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Building on research of Indigenous Ainu identity-making conducted in my MA, my doctoral research aims to make sense of the role of traditional language in contemporary Indigenous identity and culture-making in BC and Canada. Mountain Dunne-Za (Dane-Zaa/Beaver Indian) is one of many traditional languages with limited fluent speakers in the Peace River region of northeastern British Columbia. In an effort to better understand and address the devastating trajectory of this language, and in collaboration with my own nation—West Moberly First nations (WMFN)—this project seeks to identify and examine the language life, loss, and (un)learning among the Mountain Dunne-Za (Beaver) peoples of Moberly Lake, BC. It asks: how has traditional language shaped and been shaped by the lived and remembered experiences of Beaver people as Indigenous peoples?

Ancestrally known as the people of dreams (i.e., dreamers, naachin), WMFN members, come from a long and unbroken ancestral line of cultural and linguistic transmission that is deeply rooted in traditional practices such as trapping and hunting, prophet dances and songs, and at one point in time, vision quests. While these practices still remain culturally significant, as much of these practices are male-dominated, the activities and experiences of Beaver women are rarely explored within scholarship, literature, and colonial documentation. Thus, more specifically, taking an Indigenous feminist approach to this research, I ask: how is traditional language tethered to and interwoven into the lives of Beaver women past and present? Focusing on the experiences, stories, and archival accounts of Indigenous women with membership and direct ancestral ties to WMFN, my research offers an opportunity to document, assert and invite vital broader Indigenous representation in scholarship and community, ensuring young women and past and present matriarchs stories and identities are better represented culturally and linguistically in WMFN, Canada, and beyond.



From project website: "This project explores the hidden legacies of transnational Indigeneity and Indigenous diplomacy by examining two pivotal trips during which a group of Ainu delegates from Japan and a group of First Nations delegates from British Columbia traveled to China in the mid-1970s. They were impressed with what they saw in terms of education and Indigenous language promotion, and began to envision new kinds of activism in their home countries. Our Indigenous-majority team of Investigators, Collaborators and students will work collectively to carry out four key objectives: 1) engage with scholarship in Transnational Studies to provide alternatives to state-centered accounts, 2) show how Indigenous transnational diplomacy expands Indigenous Studies beyond domestic studies and offer non-oppositional frameworks that expands understanding of Indigenous agency; and 3) contribute to Asian Studies by analyzing transpacific connections, not just comparisons." Click here to learn more about this project.

Michael Hathaway (Co-Principal Investigator)

Aynur Kadir (Co-Principal Investigator)

Rick Colbourne (Contributor)

Glen Coulthard (Contributor)

Scott Harrison (Contributor)

Regina Baeza Martinez (Contributor)

Kate Hennessy (Collaborator)

Ann-Elise Lewallen (Collaborator)

George Nicholas (Collaborator)

Deanna Reder (Collaborator)

Rudy Reimer (Collaborator)

Saki Murontani (Artist)

Jacquelyn Yu (Web Developer)




This project was conducted through digitally-mediated fieldwork from 2020 to 2021, as part of the requirement for my MA degree at SFU. It's main goal was to seek to understand how Ainu in North America experience Indigenous identity-making. Working with eight young adults of self-identified Ainu ancestry, at various stages of their Ainu journeys, but all started within the last few years, I ask how Ainu and Ainuness is learned and understood through their primary connection and access to Ainu community and culture: digital spaces. My findings suggested that the Ainu identity-making of those who grew up and live in Japan is primarily shaped by Japanese Ainu experience, whereas for some American-Ainu, their identity-making is largely shaped by North American Indigenous experience. I argued that this in turn made American-Ainu uniquely subject to North American-based experiences and anxieties of culture appropriation, identity gatekeeping, and Indigenous authenticity, and what I call precarious indigeneity. The aim of this project was to expand public and academic narratives of Ainu identity-making that speaks to the diverse realities of learning what it means to be Ainu and Indigenous in present day and as multiethnic and digitally connected individuals and communities. As part of this project, I created a series of illustrations to demonstrate media representation of Ainu and North American Indigenous peoples, and various findings and ideas in my research. Click here to learn more about this project.

Michael Hathaway (Supervisor)



This project was part of my undergraduate degree, and resulted in the successful complete of my BA Honours thesis, titled “Decolonizing Urban Indigenous Studies: Defining and Redefining Indigeneity." It is a literary exploration and critique of the use of the diaspora model in framing urban Indigenous peoples, experiences and livelihoods. In it, I argue the need for a more inclusive framework that speaks to the diversity of urban Indigenous peoples, given that many of them, especially in Canada: 1) still reside on (urban) ancestral land and are therefore not displaced; 2) have little to no connection to a non-urban traditional homeland and as a result, may feel little to no cultural loss; and 3) live in places where recognized traditional territories are often either only a fraction of or not at all one’s ancestral lands, thus, showing that homeland-making can and does occur outside of ancestral lands. From this, I suggest the need to recognize and meaningfully engage with urban Indigenous experience and livelihoods as being authentically Indigenous and not of an inherent cultural, traditional, and land deficit. Growing up off-reserve and in densely populated cities, this project was what inspired my thirst for knowledge and passion in interrogating public and academic assumptions, generalizations, and expectations of Indigenous peoples, that are often rooted in colonialism, nation-state governance, and Christianity.

Michael Hathaway (Supervisor)

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