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  • Four More Indigenous Projects for the Native American Humanities
  • Matthew Herman (bio)

As someone who studies and teaches the Native American humanities from within a Native American studies department, I often think about the productive possibilities that might emerge for the Native American humanities from a sustained, direct engagement with Indigenous research (IR) and Indigenous research methodologies (IRMs).1 In my own scholarship and teaching, one of the most useful tools is Linda Tuhiwai Smith's short essay "Twenty-Five Indigenous Projects," from the ground-breaking IR text Decolonizing Methodologies (1999). Whenever I can, I recommend the essay to other teachers and assign it to my students because Smith's Indigenous projects are so readily applicable as analytical frameworks for producing decolonizing readings of texts. As Smith presents them, the twenty-five Indigenous projects are descriptions of actually existing research programs or action-based community projects that perform decolonization by supporting Indigenous knowledges, values, and interests and by utilizing Indigenous collaboration or control in knowledge production, application, and distribution. All twenty-five projects have short, self-defining titles—"claiming," "celebrating survival," "reframing"—that evoke the decolonizing actions they describe and perform.

While Smith acknowledges that Indigenous projects can describe work being done "at the level of ideas," most of the projects deal with legal issues or concern problems that call for solutions from the behavioral, health, or social sciences—not the humanities. Even so, the decolonizing processes the projects activate are not exclusive to any particular problem or need or to any particular academic discipline or theory. Claiming, for example, can be about asserting "rights and [End Page 31] dues" in tribunals and courts of law, as Smith says, but it can also be about asserting voice and agency, epistemological privilege and visual sovereignty, and historiographical authority and representational control. Claiming takes place in legal briefs, in other words, but also in lyric poetry, graphic novels, and Indigenous documentary film. Think, for example, of all that Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin claims in her classic film, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance—land, history, voice, Kanien'kéhaka political rights and autonomy, moral authority, and the documentary form itself—and how such claims not only broaden but also strengthen the film's overall decolonizing impact. There is no limit, then, to where, when, and how claiming can be asserted for decolonizing purposes, and this interdisciplinary flexibility "at the level of ideas" holds true for all of Smith's Indigenous projects.

This year, 2019, marks the twentieth anniversary of Decolonizing Methodologies. I first read it in the summer of 2000 as a tribal college liberal arts instructor, and as a non-Native scholar teaching in a tribal community, I found Smith's thoughts on positionality, ethics, and protocol helpful for imagining better ways to do my work and to help my students do theirs. Over the years, however, it has been the book's twenty-five Indigenous projects that have made the most enduring contribution to my scholarship and teaching. These projects gave specific names to actually existing decolonizing methods and procedures that made me aware of decolonization as an expansive, open-ended, performative process most usefully understood as a collection of practices ("Indigenous projects," after all) rather than a single one. I became more aware of what decolonization actually looked like in action through the concrete examples of the projects themselves, but I also became more aware of what was possible—that other decolonizing projects were present yet incompletely formed and that new or refurbished forms were always in the process of becoming. Overall, Decolonizing Methodologies made me a more attentive reader for decolonization in all its forms, it provided a critical vocabulary for identifying the forms decolonization takes, and it instilled in me a critical consciousness keyed to the nuances of Native textual survivance. Decolonization in action is neither simple to perform nor easy to discern, but Smith's Indigenous projects, when used as conceptual frameworks to identify decolonizing processes in texts, provide specificity and precision that make such processes intelligible and enable a competence for understanding how such processes work and to what ends. [End Page 32]

As a gesture of gratitude, appreciation, and respect for twenty years of...


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