complicities in racial/colonial genocide” by endeavoring “to denaturalize and ultimately dismantle the conditions in which these systems of massive violence are reproduced.” Such theories seek to fundamentally transform the institutional and epistemic conditions of life and thought for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on lands where all live relationally, in ways that settler societies and their governance cannot contain.
Indigenous scholars of Indigenous methodologies address one another from within the epistemic frame of the settler academy by invoking distinct bodies of Indigenous knowledge. For example, in Decolonizing Methodologies, Linda Tuhiwai Smith contrasts imperial research about Indigenous people and their lands—an enterprise that Indigenous peoples have challenged across time and space—with Kaupapa Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand as a body of knowledge [End Page 805] that interlinks Maori across their differences and that exceeds the capacity of the academy to contain it.2 Similarly, Margaret Kovach, Shawn Wilson, and Lina Sunseri model how Oneida, Anishinaabe, and other Indigenous researchers work within and remake Indigenous traditions of knowledge and relationship, without presuming their commonality but rather by inviting their interconnection.3 Jeff Corntassel grounds such work in the practice of “insurgent education,” in which “discomforting moments of Indigenous truth-telling that challenge the colonial status quo . . . inspire activism and reclamation of Indigenous histories and homelands.”4 For Corntassel and Taiaiake Alfred, such work feeds Indigenous “resurgence,” in which knowledge and action invoke distinctive modes of Indigenous governance.5 In these modes, Indigenous methodologies trouble their own “recognition” by settlers—for, as Glen Coulthard argues, “recognition” authorizes settlers to define and manage indigeneity as a difference that can make no difference to settler rule.6 Indigenous methodologies in fact disturb the metaphysics of colonial rule, not only in the academy, and model a way of life that draws Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in interrelationship to work for decolonization.
To engage Indigenous methodologies at the university—for me, in Canada and the United States—is to confront the academic manifestations of colonial governance. I encounter them as a white scholar who currently teaches critical race, Indigenous, and settler-colonial studies and advises Indigenous graduate students at Queen’s University, which was built in 1841 on the lands of the Haudenosaunee and Algonquin peoples near Cree territory. Queen’s draws Indigenous students from these territories and from across Canada. For each student I serve, I know that the pursuit of Indigenous methodologies derives from a personal practice of decolonization. Contra imperial methodologies, these students’ citation trails (or as Smith puts it, “dissent lines”)7 reference academic publications in relation to diverse Indigenous knowledges—stories, representations, relationships, and ceremonies—that also exceed the distinctions set by these English terms. The students’ methodologies bear activist effects: exposing epistemological norms for the preparation of dissertations; disturbing academic legitimation by affirming the resonance of research in Indigenous spaces; and communicating in mediums as diversely situated as are Indigenous audiences. As Aimee Carrillo Rowe suggests, their work negotiates the academy, “alienating as it is,” in the “differential” mode that Chela Sandoval theorized as decolonial practice: by marking, crossing, exceeding, and disrupting the colonial conditions of knowledge production.
Indigenous methodologies thus demand the interrogation...