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  • "You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned"Or, How Yoda, Decolonization, and Indigenous Digital Media Fit Together
  • Alix Shield (bio)

In Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Master Yoda explains to Luke Skywalker that in order to truly master the ways of "The Force," he must make space for other ways of thinking: "You must unlearn what you have learned," says Yoda. Almost forty years later and set after the fall of the Empire, Star Wars fans fell in love with the character of Baby Yoda (or Grogu) with the 2019 release of The Mandalorian. For many Indigenous artists and creators, Yoda and Baby Yoda represent the parallels between "The Force"—the universe's energy field—and Indigenous ways of knowing; in fact, over the past two years Baby Yoda has inspired Indigenous artists around the world, and has been reinterpreted through art, beadwork, and memes.1

If we consider Yoda's words in the context of conversations around decolonization, Star Wars becomes a surprising but effective entry-point into Indigenous digital media. In this essay, I speak to my experiences teaching INDG 222: Introduction to Indigenous Digital Media in the Department of Indigenous Studies at Simon Fraser University, located in Burnaby, BC, on the unceded territories of the Tsleil-Waututh (səl'ilw'ətaʔɬ), Kwikwetlem (kʷikʷəƛ'əm), Squamish (Sḵwxwú7mesh), and Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy'əm) Nations. In INDG 222,2 we cover topics including Indigenous data sovereignty, Traditional Knowledge labelling,3 digital repatriation,4 Indigenous video games and podcasts, and more; it's a course that integrates theory, hands-on digital humanities skills training and digital literacy, and critical thinking. The course provides a solid introduction to a range of topics related to Indigenous new media and the digital humanities, and also encourages students to question the colonial foundations and structures that undergird much of the technology and media we engage with on a daily basis. As a settler [End Page 75] scholar teaching New Media (NM) and the Digital Humanities (DH) from an Indigenous Studies perspective, I focus here on the central role of decolonization in this course—and refer to the wise words of Master Yoda as our decolonial Jedi master.

introductory position

As an English/Scottish-descended settler scholar teaching in Indigenous Studies, it's necessary for me to clearly state my self-positionality as an outsider to Indigenous knowledges, cultures, and ways of knowing. I must also acknowledge the deeply problematic settler histories from which I have personally benefitted, and that continue to negatively impact the lives of Indigenous peoples today. Though I was born and raised in Vancouver on unceded Musqueam, Skwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh territories, it wasn't until I started my PhD at Simon Fraser University in 2014 that I began to understand the histories of genocide, dispossession, and assimilationist legislation that had contributed to my own comfortable upbringing.

In my doctoral research, I attempted to engage in what Métis author Maria Campbell describes as kwaskastahsowin, or "putting things to right," to address the lasting impacts of colonial editorial interventions in Canada's publishing industry.5 My PhD combined elements of Indigenous Studies, English, and the Digital Humanities, and approached two key twentieth-century works of Indigenous women's writing in Canada (Legends of Vancouver and Halfbreed) with aims of acknowledging and ethically redressing their colonial histories of publication. In the classroom, I draw on the important lessons learned from my doctoral research, and also from teachings shared with me over the years from respected Indigenous faculty and mentors. I also look to the work of settler scholars like David Gaertner (UBC), who continue to model respectful, innovative approaches to teaching Indigenous Literatures and New Media.

In my classes, we begin our work by acknowledging the Indigenous lands upon which we are gathered, and by positioning ourselves in relation to those lands. Anishinaabe scholar Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm argues that understanding one's position shows an awareness "of the colonial history that may come to bear upon the process and upon [one's] relationships with Indigenous writers" (32). As a settler scholar, [End Page 76] my position in relation to teaching Indigenous topics is...