Cheyanne Connell (Dunne-Za Cree, West Moberly First Nations) is a Doctoral Student in Socio-Cultural and Indigenous Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (UBC), UBC Public Scholar, and Canada Graduate Scholarship recipient. She holds a Master of Arts (2021) and Bachelor of Arts, Honours with Distinction (2019) in Anthropology from Simon Fraser University (SFU).
Presently, Ms. Connell works as a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Anthropology and Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies (CIS), Research Assistant (RA) and Graduate Academic Assistant (GAA) with Dr. Aynur Kadir (Asian Studies and CIS, UBC) and Dr. Amir Shiva (Anthropology, UBC) respectively, as well as a Historical Researcher for West Moberly First Nations (WMFN). Previously, she worked as an Editorial Assistant for leading academic journal American Ethnologist (2019—2022), GAA for the Department of Anthropology (2023), and RA for Dr. Michael Hathaway (David Lam Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, SFU) (2018—2022). Currently, she is focusing on developing and implementing her PhD research project on WMFN traditional language and Indigeneity, and is a collaborator on another major research project: Transnationally Indigenous (2018—).
Since 2019, Ms. Connell has also worked with and hosted urban Indigenous folk from North America and Japan in support of her joint quest to understand how dominant expectations of being Indigenous impact processes of identity-making and belonging. She has volunteered to moderate presentations by Indigenous scholars and presented several talks on Indigenous research approaches and Indigenous histories in Canada. Most recently, she was part of formal event and dialogues aimed at 1) discussing the challenges and opportunities of decolonizing universities and 2) helping Ismaili immigrants learn about Indigenous peoples in Canada, created Indigenous Language children's books for a local Indigenous community, and published in American Ethnologist.
For research, Ms. Connell is interested in Indigenous Language and culture; Indigenous identity-making; identity performance and representation; urban Indigenous studies; and global Indigenous world-making. She is principal investigator for Naachin of Past and Present (2021—), an ethnographic and collaborative project that focuses on the histories, practices, and meaning of traditional Language within her home community of West Moberly First Nations. She asks: How does traditional language, including the feelings, memories, and histories surrounding this practice, shape one’s Indigenous identity in present day? As part of this project, Ms. Connell, who is also a freelance Illustrator, will be creating a visual art vignettes, depicting select community member experiences with Language (un)learning and revitalization. Mainly, this project seeks to address the realities of Indigenous identity-making and importantly contribute to growing representation of what it means to be Indigenous in the twenty-first century.
Ms. Connell's efforts to privilege the voices of young Indigenous peoples whose diverse experiences of Indigenous identity-making are often overlooked in public and academia, extends to all her projects. For her MA project (2019-2021), Ms. Connell explored Indigenous Ainu identity-making in North America and through digital spaces. Based on in-depth interviews, online observations, and data collection and analysis, she argued that whereas Ainu identity-making of those who grew up in Japan is primarily rooted in Ainu in Japan experience, American Ainu identity-making is largely informed by and rooted in North American Indigenous experience. With this comes uniquely North American-based experiences and anxieties of culture appropriation, identity gatekeeping, and Indigenous authenticity—a reality that acknowledges many overlooked issues of lateral violence within Ainu and online Indigenous communities. For her BA, Hons. (2019), she explored and critiqued the use of the diaspora model in framing urban Indigenous peoples, experiences, and livelihoods. She argued the need for a more inclusive framework with respect to some urban Indigenous peoples, given that many of them, especially in Canada, are: 1) geographically not displaced; 2) have rooted cultural experiences and practices in urban environments; and 3) have fostered a sense of belonging to an urban homeland. This research spoke to the need to recognize and meaningfully engage with urban Indigenous experience and livelihoods as being authentically Indigenous and not in terms of a cultural, traditional, and land deficit.
Through her research, writing, and teaching, Ms. Connell is one of a few early career scholars advocating for better and more accessible public and scholarly representations of Indigenous identity that speaks to the diverse realities of being Indigenous and part of a global and tech-driven world.