Current Project: PhD Dissertation

I am currently working on writing my dissertation. This work respectfully engages Anishinaabe communities and explores localized treaty stories in relation to Restoule vs Canada (Attorney General), more commonly known as the Robinson-Huron Treaty Annuity Lawsuit. This research is under the advice and guidance of some of the leading settler studies, literary, and Indigenous legal scholars in Canada and is supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). My long-term goals as a settler interdisciplinary researcher is to make space for Indigenous voices in order to disrupt the ongoing processes and effects of colonization.

This page will be added to regularly to document my progress, setbacks, and milestones. Since much of the dissertation process goes unseen, I hope that this transparent log not only acts to lift the veil, but also demonstrates what goes into transforming the spark of an idea into a full dissertation.

May 29, 2023

Five days after my last update we welcomed our son Onyx into the world! His arrival came just as I was progressing through the research proposal with Nipissing First Nation and hoping to move onto the next phase of working on a research agreement with the community.

As I imagined what a collaboration with the community would look like, and possible outcomes of this research, my brain was hijacked, necessarily, to ensure that my son had everything possible for his survival. But not being able to produce milk and faced with a young infant who wasn’t growing as expected, for those first few weeks my emotions and mind were thrown upside down. The only thing that mattered was ensuring my son’s health and growth. I was beyond frustrated, because not only could I not do something that should come naturally, I also found writing basic sentences and spelling difficult. It felt as though my body and my mind had failed. I wasn’t sure how I would continue as an academic.

But I also knew that quitting was never an option…for many reasons. Chief among those reasons was that I believe that this work is an investment in my son’s future.

Now, as I am well into recovering from the labour, Onyx is thriving in a schedule largely of his own making, and I am reinvigorated. Already he has taught me so much about patience, giving space for growth, and working hard to provide something only I can (even if that’s taking time for comforting snuggles when he gets tired and grumpy). Using his downtimes as focused moments, I am able to work sporadically through some outlining and rough writing. I am excited to be reengaging my mind and look forward to the discourse analysis of the court documents for Restoule, which I will be resuming within the next month.

March 24, 2023

The biggest challenge lately has been to maintain focus and momentum. It hasn’t been impossible to write exactly, it’s just that I’m finding myself fall in love with the scholarship that I’m drawing on all over again.

With my son due to be born in a couple of weeks, I was reminded while reading Heidi Bohaker about Leanne Simpson’s writing on the first treaty we experience in life, that of the mother and baby. While I have to think on Simpson’s words a bit more, I feel that my dissertation is taking on another layer. While such growth and evolution regularly happens in creative writing, that is meaning evolves as we go, I am struggling to keep my academic writing contained.

Thankfully, as I plan for a newborn, my other half suggested setting weekly writing goals for the next couple of months. I was worried that doing so would stress me out if I couldn’t meet those goals, but it has helped me envision attainable progression, even when I get distracted by other ideas. I’m learning to trust the process all over again.

February 16, 2023

After meeting with the manager of the research portfolio for Nipissing First Nation on Feb. 13, I have begun the formalized consultation phase of my work and ethics protocols. As I worked through communicating my ideas, it occurred to me that the title that I had chosen back in 2020 when I started this PhD program no longer reflected the direction the research was going in.

Really, choosing a title for a piece before I’ve finished writing it has always been difficult for me. Maybe it’s the creative writer in me. Still, I changed the title from “Self-governance in action: Navigating Crown/Indigenous legal tensions during the Robinson-Huron Treaty annuity
lawsuit” to “Contrasted Understandings: Augmenting a critical discourse analysis of Restoule v. Canada (2018) with Nipissing treaty knowledges.”

Deciding on a title is a minor detail in dissertation writing. Yet, for myself, every time I open that Word document and see the title, it is a reminded of how much I’ve learned over the last 2 years and a bit. It signals the refining of an idea, the growth of my knowledge, and the increased comfort level that I have with my own talents as a researcher.

When I first imagined this work, I decidedly moved away from deconstructionism and discourse analyses, not wanting to be a “one-trick pony” since I had used a discourse analysis in my MA thesis. But as I initially read through Restoule, my brain instinctively moved towards deconstructing the meanings of each word and phrase. It really comes down to how I interpret the world and why I was drawn to studying English in my undergrad in the first place. I love uncovering meanings and relationships between words, especially when dynamics of power add an additional complexity.

January 26, 2023

Throughout my graduate career, I’ve been experimenting with a blending of academic and creative writing. When it comes to tone, word choice, and rhythm of my creative writing, I tend to go towards the conversational but often with a storytelling flare. However, such a style is not in line with academic writing.

When I presented my proposal to the dissertation committee, I had planned for a chapter that allowed me to use my skills as a creative writer to work through my position as an insider/outsider researcher. In this chapter, I planned to address how I worked with my husband’s Anishinaabe community (that is, if the community allowed me to after fulfilling all of the ethical research requirements), but with the added complexity of being a settler colonizer and a mother of an Anishinaabe child. This isolated chapter would allow me space for reflection, reflexivity, and creative writing.

The committee suggested that I find ways to blend the writing styles together throughout the dissertation. So today, as I was writing my introduction chapter, I prefaced it with a few thoughts that I had one day while sitting in my rocking chair, which was followed by a framing of my dissertation that was written using an academic tone.

I’m not sure if this blended form will work, but it’ll be an interesting layer to the dissertation that contemplates my lived experiences as a settler colonizer with treaty rights afforded by a community that I am also deeply connected to through family.

December 20, 2022

Having gone through the feedback and questions from my defence, I have been able to refocus my goals for this dissertation. Today, I created new research questions that lead me more away from abstractly questioning how colonialism functions and legal inquiry. I’ve returned to my speciality of deconstruction and discourse analysis, but this time with the intention of using these methodological tools to reintroduce ambiguity into the “official” treaty story that has grown out of the court narratives.

After the holidays, I’ll be spending the next few weeks organizing and outlining the parts of my dissertation that I can write first (ie. the intro, lit review, and methodology).

November 15, 2022

On Nov. 9th I passed my second comprehensive exam and dissertation proposal defence. I had amazing and valuable insight from my supervisor and committee members.

One important bit of advice that I received was about being less declarative about my research, in that I should focus on being more exploratory first. As a lit major and journalist, making declarative statements that are backed up by fact or strategic arguments are second nature to me, so this will be a bit of shift in my thinking. But it is necessary as I will be bringing my initial ideas to Indigenous community members to see if collaboration is possible.

Another thing that I have to work on is fully defining my terms. As an interdisciplinary PhD candidate I understand the importance of being specific, but it can be hard to get out of my own head in this regard. It’ll be a challenge, but going ahead this work must be accessible to a wide audience. Transparency, openness, and flexibility will be integral throughout this research with an Indigenous community.

September 22, 2022

Leading up to the approval of my proposal, ethics protocol, and fieldwork, I am excited to share the dissertation research that I will be starting soon. In this dissertation, I will use transformational resurgence and reconciliation (Borrows and Tully 2018) as a guiding framework in my analysis of Restoule v. Canada (Attorney General) (2018). By using a mixed method design consisting of community-based participatory research (CBPR) with collaborators in Nipissing First Nation (NFN) and a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of the related legal discourses and processes, I hope to reveal and address any tensions and divisions that may inhibit the formation of more reciprocal treaty relationships between Anishinaabe and non-Indigenous peoples within the Robinson-Huron treaty area.