Perspectives on O k’inadas// Reconceiving Indigenous Studies (and gaming the academy) by Aaron Franks

Steven Loft (SL): What might be interesting for you to talk about is that there’s a huge pedagogical shift and there’s a lot—maybe way too much—of rolling around this idea of Indigenizing the academy.

But what does decolonization really mean when we drill down into this idea of pedagogy? Are there ways that we can really bring to the university a larger Indigenous cosmology and ideas of knowledge transference that don’t fit within the Euro model of education, which our whole system is built on?

How do you disrupt systemic models of education in really interesting ways? I think for me this is one of the really innovative aspects of this Intensive and how it’s evolved.

Ashok Mathur (AM): I think it partly comes through maybe traditional notions of exposure. You bring in a bunch of artists and people are going to learn from them. But they’re not learning through someone saying ‘I will come to you and speak with you’, they’re learning through osmosis. They’re in the studio, they see a performance, they see fuckin’ Rebecca Belmore is going to do a performance at some point, and they don’t have to travel to wherever she is doing it, they’re there—and some of them won’t even know who she is which is a good thing too. So these are, I suppose, the reinventions. Which is why as soon as the university cottons on to the Institute…

Aaron Franks (AF): …and what does the university do when they find out about it?

AM: Well we’re not looking at all means to maximize revenue, right? What does the university do when we say ‘someone came in and they kind of want to hang out but they don’t want to pay fees’?

SL: The university is supposed to say, ‘yeah that’s cool!’ We have to do that, because that breaks the cycle of an elite system.

AM: This model will never be a hugely successful university revenue-generating thing. So right now the university could kick in something but, because we’re getting funding from other sources to pay artists, they don’t need to finance it, which is a very important distinction to make. The artists are coming in and they’re being supported in the work they’re doing. And sure it has a positive blowback effect on the students, right? Which is great. But it’s not about, you know, the university getting maximized profit.

Stephen Foster (SF): You can characterize these things as structural and you know that they’re addressing the structural issue of post-secondary education models. But I think the real radical stuff is from the kind of defending of how we think about Indigeneity in the academy. I think that’s where it really is quite radical.

We started this Summer Institute concept and partly what we’re always butting up against in terms of the university infrastructure, the Dean’s support, you know all this kind of stuff, was this thinking around Indigenous Studies as something where you’re studying ‘the people,’ you know you’re studying ‘the community,’ you’re objectifying the people, the culture, you’re studying that as an external thing.

It’s still a problem we have in the academic world. I’m working on another project where I’m talking about research protocols for Indigenous research and that’s still the predominant way that the upper administration wants to think about these things, where researchers are one thing, Indigenous people are another thing, right? It seems completely backwards!

And I think that when we started the Institute, the concept of taking Indigenous Studies as we’re actually not studying the people but we’re studying an Indigenous scholarship, you know.

SL: – So how do you flip that? Methodologies, cosmologies-

SF: – that’s what we were teaching and that was the shift and I think that has had huge ramifications for our whole institution, that people have slowly come around to ‘oh yeah, that’s what you’re doing’. And there’s parallels to Queer Studies, to Women’s Studies, things like that have gone through that process too. But I think that in some circles, there are still these kinds of binaries when it comes to Indigenous Studies. They think of it as ‘oh, this is just a part of Anthropology.

SL: Again, this…’radical shift’…? I would say that the majority of the institutions they’re not there, they haven’t got there.

AM: One of things interesting to look at, using Stephen’s parallels, is that in a mainstream university economy the notion of Indigeneity means one thing, ‘Indigenization’ as we’ve been seeing [in the mainstream] means one thing – “oh let’s make it Indigenous”. But what does that mean? People don’t know—

AF: —does that means putting Sylix words on the street signs—

AM: —yeah does it mean putting Sylix on the street signs and promoting the fact that there’s a Memorandum of Understanding and all this sort of stuff.

But looking at multiplicities, conflict is really important. We have really interesting conflicting world views and opinions as opposed to a single Indigenous one. But I think the mainstream environment would love to see it as a singular position. Just like government would love to see a single AFN [Assembly of First Nations] voice, because then they could deal with it easily.

AF: Yep, certainty. They want certainty. It’s interesting because a strong part of my conversation with Ayumi [Goto] and Peter [Morin] yesterday[i] was about developing the spaces where hard questions can be asked, and developing the space where disagreement can be fruitful and not shied away from. One of the things Ayumi said was that it was about building relationships of truth.

But in a broad way, there’s a kind of widely circulated discourse that says Indigenous peoples need this sort of “magical special time” to  heal, and then trust will be established and then the next thing will be established, true being together.

But I don’t think these things can be separate. I mean we don’t have a separate healing time, and then a separate getting your act together time, you know?  So we talked about what O K’inadas and the Intensive can do now and in the future to foster those sort of productive, grinding-against-each-other spaces.




Ashok Mathur is Professor of Creative Writing and Canada Research Chair in Cultural and Artistic Inquiry in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan.

Stephen Foster is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, where he is also Director of the Summer Institute of Interdisciplinary Indigenous Graduate Studies, Coordinator of the CanWest Global Centre for Artist’s Video and Coordinator of the MFA in Creative Studies Program

Steven Loft is a Trudeau Fellow and Director of the Canada Council’s Aboriginal Arts Office.


[i] See Goto, A., Morin, P., and A. Franks. (2017). “O K’inādās—Where Ayumi Goto and Peter Morin Do Not Talk about Reconciliation”. cultural diversity and the stage 13(3)