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Stories matter

Indigenous scholar to deliver George Story Distinguished Lectureship


By Chad Pelley

Dr. Kristina Fagan Bidwell believes that stories go beyond containing meaning, to shaping how people think, feel and act.

Headshot of Dr. Bidwell
Dr. Kristina Fagan Bidwell’s George Story Distinguished Lectureship will focus on the value and potential of indigenous-led literary collaborations in N.L.
Photo: Submitted

A renowned Indigenous scholar and NunatuKavut member, Dr. Bidwell is currently a visiting researcher at Memorial and a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Indigenous Storytelling.

As CRC in Indigenous Storytelling, she explores how stories interact between different Indigenous communities and Indigenous-settler communities.

“Difficulties in understanding, making space for, and valuing one another’s stories, across boundaries of culture and power, underlie many high-stakes conflicts over land, identity and knowledge.”

Dr. Bidwell is currently a professor in the Department of English at the University of Saskatchewan. She completed her BA at Memorial.

“It was here in the Department of English, in Bill Barker’s bibliography class, that I first got excited about Indigenous literature,” she said. “Bill asked us to do an assignment on the history of any book, and I chose Sketches of a Labrador Life by a Labrador Woman, by Lydia Campbell, who is one of my ancestors.”

Indigenous-led collaboration

While on sabbatical, she is spending the year in St. John’s and working on a book with her colleague, Sophie McCall, from Simon Fraser University.

They are co-writing a book on Indigenous-led collaboration in the literary arts.

“Part of our argument is that Indigenous-led collaborations need to be grounded in the specific lands and cultures where the collaborations take place,” Dr. Bidwell said.

To divide and conquer their work, in a form akin to case study, Dr. McCall is writing about Vancouver, and Dr. Bidwell is writing a chapter on the power and potential of Indigenous-led literary collaborations in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“To do that well, I felt that I needed to come home, learn about local collaborative projects and talk to people engaged in such collaborations here. I was fortunate that Memorial offered me space and support here as a visiting researcher, and my time here has been very inspiring.”

Upcoming lectureship

Dr. Bidwell will deliver Memorial’s George Story Distinguished Lectureship as part of Memorial’s Research Week this Friday, Nov. 25, at Signal Hill Campus at 7 p.m.

The event will also be livestreamed.

The reading and study of Indigenous literatures in and from this province is still under-developed relative to other regions of Canada.

Dr. Bidwell posits that this under-development is rooted in the lack of formal recognition of Indigenous people in Newfoundland and Labrador at Confederation, which led to the public erasure of Indigenous voices.

Her lecture will reflect on the ways in which dominant narratives of Indigenous diminishment led to historical collaborations with Indigenous people in Newfoundland and Labrador, as seen in attempts to record and translate the words of Shanawdithit (Beothuk) and Abraham Ulrikab (Inuit).

She will also discuss recent examples of Indigenous-led literary collaborations and conclude by looking towards the future and to the ways in which Indigenous-led collaborations can allow the leveraging of existing strengths and resources in the province to amplify Indigenous literary voices.

One such local literary collaboration she’s examining is My Indian, co-written by Mi’sel Joe and Sheila O’Neill.

It depicts the historical journey of William Cormack, a Newfoundlander of Scottish descent, and Sylvester Joe, a Mi’kmaw guide from Miawpukek, across the interior of Newfoundland in 1822.

“They didn’t just write together. They walked together, went on the land together, shared food and in many ways cared for one another. So, by looking at this and other examples, I want to explore how we can describe Indigenous models for collaborative work that are led by and that work for Indigenous people.”

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