Reflections on the IPinCH Fall Gathering

Photo K. McLaughlin

By Courtney Doagoo and Darren Modzelewski

On November 4, 2005, Desmond Tutu spoke at the University of California, Santa Barbara “Voices” speaker’s series. He reminded the audience that there is “another kind of justice, restorative justice, [where]…even the worst of us [has] the potential to become better…to be reintegrated into the community.” Drawing on a long history of alternative approaches to conflict resolution, Tutu reminds us of the importance of the principles of humanity, heart, healing, and community.

Almost ten years to the day, these principles emerged and re-immerged in subtle and overt ways throughout the November 6-8, 2014 IPinCH Fall Gathering entitled “Weaving Us Together,” which took place at the Musqueam Cultural and Community Centre, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Throughout the six plenary sessions —“Issues of Sovereignty” “Cultural Tourism,” “Nurturing Community-Based Cultural Heritage Research Wikipedia Style,” “Issues of Repatriation,” “Research Ethics,” and “Knowledge Sharing”—participants shared the various ways in which they had or were continuing to explore the contours of three key tensions.

The first of these tensions is that “there was no right way, only a good way to do this work, to make it a heart-centered practice.” Whether it was in the sessions on repatriation or ethics, or in the opening panel of community members, IPinCHers talked about the various ways in which their own epistemological foundations or that of the communities with which they worked provided both an engine for their projects and procedural, legal, institutional and even interpersonal barriers. Although the emerging realizations within these interactions were sometimes frustrating to hear, there was hope. For example, in the session on repatriation we heard about the negative beginnings of the relationship of the University of Michigan with area Native nations regarding the return of ancestral remains, as well as the positive changes that occurred as a result of the determination of the nations to reach a positive outcome.

The second tension centered on the idea that many of the projects undertaken by IPinCHers had a life and a time schedule of their own due to the fact that they are all conducted at ground level rather than starting from a theoretical position. While participants largely agreed with this framing, they also raised the important point that what communities face is a kind of “sovereignty triage.” The external activities of private and government entities at, such as the Snow Bowl in Arizona or the Sun Peaks Ski Resort in British Columbia, create conflict between the need to ameliorate the issue and the need to ameliorate the issue in the correct way. Here, IPinCHers struggled together with making sense of the relationship between power, inequality, heritage, and knowledge, all while aiming to conclude their projects in a complete, coherent and respectful way.

Finally, in each session IPinCHers discussed George Nicholas’ opening mandate: to find ways for IPinCH to implement the knowledge it has amassed over the course of its history and move forward. This foregrounded the third tension as participants interrogated the notion of how IPinCH—as an group of connected community and institutional scholars—can move forward with their research and advocacy initiatives, while critically and ethically determining how information collected by IPinCH will be used, disseminated, and archived.

Given the reality and importance of the three tensions identified above, we suggest one possible future for IPinCH. That is, to shift from a research-based project to a non-profit organization that continues to directly address the themes that have and continue to define the greater role of IPinCH: research, educational outreach and advocacy. Such a transition could facilitate the realization of the practical implications of the work IPinCH has amassed over the past seven years, provide alternative pathways to funding, define different and more structured approaches to the constant threats to and against indigenous cultural heritage, and formalize the integration of IPinCH-based research into educational outreach and advocacy.

Of course the 2014 Gathering wasn’t all business. Nope. We had some fun too!  In addition to the numerous delicious meals and tasty treats catered by the Musqueam Nation, we were also invited to beautiful songs and dances performed by the Musqueam Coastal Wolf Pack Dancers and then the Northwest Coast masks-dancing group Git Hayestk Dancers under the leadership of IPinCH Fellow Mique’l Icesis Dangeli and her husband Mike. To say the least, we were honored and blessed to be provided with such amazing sustenance.  

The experience of being in the presence of and participating in an interdisciplinary knowledge-based project with Community Elders, archeologists, anthropologists, legal scholar and others, was unforgettable and unparalleled. We all left the gathering ready to guide IPinCH to its future incarnation.


Photo: IPinCHers label their home places in North America and beyond (photo: K. McLaughlin).