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Undergraduate students Kimberley John and Alison Wick deepen their learning in Indigenous Studies.
Though they come to Indigenous studies from different pathways and backgrounds, Kimberley John and Alison Wick share a commitment to deepening their learning and understanding of Indigenous histories, literatures, and current contexts. They are also both current research assistants for Dr. Deana Reder’s archival project, The People and the Text: Indigenous Writing in Northern North America to 1992. John also currently works as an assistant and recruiter with the Indigenous University Preparation Program, the program that provided her own pathway to post-secondary study.
John is a double-major in Health Sciences and Indigenous Studies and came to SFU as a mature student through the Aboriginal Bridge Program in 2015. She is of mixed ancestry with her father being Coast Salish from the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation and her mother’s family of European descent (Scottish, English, Swedish and Norwegian).
Wick is in her last year of completing her BA with a major in Indigenous Studies and a minor in Publishing. As a settler scholar of English, Norwegian, and Icelandic descent who grew up on the occupied territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Watuth Nations, her introduction and interest in Indigenous studies was fuelled by the way the program, “taught meaningful academic research that was connected to my life."
Likewise, John says “taking INDG courses gave me a much deeper understanding of the history of what is now Canada [including] what legislation was implemented in order to control and assimilate Indigenous populations and how that failure has affected generations of people, including myself.”
Coursework brought to life
Both John and Wick say there have been many highlights during their time in the Indigenous Studies program..
John appreciated being introduced to participatory research projects with Indigenous groups in INDG 111 and taking ethnobotany. “Learning about the relationships that exist between plants and people was fascinating,” she says. “I find myself always trying to identify plants wherever I am.”
In the early stages of her program, John says that taking “w” designated courses in the program helped her work through an initial fear of writing. “I was also able to read books that I wanted to read. And INDG 401: Indigenous literature does not get the exposure it deserves. It’s powerful, edgy, and modern and it’s a pleasure to read Indigenous writers instead of reading about Indigenous people.”
Likewise, Wick says her experiences have taken her beyond the typical university classroom and course material, and provided a way to engage meaningfully with her peers and to critically re-thinking her own history and experiences.
Dr. June Scudeler’s film studies class, for example, was hosted in the SFU galleries space and Scudeler instilled a “kitchen table pedagogy,” arranging food like soup and bread for everyone to share during the class.
Taking INDG 201 course with Dr. Deanna Reder also provided Wick the opportunity to critically analyze a BC history textbook that she herself used as a high school student: an experience that added a personal touch allowing her to connect her direct, lived experience to her studies.
“The assignment was really memorable because it was the first time I ever read academic research about local history. I got to learn about ‘my own’ school system and how the curriculum was driven by the colonial needs of the nation-state (e.g the necessity for students to learn nationalist pride).”
Wick also points out that INDG 201 was where she and Kim John met, quickly becoming friends and colleagues. "Deanna wanted to use our papers in the course, so she asked us to come in and edit them together. At the end of the day, [Deanna] mentioned that she needed Research Assistants for The People and the Text, we both said we were interested, and have been working together since.”
Experiential learning makes a difference
What is The People and the Text? As the website describes; “People and the Text: Indigenous Writing in Northern North America to 1992 is collecting and studying one of the most neglected literary archives in English Canada, an archive neglected because settlers used literature to consolidate a narrative of Canada starring the British-descended resulting in university curricula that featured the British canon.”
John and Wick have been working as research assistants on the project since 2018. As John describes it, the woree includes "doing some transcription and helping to digitize Gatherings, literary journals of Indigenous writings.”
It has been an immensely rewarding experience for John, professionally and personally.
“I got to work with wonderful people, including Ali. I got to tag along for the Indigenous Literary Awards and fan-girl over Indigenous authors.
Dr. Deanna Reder speaks highly of her former students emphasizing that while Kim John and Alison Wick are excellent research assistants, she also sees them as “colleagues with valuable insights to share,” and that she has “been impressed by their commitment to the work.”
Reder says John’s work is founded with an ethics of care and respect and gives the example of the efforts John made in contacting and communicating with authors whose work was featured in the annual publication Gatherings (Theytus Press):
“Theytus Press granted [us] the permission to post fifteen years of an annual publication called Gatherings, an anthology of Indigenous writing by people who went through the En’owkin Centre from about 1990 to about 2005. We were concerned that the Indigenous writers who were featured wouldn’t have a way of knowing that their work was posted, and we also felt a duty to give them the chance to comment or withdraw if they were not happy with being included.
I brought this problem to Kim and she ended up setting up a Facebook page and through researching using Social Media she was able to contact about 300 out of the 400 authors. All of the responses she received thus far have been positive, and the authors have expressed gratitude that she reached out to them. To my mind, the most important aspect of this is that we wanted to demonstrate respect for our authors. Kim’s work is founded on this respect.”
Wick is similarly dedicated, and Reder notes that when given an assignment to write about the life of Mohawk and Algonquin author Anahareo, “Ali’s research was so expansive that we were able to link unpublished research about Anahareo to work already known.”
“It was exciting to then see Ali’s biography on Anahareo posted on the TPatT website, as a resource based on current research to be shared with a future generation. I’ve been so grateful to be able to work with such talented and committed students
Self-care and social connection
When asked what words of wisdom they could give fellow students, both Kim John and Ally Wick note that prioritizing self-care and social connection have been critical.
“I think I may still be learning this,” says John, “I need to take time to take care of myself. Not every semester went smoothly, and I think it took me a while to learn to step back and let go of stress before it dragged me under and affected my health.” She goes on to say that the small classes helped nurture a supportive, connected learning environment and “deeper understanding” of course material.
Wick adds that “just going to class” even if you haven’t done the readings will help immensely. “You can still get a lot out of going to the class and listening,” she says, “even if it’s a discussion-based tutorial! This has really, really helped me over the course of my degree.”