Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top 6 Moments @ Graduate Horizons

When I sat down to write this post I wondered, Where do I start? The amazing lunch lecture that inspired a standing ovation? The Harvard Law School dorm experience? Meeting someone from the blog world whom I've admired for years?

Well, why not just dive right in? Presenting...

My Top 6 Grad Horizons Moments

6. Meeting Adrienne K.
While I was super excited for GH, I was also SCARED: A) Because as a "Canadian" (I see the border as a construct) I knew there would be a learning curve for me to understand the U.S. college system, and B) there was certainly something intimidating (and thrilling) to be at Harvard University.

One comforting fact was that I knew I was going to meet Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations, who was on the tiny, powerhouse GH organizing committee. Just as in her writing, Adrienne was smart, witty, and ambitious in person. I got to hear about her amazing research, talk blogs, and she sent the GHers home with an honest, enlightening talk on what it's like to be the only Native doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Late night working on personal statement (me) and journal article reviews (Adrienne)

5. Fleshing out my research idea
Although she isn't in my field AT ALL, Dr. Sheila Thomas really pushed me to define and articulate my research interests, which is key when applying to PhD programs. Each night when the day's programming wrapped up around 8-9, GH students and faculty would take over the couches and tables in the lobby and pour over drafts (after drafts, after drafts...) of personal statements, CVs, letters, and just converse. It was one of these conversations that allowed me to expand the boundaries of my potential research subject!

4. "Justice is what love looks like in public." -Phil Lee
The event was chock full of speakers who shared their stories, inspired us to achieve greatness, and empowered us to build our nations. One of the most powerful speakers was Phil Lee, a lawyer and HGSE doctoral candidate (alongside Adrienne!). His talk was about moments that precipitated change, the Griswald 9, and how student agency, voice, and motivation can make a difference.

He said that beyond typical reasons involving money and power, love is the strongest motivation to have to go to grad school. I think this resonated for a lot of us because that's one of--if not the--main reasons we're applying to these schools: for the love of our people and the determination to contribute to change.

3. An "AHA" moment at 30,000 feet
On the plane to and from Boston, I was reading X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent by Scott Richard Lyons (which I'm loving).

On the way to Boston for GH, I was struggling to conceptualize x-marks as Lyons presented them: signatures of assent, although made under conditions of duress and coercion, that intended towards a new and brighter future. I couldn't get past the poor conditions that these x-marks have us in today and the seeming lack of respect for our people at the times of signing.

On the way back home, it hit me: I am my parents' x-mark. I got it. I am proud to have been raised by parents who, although they never completed post-secondary education, have been so successful. And I think, as self-centered as this might sound (who am I kidding? How many times have I dropped "Harvard" in this post? Ha!), my brother (who got his first pilot license at 16!) and I are their greatest accomplishments. In making certain sacrifices as a young family (to work rather than finish college, to move away from their families to the city, etc.), they assented to a life where my brother and I would have space to reach our dreams.

2. Indigenizing the veritas

Photo courtesy of Jason at HUNAP

As Adrienne tweeted: "Definitely the most Indians in one place at Harvard in a looong time. I'm so proud!"


1. Speaking from the heart
This list wasn't in any particular order, but one of the greatest things I took home was something I couldn't see or touch.

Some of the most inspiring people at the event spoke from their hearts. Rather than speaking from their heads (trying to sound smart, caring too much about how you're being perceived... both of which I'm guilty of), leaders like Carmen, Phil, Adrienne, and Jason spoke directly from the heart. They told us about how one small student action had giant effects years later, about their families, and about their own struggles. I am so grateful for the warm, trusting, and healthy environment that was nurtured at GH and the stories that were shared. These memories I will carry with me.

Kichi migwech.


And my life wouldn't be, well, my life without some less-than-stellar moments...

6 a.m. mornings!
'nuff said.

Racism on campus
One student was called "Pocahontas" and when we walked to Harvard Yard to take the above photo, someone overheard a stander-by comment along the lines of, "Oops, I forgot to wear my feathers and bare feet today." But we didn't let these things get us down; rather, we'll use them as fuel to propel us toward our goals and as reminders about why we're here.

I've never lived or stayed in residence and I have to admit, I was excited to see what it was all about. It looked pretty good in Felicity and with my first dorm experience being at Harvard, it had to be pretty sweet, right? Wrong. I couldn't get into bed if my desk chair was pulled out and the thin, scratchy sheets and blankets were saran-wrapped on the bed, prison-style! Yes, even at Harvard.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Do Indians have heirlooms?

I've always been jealous of my non-Native friends.

How cool, I'd think when I'd imagine my Jagnash (white) friends sneaking into their mom's jewellery chest and pulling out some rusty comb with a ruby on it or a tarnished silver spoon.

Where are my family artifacts? Why haven't I seen anything belonging to family members beyond my great-grandparents (four of whom were and are still living in my lifetime)? Oh, right: museums. Most recently, my community is engaging in a process with the the National Museum of the American Indian to repatriate some items. I guess this is where our artifacts (potential heirlooms?) are.

Or are they closer than I think?

I was visiting my Mama (grandmother on my mom's side) before Christmas. My mom, always proud of her beautiful Christmas tree, asked my Mama if she could use some of the ornaments they had when she was a child. My grandmother disappeared into the basement for a few minutes, then came back up with some boxes, one of which held these mittens and a pair of (what she called) mukluks:

Simple white leather mittens with white wolf fur trim. My late Papa, Allan, "commissioned" a woman from our community to make them for my Mama as a gift.

"I don't wear them anymore," my Mama remarked. "I hardly ever wore the mittens. But I wore the mukluks outside lots. For walks in the bush. Anyway. I don't wear them anymore, so you can have them."

Maybe it's as simple as that: we use things. Or, if we're not using them anymore, we give them to someone who will.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Take Me Home Tonight

I fly to Boston on Saturday morning to attend Graduate Horizons. Since it's a workshop that focuses on applying to graduate school, naturally it has me thinking about an eventual academic career.

I know I want to do a PhD someday and I would love to be a professor. As a huge nerd, reading and writing is my dream career. (Don't hate!) I haven't done teaching in the literal sense, but I do enjoy sharing the knowledge I have with others when they ask (and sometimes when they don't) and engaging in respectful debate.

(And, I choose to ignore anyone who tells me there are no jobs, I'll have no money and no life. Ha!)

But there are some questions that tug at me...

What will it be like to potentially be the only Anishinabekwe in my grad program?

Do my reasons for wanting to do a PhD differ from those of settlers?

How can I involve my family/community/nation in the application or research processes?

How might having a PhD affect how I am perceived within Indian Country?

To be honest, I sometimes feel very gloomy and Eeyore-esque about it all.

Already, I live and work away from my community and it can be hard to stay/feel truly connected when I'm not there in my day-to-day life. I worry that a feeling of disconnection might worsen if I move even further away to pursue another degree.

But, yesterday I started to read Indigenizing the Academy by Devon Abbott Mihesuah and Angela Cavender Wilson and it was like a lightbulb went off in my head.

What if doing a PhD can bring me closer to home--literally and figuratively?

Doing research for my MA *did* bring me home. How could I have forgotten? I remember driving to Kitigan Zibi on frigid, sunny winter days, my grandfather greeting me as he took his old Indian showshoes off his feet, and us sitting by the fire with tea, cookies, and stories. (There was a tape recorder involved--sorry if that spoils the image.)

My family has so many stories to tell. Stories that aren't written in history books, but told to grandchildren who are willing to listen. Stories begging to be memorized or recorded and told to future generations. PhD dissertations require original research topics, right? Well, it doesn't get realer than this.

Maybe grad school can take me home.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Graduate Horizons

I've written about how I want to do a PhD and about my trip to Boston to meet my academic idol. This weekend that dream is coming closer into reach (or, should I say, appearing on the horizon?) because I will be attending...

Graduate Horizons is a 4 day workshop for Native students who want to apply to graduate/law/med/etc. school. I applied in the winter and heard in the spring that I'd been accepted as part of this year's cohort! Graduate Horizons takes place every other year at various host institutions--this year it happens to be at Harvard University. I'll be staying in the Harvard Law School dormitories (my first dorm experience!) and be coached by faculty from some of the best universities in the U.S.

I feel excited, but nervous... but more excited than nervous! You know that feeling? It has been so long since I've felt this way--probably since I walked into my first M.A. seminar or delivered my first conference presentation. I'm nervous because I'm venturing into new territory, but excited because I know it will be an amazing experience.

Applying to graduate school can be a mystifying process. I work at a university, yet I can't even imagine what an admissions committee looks like, what they look for, what they talk about, and, basically, what they do! So how am I supposed to get them to select my application out of hundreds for one of only a handful of spots?

I do know that a lot of the time your chances of getting in come down to your statement of intent. I know some people who hate talking about themselves, and while I don't necessarily feel the same way, I struggle with questions like: What makes you special? How are you unique from other PhD applicants? Apart from being Native, how are you different?

Graduate Horizons... Help!

P.S. It's been ages since I've updated my work wardrobe and with Graduate Horizons having a business casual dress code, it was the perfect opportunity for a couple of new pieces:

Light wool navy blazer... on sale!

Lace top

P.P.S. I'm super excited to meet Adrienne of Native Appropriations!