In the news: “Finding purpose in learning after PTSD, Navy career”
Proud to share my education story as part of Athabasca University’s “Transforming Lives” series. Click below to read more.
Proud to share my education story as part of Athabasca University’s “Transforming Lives” series. Click below to read more.
During the pandemic I think we, as a society, truly learned how overworked, burnt out, and overstimulated we really are. Though it differed for everyone, for a time the pause on our daily hustles revealed a world of quiet, a world of thoughtful interactions.
However, as the work pace has picked up again, I have definitely noticed those old habits of overworking, overachieving, and perfectionism cropping back into focus. Once again, I find myself striving to be everything, to achieve everything, pulled in every direction without a moment for rest or patience. I’m back into the mindset that the more titles and achievements that I hold, the more that I engage on multiple stages, the more useful and accomplished I am. But until recently I hadn’t realized that I was back into that machine mode.
My better half and I were recently chatting about perceptions, how in our own minds we still feel like those kids we once were, kids who tried desperately everyday to prove themselves. It’s stunning that now as we dance around 40, both of us having done and lived so much in so little time, that we still feel like those kids who have something to prove. By all measures we are relatively successful as individuals and as a couple, but we both still feel like we are playing at success. We then tried to imagine how others view us, how we look from the outside. It surprised me when my husband said that I am seen as smart. I immediately took offence and asked “…and?”
I expected more identifiers. After all I have so much knowledge, early-career accomplishments, and titles. I was offended because there was no way that I can just be seen as one thing. There must be other identifiers that I am associated with, after all I like think that I am kind, stubborn, determined, etc.. When I said this, my husband replied with, “but you’re smart and it’s enough.”
What a revolutionary concept. To be one thing, to identify with one attribute challenged my need to be everything to everyone. It took all that I’ve done in the last 20 years and distilled it down to one key common component. That distillation also challenges contemporary work and hustle culture in that declaring “It’s enough” means that a person doesn’t have to be able to do everything to be impressive or accomplished.
In the end, it comes down to not being defined by what I do, but rather who and what I am. I can go on and on about being a PhD candidate, writer, journalist, and veteran with X number of published articles, scholarships, etc., but none of that is who I am. None of that is my drive. That’s all just arrogant fluff that came about because of a single identifier. That’s all just examples of what I’ve been able to do with a defining attribute.
So, instead of identifying myself by what I do, lets try out this single identifier of who I am. Here goes…I’m Samantha. I’m smart and it’s enough!
When I found out that I was pregnant back in August 2022, I immediately Googled how other PhD candidates had survived writing a dissertation and going through pregnancy at the same time. There was generally lots of really rosy perspectives about the strength of women, leaning on social networks, and “I succeeded and so can you too” stories. So armed with some reassurance, I banned myself from writing a blog post about how to succeed at both simultaneously, feeling that I couldn’t add more to the conversation.
That said, since I plan to include parts of my pregnancy and new mom journey in my dissertation as asides and creative commentary on my research as I work through settler and Anishinaabe treaty relations, I figured that a few quick blog posts would help me organize my thoughts on the surface level, but what I didn’t anticipate was what pregnancy would bring out in me and the trajectory of my work.
I should say that this pregnancy was planned, almost perfectly as my husband and I felt that after many years together now was the time to embark on this new journey. However, I dreaded the idea of being full on pregnant during the summer, so we planned on a winter pregnancy and it couldn’t have worked out better. Being pregnant throughout the cool fall and chilly winter has been a dream as someone who typically runs warm, though as I’m writing this at 30 weeks my fatigue is throwing my temperature all over the charts and that’s not the only thing.
As someone who makes a living with my mind, it has been frustrating to go through the memory loss and diminished language skills. When I try to think of words or concepts that were second nature to me a few months ago, it feels like I’m reaching into a pool of water and fumbling around in the dark, grasping at some oblong object that I can’t quite identify. Yet, some of the best writing that I’ve done (in my humble opinion) has been since August, I just don’t always remember clearly what I wrote afterwards. My focus on writing and research goals and strategies has been the best it has ever been and I’m more willing to take chances in both areas.
I think it’s because the stakes have changed. When I initially conceptualized my research on treaty discourses, settler and Anishinaabe relations were very real issues in my life but I had a definitive boundary of what I could speak on and about. As a British/Canadian settler, I am complicit in settler colonialism, but married into an Anishinaabe community I often remained peripheral to familial and community issues. That is, I understood the affects of settler colonialism at an academic level, but despite empathizing with Indigenous peoples, I never felt the dread in my gut of facing day after day of systemic racism and uncertain futures. What a privilege, right?
But when I went through the first ultrasound of my pregnancy, I felt a ferocity to protect this little one’s future at all costs, even if that meant crossing those boundaries that my colonial mind had created. When, a few weeks later, we learned that we are expecting a son, I felt pulled from the periphery into the thick of the issues of racism, discrimination, and questions of equitable relations. I I recognize that it is still not my place to speak on community issues, but when it comes to the potential implications for my work…well it’s become more important than ever.
As a settler, I’ve always been careful to state that when I teach or write about Indigenous issues that I don’t speak for anyone but rather use my privileged space in a way that, I hope, elevates other peoples’ voices. But there will be times when I will have to speak for my son; I will have to speak up for him at times when some may only see him for his ancestry and heritage. It terrifies me to see the daily racism that my husband endures, knowing that my son will likely subjected to it as well. Even the micro-aggressions of being followed around in stores hits me harder than it used to.
I guess, in the end, how can I advocate for better relations while also recognizing that my son will likely be subjected to colonial harm? How can I provide him with the best possible future, while also seeing the flaws in the system that could potentially recreate a future that repeats the mistakes and oppressions of the past?
As I see it, through my work I can implore settlers to do what should be done to improve relations, including taking long hard looks at reconciliation efforts to determine who benefits most from them and to move away from mere performative acts. But I feel that it is only a small part of a bigger something. Really, the stakes have always been high for Indigenous peoples when it comes to pushing for equity, it’s just that now my own responsibility goes beyond performance, it goes beyond simply researching and writing for myself. Responsibility calls on me to do more and be more…for my son.
A great deal of my research is devoted to working with metaphors. I don’t necessarily mean the literary devices that haunt the minds of undergrad English majors (of which I was one), I mean how metaphors act through our language everyday.
According to Prof. David Punter in his book Metaphor (2007), words do not exist in isolation, they have histories, culturally and time specific meanings. Metaphors act to show us more depth in language, beyond the obvious meanings to signal something new.
Ironies, on the other hand, as I remember them from my undergrad, reveal a lot about a speaker’s attitude. Often used as a humorous device, irony can be divided into verbal, dramatic, and situational. Much of the time, irony is used to contrast expectations with reality.
When I originally wrote the title of this blog post, it was in the fall of 2020, just as I was starting my PhD program and I was working on my first application for a funding grant. I didn’t write the post initially because I couldn’t find a way to write what I wanted to say. Really, as I understand now, I wasn’t ready for the lesson it contained. Still, over the last couple of years, I was inwardly giggling at the parallel between the nickname for the well-known funding agency SSHRC, my history with sharks as a former navy sailor, and the general idea of what sharks signify in Western culture (all of which I’m not going to get into here).
Really, my use of “shark” was a metaphor that maybe only one other person would get. But tying this shark metaphor to an irony, to an expectation, is perhaps a deeper metaphor in itself. But did I end up out writing myself? Or am I simply “looking for deeper meaning in a doorknob”?
This week I found out that I was awarded the Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) Doctoral award and that my research is being supported by SSHRC. I was immediately grateful for my supervisor Prof. Eva Mackey for encouraging me to apply, and the support of everyone at the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies.
I was overjoyed that my research on tensions between Anishinaabe law and Canadian legal orders and Crown treaty responsibilities are being supported and encouraged. A key component in that research is examining the place of storytelling in the courtroom, a type of ambiguity that liberally-based courtrooms are unable to account for (mostly because Canadian courtrooms operate through supposed objective certainty based on undeniable evidence). Since Anishinaabe law and constitutionalism is conveyed primarily through stories, and metaphors operate through these stories, my fascination with metaphors and language has come in handy.
I’m still working through my meaning in the title for this blog, especially how its meaning has changed over the last 2 years as my expectation for funding (or hope really) has evolved into reality. One thing is for certain, like all good metaphors with lessons hidden in them, this title has a lot to teach me about the current state of my research, especially as I start to draft out my proposal this summer.
I can’t help but think about what expectations I have for my research and what meanings I’m taking for granted, especially if I am expecting deeper meanings in some words or phrases that aren’t really there. How will my understandings change over time? How will evolving realities change my expectations of meanings? How will my limited subjective Western understandings today change tomorrow as I learn more? Will they even change? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if metaphors are not universal, how can I ensure that my understandings of tensions, relationships, and laws are widely understood beyond my interpretations?
When I first drafted this post, it was to shamelessly self-promote my latest article and announce that I am almost through my first comprehensive exam. But that got me thinking about how in the last days of my exam I had to force myself to ignore the invasion of Ukraine. After working on my PhD during the pandemic, the rise of right-wing extremism, and now an unprovoked invasion, I’m not sure how to rationalize my continued effort anymore. I’m tired!
Self-help advice would say to only face the stress you can control, but it falls flat when your work centres on holding the powerful accountable. As I draw closer to my dissertation proposal, and while I work on another paper about more broken treaty promises here in Ontario, how much longer can I fight? How much longer can I manage the fire in my part of the world, when the rest of the world is already aflame?
Alas, much like Plato’s analogy of the cave, there is a burden that comes with knowledge. In one moment you can see the best in people, in the efforts that can make the world into a much better place, as the systems and knowledge that I was writing about in my exam are indicative of. Then in the next moment, it can all come crashing down in a way that you anticipated but never wanted to give voice to.
But as I’m behind the keyboard shaking my head at the flagrant abuses and the level of suffering we commit against each other, we always have a way of correcting things. The pandemic is waning, the latest episode of extremism in Canada has been pushed against, and the world is unifying around Ukraine.
We all fight in our way, using our skills and talents in a way to support each other. We heed the calls to come together against fear, injustice, abuse, war, and terror. In this move, no fight is too big or too small. Yet, we must be wary of fighting so much that we lose sight of what we are doing and why we are doing it.
I guess then, in the end, there is always the question about who benefits from your efforts? Can you justify your action(s) in a way that is more about the good of others, instead of about the good for yourself?
It’s been an exciting 18 hours. Yesterday, just before supper time, I was informed that my application for dissertation funding through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (lovingly referred to as “shark” for the acronym SSHRC) has been forwarded from Carleton to the Council! While I won’t know if I get the grant until April 2022, it is an important step towards realizing the potential for my dissertation research. As I begin working on my proposal next year I’ll get more into what I’m hoping to do. Right now I’m still working on strengthening my base knowledge.
For the other bit of news, my review of Heidi Bohaker’s book Doodem and Council Fire: Anishinaabe Governance through Alliance was published this morning in volume 36, issue 3 of the Canadian Journal of Law and Society / Revue Canadienne Droit Et Société. For full citation information see the most recent entry on my published works page.
Don’t forget, I still have one more article on the way, my first solo original research article. There is also more solo and collaborative research in the works, which will start taking form early next year. Stay tuned!
Last week, my co-authored paper “Journalism Education and Call to Action 86: Exploring Conciliatory and Collaborative Methods of Research-Creation with Indigenous Communities” was published in the inaugural issue of Facts and Frictions.
Work on this paper began in December 2019 with Concordia Professor Aphrodite Salas in the Journalism department. This project marks an important step of journalism education and practice when engaging with Indigenous communities.
News of this article was also just shared on the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies website.
This article is the first of three articles that I have in the process of being published right now. Check back soon for information regarding my original research article “Canadian Rangers: Community, Autonomy, and Sovereignty” set to appear later this month in Journal Of Australian, Canadian, And Aotearoa New Zealand Studies (JACANZS) Vol. 1. no. 2.
Next week I start year 2 of my PhD…yeah, I’m still trying to let that sink in too!
To say that this last year has been a challenging blur would be to ignore the last 10 years I spent getting to this point. In fact, at this time 10 years ago I wasn’t even in the country, I was overseas and totally oblivious to the life defining truths and struggles I was about to encounter.
I don’t want to revisit those times, because to do so would return me to a time before; it would be to retrace a path that is dead, dense, and uninteresting. Indeed, a Kafkaesque transformation required me to see beyond, into a multitude of possibilities. But I also had to be willing to grab onto an opportunity, though not for myself or by myself. As I sprint forward along this much clearer and brighter path, I’m never by myself.
I’m learning how much I’m in good company as I work through my comprehensive exams. It fills me with more joy than I can express to find scholars who “feel” the world as I do. It is even more joyful to share what I’m learning with my colleagues, students, and family, even if I sometimes trip off the path and get lost in the weeds. I still find my way back, and thankfully everyone is patient with my clumsiness.
I didn’t post much last year because with all of the noise in the world it was hard to confine myself into writing. I suspect that this year may be a bit quieter, and I want to push myself and find time to write again. When I write, my real soul speaks louder than when I try to talk. Writing allows me to convey how I see the world, how I make sense of all I come across.
So while I plan to be doing my comprehensive exam later this fall, I want to use this blog to work through some of what I’m learning. It’s a lot of complex theories about treaties, law, and cross-cultural legal tensions. Considering I’ve actively avoided studying law most of my life, I’ve learned these last 10 years that we often avoid things that are good for us, even areas of study. I was trying to fit myself into roles that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, though I never knew why. Even at this level of education, at this point in my work, I’m still learning what is best for me…and it’s all because others have led me to it, though I should note that I never made it easy on them.
Here is a recording of a presentation I did on February 19th for the Social Capital Research Group. I am very new to the concept of social capital, but I really am enjoying learning and working through its relevance to my research.
In the future, I’m hoping to combine concepts of social capital with intersects of Canadian common law and Indigenous law as they pertain to Treaty negotiations.
Last November, I had the honour of attending The Thirteenth Native American Symposium 2019 at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Choctaw Nation, Durant, OK.
It was my first academic conference, so I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to go, especially since this was also the first time I would be talking about my work with the white saviour trope outside of my department. Thankfully, everyone there was supportive on several levels, personally, academically, and professionally. I couldn’t have hoped for a better first experience.
Yesterday, I found out that my paper was selected for publication with the proceedings from the conference, another first that I am delighted to share with you all. I am attaching the paper here to be downloaded and read at your leisure. I do ask that if you choose to site from the article, please ensure to use proper citation (MLA, APA, Chicago style, etc.).