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TWO ROW SCHOLAR?

Thank you for taking a moment to click on this site and read what I have to say. This is very much a work in progress for me, and will take some time to refine and work out the kinks. It has been recommended to me that as I move towards conducting my doctoral research, I share with a wider audience along the way. It is not necessarily because my actual project is very unique or special (after all, we aren’t curing cancer here!) but the way in which I am planning to carry out my research is rather unique. You see, I am an Indigenous scholar in a Western institution, where there are specific expectations that my work follows certain methodologies with the intent to produce work that is reliable and valid.

Well, that just won’t work for me. I plan instead to center my work around the Two-Row (Kaswenta) Covenant belt, a wampum treaty belt that is several hundreds of years old. This belt is an example of how two groups of people with seemingly different approaches and interests can work together in a sense of harmony on the same thing. Using this as my guiding compass, I intend to flip this Western idea of research on its head. Within the broader realm of Indigenous Research paradigms (Wilson, 2008), my work will be about relational accountability and relationship building and it will be for, with, and by Indigenous people. In the specific context of the Two-Row paradigm, my work will create a balance between researcher and community members that negates the normally exploitative nature of research. Even more specifically, I intend to utilize kinnikinnick to obtain and wampum belts to record informed consent from co-researchers in the community rather than the standard method that requires a signed form; my goal is to gain insight from the community I am working with about heritage erasure at a specific site in order to acknowledge the multiplicity of narratives that are present.

LAKE VERMILION-SOUDAN UNDERGROUND MINE STATE PARK

My specific research will be taking place in northeastern Minnesota: Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine and Bois Forte. Archaeological evidence indicates there has been an Indigenous presence in the area for at least 7,000. The first Europeans to arrive in the area did so in the 1600s, primarily associated with the fur trade. In the mid-1800s, the possibility of gold brought a larger European population to the shores of Lake Vermilion, although it was relatively unsuccessful. However, this opened the interior of Minnesota to further exploration and timbering, which eventually led to the development of the state’s first iron mine in what is now Soudan. When the mine was established in 1882, the first crew of men to arrive were sorely lacking in supplies, provisions, and ability to survive in this northern climate. The local Anishinaabe community stepped in to extend the hand of friendship, and ensured their survival through the winter. This created a rather unique relationship, in which descendants of these first men still to this day refuse to fish on the lake because of the 1854 Treaty. During the first few years of mining, it would not have been unlikely that Anishinaabe men worked for the company in some capacity; there is photographic evidence, as well as documentation, that when the first train arrived and was loaded with iron, the Anishinaabe community arrived to help with the loading and held a dance and ceremony around the engine before its departure.

And yet, none of this is widely know nor is it discussed at the site. This kind of overt heritage erasure is not uncommon at industrial heritage sites, where the common narrative is that Indigenous people were victims to industrialization. This exclusion also erases the reality of the contemporary community that still participates in the modern taconite mining of the area, one of the few industries that provide well-paying, reliable work. In the particular case of Minnesota, the agency which is in charge of curating and interpreting much of the state’s history at important sites is the Department of Natural Resources, who struggles with understanding what meaningful consultation is in general, and in particular with Indigenous communities and heritage.

This is the niche that my work fits into. Although it is a very specific location and history, I believe it is applicable to many. The erasure of the heritage of those identified as ‘other’ has been happening for as long as we have had institutions dedicated to interpreting that heritage. This privileges the narrative of the winners over the losers, a common way to foster hegemony and feelings of nationalism. Recent work in heritage, however, has moved towards recognizing the multiplicity of narratives and advancing those which have been excluded and erased. There are four stages in my research:

INDIGENOUS HERITAGE ERASURE AT THE SOUDAN UNDERGROUND MINE

  1. Exploratory Research: What does this heritage erasure mean to site visitors and the local Indigenous community?
  2. Descriptive Research: What does a model for the inclusion of Indigenous heritage at an industrial site look like?
  3. Explanatory Research: How can a model for the inclusion of Indigenous heritage at an industrial site be implemented in a culturally competent way to produce interpretive materials, exhibits, and programs?
  4. Evaluation: Has the implementation of a model for the inclusion of Indigenous heritage at an industrial site changed changed the perceptions of site visitors and the local Indigenous community? This stage culminates in the creation of an adaptive template for further projects.

My dissertation work will be within the first stage, an exploratory research project, which I will speak to in a later post as I move through the research proposal process. At this point, I hope you are able to position me within the academy and the work that I intend to do; when you next read, I will position myself with the wider Indigenous community by providing some of my personal narrative. Until then!

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Published by Larissa Harris

I am a PhD student at Michigan Technological University in the Industrial Heritage and Archaeology program (social sciences department). I have a background in anthropology with an archaeology emphasis (BA, Minnesota State University Moorhead, MA, University of Manitoba). I have been working as an interpreter in industrial heritage for 4 years, and more broad naturalist interpretation for 4 years prior to that. I also have experience working in formal and informal education in Minnesota, primarily working with Indigenous communities.

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