Kim TallBear named 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow

"Ultimately we're pushing back against straight white men telling us how the world should work, and what is legitimate knowledge and what is not."

Jordan Cook - 18 July 2018

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is an independent charity that funds and promote academic and public interest research. Each year, the Foundation awards fellowships to "intellectuals in the humanities and social sciences who are recognized for their productivity, their commitment to communicating their findings to the public, and their ability to devise innovative solutions to some of the major issues facing Canada and the world".

At the end of June it was announced that the Faculty of Native Studies' Kim TallBear had been named a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow, along with Malinda Smith from the Faculty of Arts.

TallBear's work consistently strives to break down traditional hierarchies - those that are built around racist and patriarchal ideals.

"All of the work I do is about not always appealing to standard authorities, which tend to be straight white men. And so ultimately we're pushing back against straight white men telling us how the world should work and what is legitimate knowledge and what is not," TallBear said.

With that in mind, TallBear's work as a Fellow will see her establishing a research-creation laboratory known as the RELAB, where she will conduct social science and humanities scholarship as well as creative practice aimed at restoring the Indigenous concept of "good relations". Being in good relations means recognizing the relatedness of all beings.

"Our histories preserve valuable frameworks for living in what I call "relational sustainability", worlds ordered by complex webs of kin relations, gender pluralities, non-monogamies, collective land-sharing, and other forms of wealth distribution," TallBear explained.

The RELAB will be the starting point for a number of planned activities. These include, though are not limited to, the well-known Tipi Confessions Show, an Indigenous Burlesque Collective featuring Kirsten Lindquist and Brittany Johnson, an annual Research/Creation Innovation Lecture, and a Symposium. Each of these activities aim to support and restore good relations.

TallBear comes into this project from a background in science and technology; she is the Canada Research Chair for Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Environment, and principal investigator atIndigenous Science, Technology, and Society (Indigenous STS), an international research and teaching hub housed at the University of Alberta. Her work has previously focused on genomics, and she is the author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science.

As she explores and develops her research-creation work, she's grateful for the opportunities the Trudeau Fellowship affords.

"It's going to enable us to do this research-creation work that's probably not easily fundable, because [the] Trudeau [Foundation] is willing to take on things that are not necessarily fitting into pre-existing categories. I think it will really catapult our work," TallBear said.

Coming out of that science background, Kim is drawn to creative work because of the broad reach it has.

"I am always interested in bringing a whole bunch of people into a room and we can have a conversation where for the academics they can read it as academic, but for the non-academics it's occurring in a language that doesn't preclude them from participating. So different people can hear or watch the same thing and get really different things out of it."

For her part, TallBear chalks up the multi-disciplinary nature of her work to pure curiosity.

"I'm always happy when I'm circulating through different cultures and migrating through different spaces… I'm always sitting on the boundaries of things and trying to have a conversation across different ways of thinking. I think it's because I grew up in a reservation border town, I think it goes back to living on different boundaries as a child."

As a fellow, TallBear will join a list of esteemed researchers and practitioners, and will receive a total of $225,000 over the next three years.

Learn more about Dr. TallBear's Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship here.