Sunday, February 27, 2011

Role Models

Forget American Idol (although I am somewhat following it!), today I want to talk "Academic Idol"!

Yes, I'm a nerd. I spent two days last week at a workshop for Native youth (all women and girls) on "Values and Ethics in the Aboriginal Workplace." In addition to the usual where you're from, what you study, where you work, etc. in our round of introductions we were asked to name someone we look to as a role model.

Many mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers we named, as were Elijah Harper, Metis artist Jaime Koebel, and even a few politicians (no one from within the workplace, ironically).

When the line rolled around to me, I could feel my breath start to shorten a little. It seems no matter how many times I speak in front of a crowd, I always have at least a tinge of anxiety.

"My name is Mallory Whiteduck, I'm from Kitigan Zibi and I work at the university," I started, "and I'm having a hard time narrowing it down to just one role model. I guess I should consider myself lucky in that way."

I went on to explain how I admired my younger brother as someone who has strong values and a solid ethical foundation. But in reality, I have so many role models. I draw from numerous different people as I try to live a good life. My mom, my grandmothers and grandfathers, R.J., cousins, friends, my director, co-workers...!

But in the world of Native American literary theory (told you I was a nerd) and the scholarly Native world in general, Lisa Brooks is my academic idol.

[Rewind to Christmas Eve]

R.J. and I sit in his car after leaving my aunt's house, and he hands me a poorly wrapped present. I smile. I wasn't expecting much considering he's taken a year to return to academia. I excitedly tear it open to reveal Lisa Brooks's The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast.

Inside the book was a note that said he had emailed Lisa Brooks to invite her to a lunch with me in Boston (she's at Harvard) paid by him. I grinned form ear to ear at the thoughtfulness of the gift.

"She hasn't emailed back yet," he went on to explain. "But I only sent it a few days ago."

The holidays crept by without any updates. I was almost afraid to ask for any because I knew the answer would be no, she hasn't yet responded.

She's a Harvard professor, I rationalized, entering into self-preservation mode. I'm sure she doesn't have time for a lunch with some random "fan."

But after we came back home, got back to work and returned to some semblance of post-holiday reality, a message popped up in my inbox with the subject line "FWD: Inspirational Student for Christmas." R.J. had forwarded a response from Lisa Brooks where she not only happily accepted the invitation to lunch, but offered to set up a tour of Harvard's Native American Program and even invited us to share a meal with her husband and daughter at their home outside of Boston.

We returned from the trip on February 20 (my birthday!) and I'm still reeling with energy, excitement and inspiration.

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