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Reflections and Developments

Claire Thomson, PhD candidate

Research Fellow, Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies

December 1, 2018


Seven months have flown by and reflecting back on my own work and reading the other Research Fellows’ reports this year inspires me for what’s to come. In my last report earlier this year, I wrote of my dissertation topic in Lakota history and of some of the research I completed in the archives I had recently visited. Now I have shifted my dissertation focus from research to writing and this has been exciting but also daunting. I have some loose research ends to tie up yet, but those will give a good occasional break from writing.

In the month of June, I attended the Lakota Summer Institute (LSI) put on by the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC) at the United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) in Bismarck, North Dakota. This three-week intensive training was immensely enriching to me and pushed me beyond the plateau in my language learning. I still miss the environment LSI created of intense and exciting language learning where we were all enthusiastic and determined to absorb as much as we could. Sometimes it was fast paced and tiring after six-hour days in the classroom studying and trying to take in all that I could, but it was definitely a great experience I want to have again. Language learning is important to me because I want to incorporate Lakota cultural perspectives and words into my dissertation. And because I want to go home to visit with the few elders who are speakers and are excited to know I am working little by little at speaking.

This past July, I went on a research trip with my friend and fellow historian/author Ron Papandrea, who wrote They Never Surrendered: The Lakota Sioux Band That Stayed in Canada. For the past few years we had been wanting to travel to meet up with people who had family ties between Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan and other Lakota communities in the US. And we finally made it happen! He drove all the way from Michigan and we met in South Dakota. We began all over in the Cheyenne River Reservation, then to the Stronghold in the Badlands in the Pine Ridge Reservation, and on to Rapid City. In Montana we stopped at Wolf Point in the Fort Peck Reservation and from there made our way to Saskatchewan to Wood Mountain and Moose Jaw. In each place we stopped to visit people and hear their family stories and see sites that are important to Lakota history. The people we met up with were incredibly welcoming and generous and they were all just as interested to learn from us about anything we ran across in our research as we were to hear their stories and see their special places. We got so many questions from them for new research avenues and connections to be made. Ron has a wealth of knowledge and we put on a lot of miles as we bounced around spur of the moment, trying to work around when everyone else was available. It was a very rewarding trip, and we hope to do another next summer to connect more people and places together. Next summer I also need to attend a CAIRNS Lakota Lands & Identities travelling seminar! I think it is really important to make connections between places and people for Indigenous research and learning, much like the CAIRNS website states how the travelling seminars are based on the “premise that peoples, histories and environments are inextricably linked.”

I’ve been using academic conferences as a way to write chapters for my dissertation. I presented in May in Regina, Saskatchewan at the Canadian Historical Association conference at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences and at the Western History Association conference in San Antonio, Texas in October. Both of my presentations were on Lakota women’s history and based on the third chapter of my dissertation. Conferences always give me new ways of thinking of the sources and arguments I get too used to looking at in my work. I came back with so many good connections to other scholars and deep thinkers and with so much motivation to write. And conferences are lots of fun on top of it!

Besides dissertation work, I recently took on a new part-time contract with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to create a teaching module for their employees on Canadian prairie Indigenous agricultural history. This assignment is certainly a learning experience for me as I’ve never done anything like this before. But I’m enjoying the creative freedom and challenge that comes with this project. I have been to a few CAIRNS trainings for teachers and police officers as a volunteer, and I’m drawing on some of the techniques I remember from those for inspiration. CAIRNS develops “quality educational resources and innovate projects that acknowledge and incorporate tribal perspectives…” and I want to channel these things in my teaching module as well. Especially since I want to encourage critical thinking and use interactive activities to engage the participants beyond reading and lectures. This project is helping me learn to communicate history in a different way that historians aren’t always used to, particularly to an audience that has little to no prior knowledge of the content. And it is stretching the creative side of my brain to come up with ways to incorporate graphics, maps, photographs, video clips, and activities into the teaching. I will complete this contract next March, and in the meantime, I will continue working on my dissertation writing as well.

Hard to believe 2018 is coming to a close, but lots of great things to look back on and lots more to work hard towards going into 2019! And as always, I’m looking forward to see what great things my Research Fellow colleagues are creating and what the Research Fellows program will grow and evolve into this next year!