Indigenous Research Conference held at Laurier Brantford

Darren Thomas, Seneca, Bear Clan, presents at Indigenous Research Conference. (Photo by Jen MtPleasant)
Darren Thomas, Seneca, Bear Clan, presents at Indigenous Research Conference. (Photo by Jen MtPleasant)

BRANTFORD – The first annual Graduate Student’s Conference in Indigenous Research was held at Wilfrid Laurier University – Brantford campus, this past weekend. 

Sponsored by a host of campus organizations including the Aboriginal Students’ Association and the Department of Criminology, the topic of focus was: Indigeneity, Globalization, and the Law. The conference heard Indigenous research papers from eleven graduate students, including non-Indigenous students as well.

Some of the topics included: Effects of Culturally Specific Programming on Recidivism among Aboriginal Peoples, AlterNative Perceptions: Media Portrayals of Aboriginal Persons in the Prison System, and Overcoming Duncan Campbell Scott.

Two Six Nations people presented at this Conference.

Tanya Montour, who is Mohawk, is in her final year of the Criminology program at Laurier Brantford. Her academic interests are, Restorative Justice and R. v. Gladue, which is currently being implemented in Brantford’s Criminal Court. Tanya presented along with Shawntelle Clarke, who is Algonquin of Eagle Village First Nation. Shawntelle is also in her final year of Criminology.

Montour and Clarke’s presentation was titled, ‘Neglected: An Indigenous Struggle.’ They spoke about the high incarceration rates of Indigenous people in the prison system and made some suggestions as how to bring those numbers down. Clarke gave an example of a band in British Columbia who have decided to bring a prison onto their territory. It would be government-run, but employed by First Nations people with Elders, education and healing playing a big role.

Darren Thomas, who is Seneca Nation, Bear Clan is currently completing his PhD in Community Psychology. His research interests are in Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous research methodologies and Indigenous governance. Darren’s presentation was called, ‘Strategies for Reconciliation.’

As part of Thomas’ research, he created a Talking Circle and filled it with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Some of the questions he asked were: “What is reconciliation? What are we currently working towards to get past the trauma of the residential school system?”

Thomas believes that although we are first and second-generation residential school survivors, the trauma is still very real. He refers to it as: intergenerational, collective, historic and colonial trauma. In his research, Thomas hopes to find ways to move forward and the first step, he believes, is for Indigenous people to have or gain a grounded spiritual sense of identity: a spiritual grounding of Indigeneity. And with that, reconciliation is going to be an emerging process.

The Conference also heard from the research of non-Indigenous graduate students including Seth Adema, whose presentation was called, ‘Never the Victim: Aboriginal Interpretations of Genocide from Canadian Prisons.’ Adema is a PhD candidate in the Department of History. His dissertation explores how Aboriginal activism by inmates in Canadian prisons and an evolving policy context led to profound developments in cultural and spiritual programs for Aboriginal inmates in Canada.

The Conference took two years of planning and organizing by Indigenous graduate students, Jo-Anne Lawless and Carla Lopez. Lawless is a member of the Kespu’kwitk Metis Council of Nova Scotia and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Cultural Analysis and Social Theory. Lopez is of Mayan descent from El Salvador and is in her second year of the Master’s Criminology program.

The Conference brought a respectable turnout, with about 50 people in attendance.

The hope is to make this an annual Conference at Wilfrid Laurier University. Lawless and Lopez are both expected to graduate this year and are asking those who may be interested in organizing for next year’s conference to please contact them via the Wilfrid Laurier University website..

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