Beyond inclusion | Penn today
Kim Tallbear was at home in South Dakota, preparing to interview an older generation of Native women. She was a graduate student at the time and the women weren’t just any elders; they included Tallbear’s mother, as well as his mother’s friends. Standard procedure for Tallbear would have been to have everyone in the group sign informed consent forms, turn on a tape recorder, and move on. She was there in a professional capacity to ask Aboriginal people their views on genetic work. But she couldn’t do it. She felt very uncomfortable even at the thought of doing so.
Kim Tallbear, a professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Alberta and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Society, gave the provost’s lecture on diversity on March 15. (Image: Courtesy of Kim Tallbear)
“And then it hit me,” she said. “Wait a minute, who cares what we think about genetic work? The real problem is what non-aboriginal people think about it. That’s when Tallbear said she decided to “turn her eyes” on white scientists. “Think about who is studying versus who is studying. That’s when I decided I was actually a white anthropologist,” she said.
Tallbear, a professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Alberta and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Society, recounted the events at the Provost’s Diversity Lecture on March 15. Science and Technology,” addressed efforts to transform science education and research to increase benefits for Indigenous peoples.
The lecture series was created as part of Penn’s action plan for faculty excellence and diversity, said Acting Vice President Beth A. Winkelstein, who introduced the speaker. “This is an opportunity to hear from our faculty, as well as experts beyond Penn, on why and how diversity, inclusion, and equity are important in our studies, teaching, and clinical practices” , she said.
Colonial ideas about race make Indigenous peoples and people of color objects of scientific curiosity, Tallbear said, and the decolonization of science and technology is a topic of growing interest, study and policy. more important.
“Decolonization envisions the complete overhaul of the academy to fundamentally reorient knowledge production based on the balance of power relations between Indigenous peoples and Canadians, transforming the academy into something dynamic and new,” said Tallbear, citing authors Adam Gaudry and Danielle Lorenz.
For TallBear, this means returning Indigenous lands and life. “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” she said. “When I think about how to achieve proper decolonization, even on a small scale in my own programs, what I think is: how can we reclaim things in order to support self-determination and self-governance in our communities ”
Tallbear gave as an example the Canadian immigration test, which she had to pass, coming from South Dakota. She said the test now includes questions relating to Indigenous history and treaties. “It’s not much, but it’s important that newcomers to Canada also have a sense of the traditional lands they’re coming to,” she said. “I think it’s an important decision.”
On the academic side, Tallbear cited the Summer Internship for Indigenous Peoples in Genomics (SING). Founded in 2011 by white scientists, SING is now run entirely by Indigenous faculty, including Tallbear herself.
The program, which has taken place in the United States and New Zealand in addition to Canada, brings together up to 20 indigenous participants in an intensive week-long training program, with topics ranging from biome analysis of ground to chronic wasting disease.
Indigenous students are often a minority in science, Tallbear said. They “discover that they are always alone in their biology class. They are always alone in the lab. And they are trained in these mainstream scientific disciplines in a technically sophisticated way. But they’re also implicitly — if not explicitly — trained that they have to separate their tribal culture or their indigenous worldview from what they’re doing in the lab, and we’re trying to show them that they don’t have to do it. That they can work and think these two things together.
The last 30 years have seen a move towards community-based research and retribution, “but we want to go even further,” Tallbear said. “In fact, we really want to focus on Indigenous peoples’ own research questions. The questions Indigenous people want to ask are often different, she says.
“I’m just going to give you an example of a small thing that can change when you center Indigenous ethics and research. Many of you will probably remember when the so-called Kennewick Man, or Elder, was unearthed by the Columbia River in 1996.”
A big fight ensued, Tallbear said. The scientists wanted to study the remains. The Native community along the Columbia River also claimed the body and wanted it reburied.
Two indigenous genetic archaeologists pleaded with the tribal council, saying the remains should be studied but with no destruction of the bones. Traditionally, scientists grind a fragment of bone to extract DNA. “Tribal communities are really concerned about the destruction of remains, even the crushing of a small bone,” Tallbear said. “They don’t want that to happen.”
But one of the Aboriginal archaeologists was also a former dental hygienist. Tallbear suggested trying to extract DNA from the calcification of the man’s teeth. “Their ethos was: don’t destroy the remains. But let’s still think about research,” she said.
By honoring both science and indigenity, this researcher created a compromise between two communities, Tallbear said.