SSHRC grant helps researcher think beyond reconciliation | Work of Arts
SSHRC grant helps researcher think beyond reconciliation | Work of Arts

SSHRC grant helps researcher think beyond reconciliation

English professor Keavy Martin leads a research project looking at how art can be used to increase public engagement in the aftermath of residential schools.

The cultural politics of oil, the anthropology of tea culture, and understanding the impact of personal and public events are just some of the topics that Arts researchers will explore after receiving more than $1.6 million in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

11 Arts faculty members received grants in the October 2012 Insight Grants competition from SSHRC, which supports research that increases our collective understanding of individuals and societies, as well as informs the search for solutions to societal challenges.

One of those faculty members is Keavy Martin, a professor in the Department of English and Film Studies, who was awarded with a five-year grant totaling $499,371 to pursue her research project titled ‘Beyond Reconciliation’: Indigenous Arts and Public Engagement after the TRC.

“We’re particularly interested in how artists and artistic practice can help us think beyond that concept, towards a more respectful, more ethical relationship between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.”

Martin’s project looks at the concept of reconciliation, particularly at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, where survivors of residential schools share stories of their experiences. The events are currently ongoing until summer 2015. By documenting these stories, the TRC wants to create a forum for Aboriginal people to tell their stories and to inform Canadians about what happened in residential schools.

However, Martin cautions that there is more to reconciliation, beyond the TRC. “There’s an assumption that after this process is over, maybe we’ll be finished with it, people will move on,” says Martin. “But colonization isn’t just about residential schools. There are many other elements that are still ongoing.”

That’s where her research project comes in: “We’re particularly interested in how artists and artistic practice can help us think beyond that concept, towards a more respectful, more ethical relationship between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.”

In collaboration with many artists and researchers across the country, Martin’s project looks at how art can increase public engagement and challenge the public’s notion of reconciliation. “Art allows us the possibilities to do things differently, to see and feel differently. One of the main things we’re trying to do is stage venues where academics and artists can work together, collaborate, and think about these issues beyond reconciliation. Several members of the research team are artists and scholars at the same time. We’re interested in the ways in which [the distinction between those roles] is not always a firm line,” explains Martin.

“We’re hoping for these conversations to continue, in a more productive way than we can even imagine right now, and we’re counting on artists and artistic practice to help us achieve that.”

Martin notes that public engagement is especially important in a project like this because we’re all affected in some way by the stories coming out of the TRC; awareness is key for informing public opinion about residential schools and Indigenous issues. “It’s about all of those other Canadians walking around—some of whom know about residential schools, some who don’t, and all of whom are implicated in it because we’re all living together in this land,” she says. If people get engaged in Indigenous issues, then “maybe that history that has been so suppressed here will become a little less invisible.”

Building relationships

The core of Martin’s research is focused on relationships: “What would a better relationship look like between Indigenous nations and Canada? How can we create those relationships in small ways? Here in Edmonton, here at the U of A?” But she admits that building relationships can be difficult, which is reflected even within her own research group. “Our team is quite mixed; a number of the co-investigators are Indigenous people, a couple of us are not. So in thinking about relationship building [and its issues], we really saw that as we were doing that work ourselves amongst one another. When we talk, we’re on different sides of the table sometimes,” says Martin.

Martin adds that the TRC will be in Edmonton from March 27-30, 2014 and she hopes that many members of the UAlberta community will attend and witness the stories that are told. “Going to the TRC can be very difficult, but it’s also completely changed the way that I think about this place. I feel a different kind of belonging because I know that history. I don’t think of this as my land, but I’m learning what it means to be a guest in this land and I’m learning what it means to have those relationships.

“We’re hoping that, at the end of 5 years, we’ll have contributed to different kinds of projects that will continue to push that understanding of the relationship between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people…. We’re hoping for these conversations to continue, in a more productive way than we can even imagine right now, and we’re counting on artists and artistic practice to help us achieve that.”

U of A Insight Grant winners in the Faculty of Arts:

Norman Brown, Psychology
Understanding the Transitional Impact of Personal and Public Events

John Considine, English & Film Studies
English dictionaries in the sixteenth century

Jean DeBernardi, Anthropology
Material Identity: The Anthropology of Chinese Tea Culture

Gregory Forth, Anthropology
Urbanizing spirits, the relic trade, ecological impacts and palaeoanthropological encounters in eastern Indonesia

John Langdon, History & Classics
A War over Water: The 1531 English Statute of Sewers and its Impact upon Local Politics, Economics and Environments

Keavy Martin, English & Film Studies
‘Beyond Reconciliation’: Indigenous Arts and Public Engagement after the TRC

Ken Mouré, History & Classics
Marché noir: Capitalism’s black heart in France, 1939-1950

Robert Nichols, Political Science
The New Politics of Land: Colonialism, Dispossession, and Territorial Belonging

Carrie Smith-Prei, MLCS
Technologies of Popfeminist Activism

Imre Szeman, English & Film Studies
On Empty: The Cultural Politics of Oil

Chloe Taylor, Women’s Studies
Sex, crime, and the family: genealogical and critical perspectives


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