"Presenting with emotion and honesty on an issue that is so close to me (as an Indigenous woman) was and always will be difficult. But staying silent is not and will never be an option."

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Travel Report: Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire, a PhD student in the School of Criminology, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research in Toronto, Canada.

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August 27, 2019

I visited Toronto in November of 2018 to attend “Bridging the Gap between Refugee and Indigenous Communities,” a graduate student conference hosted by York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies.

I presented “Paving the Highway of Tears,” which outlines and examines the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in B.C. as a social problem. This was my first experience presenting at an academic conference. Presenting with emotion and honesty on an issue that is so close to me (as an Indigenous woman) was and always will be difficult. But staying silent is not and will never be an option - it is within my power to bring these issues forward and I felt like I was able to effectively do that.

I presented on a panel on Indigenous issues, and I found it interesting and perhaps concerning that I was the only Indigenous person on that panel. The young woman beside me seemed to amalgamate and essentialize all Indigenous peoples as one and the same. She spoke about her experiences working with one community and attempted to make broad generalizations. Thankfully I was not the only person that (respectfully) questioned her on this and she seemed to take it as a learning experience. This willingness to learn was refreshing. There were other frustrating moments such as talk about forgiveness, reconciliation and apology not decolonization and action.

In our attempts to de-colonize academia we need to be careful about ensuring Indigenous peoples (varied) voices are centred, respected, and that ally/settler researchers are rigorous in their interpretation and representation of Indigenous issues. Indigenous peoples have been researched, ignored, appropriated, and pan-indigenized for far too long. This conference was the first time I was able to effectively channel my frustration into productive comments instead of feeling angry and powerless. We cannot decolonize and indigenize if we are not willing to let people know that they are wrong, to challenge ourselves and each other.

As a Haida, Ojibwe, settler (Irish/British) academic I feel it is my duty and privilege to speak up and during this conference I found a productive way of doing that.

The entire experience was unexpected, rewarding, frustrating and eye opening all at the same time. I did not really have expectations going in. I found the discussion of shared and different oppressions, ally-ship and settler-other relations incredibly fascinating.

The conference organizers did a wonderful job coordinating, moderating uncomfortable dialogue, and providing a safe space for shared ideas. I felt inspired when I left Toronto. I will always remember my time at this conference. As I enter into my current Masters research I believe the ability to navigate uncomfortable situations, challenge others to think more critically, and confidence in public speaking will serve me well.