Reignite Your Research: Archival Research Trip to McMaster University, Ontario, Canada
by Emma Barnes
At the end of last year, the University of Salford announced a ‘Reignite Your Research Fund’, which aimed to support staff whose research had been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This funding was dedicated to help facilitate new research partnerships and collaborative work, and to support completion of research outputs. As an ECR who had to forego archival work during the later stages of my PhD due to the pandemic, this funding provided a timely opportunity to commence work on transform my PhD thesis into a monograph, tentatively titled ‘More-than-human Relations and Gendered Survivance in Early Indigenous Women’s Writing’.
I was very lucky to receive funding towards a week of archival research at McMaster University, which is located on the unceded territory of the Haudenosaunee nation (Hamilton, Ontario). Known as ‘Canada’s most research-intensive university’ (McMaster, 2017) the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at McMaster is home to the largest collection of materials relating to Haudenosaunee (First Nation) writer, Tekahionwake (E. Pauline Johnson). Located only 8 miles from Tekahionwake’s birth place, the Six Nations of the Grand River, the archives preserve the legacy of a writer who successfully navigated the imperial and patriarchal publishing world of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century.
Whilst Tekahionwake is best known for her poetry and performance, it was her short stories published in Boys’ World magazine that I analysed in my PhD, and this collection had a host of materials relating to this periodical, including the original publications complete with illustrations, and correspondence with Editor Elizabeth Ansley.
Beyond the short stories and periodical writings I knew well, the collection allowed me explore materials that are no longer in print or are inaccessible in the UK. This included Tekahionwake’s non-fiction writing in newspapers such as Toronto Saturday Night, The Toronto Globe, and The Brantford Expositor, and even unpublished manuscripts of stories including “Witch Woman of Stanley Park” and “Old Maid’s Children”.
What I found most interesting was that the archives enabled me to trace the reception of Tekahionwake’s performances throughout England at the beginning of the twentieth century, as the archive included reviews of her performances published in The Daily Express and Black & White, as well as promotional materials. This opened a new avenue of interest for me, as Tekahionwake’s time in England has yet to be explored in detail.
The archives at McMaster were not the only place that Tekahionwake’s presence in Ontario was felt. Preserved at Chiefswood Park on the Six Nations Reservation stands the house that Tekahionwake grew up in, and which was built by her father, Chief George Johnson. With an entrance that faces the Reservation, and another that faces the land occupied by settlers, Tekahionwake’s house is an architectural tribute to the way her father welcomed people of all races into his home, but also to the way that Tekahionwake herself tried to embrace both Haudenosaunee and Euro-American cultures.
There is no doubt that attempts to erase Indigenous cultures are pervasive across Canada. But despite this, my short time in Hamilton made visible to me the key concern of my thesis and future monograph: survivance. A term coined by Gerald Vizenor to encapsulate the co-existence of survival and resistance, ‘survivance’ was a concept I’d come to know only through the medium of literature. As an ‘outsider researcher’, (a term coined by Robert Innes, who I had the pleasure of meeting at McMaster), my understanding of survivance was, and always will be, limited and rudimentary. However, visiting the Six Nations Reservation, Kitchener and Walpole Island* allowed me to witness first-hand the ways in which First Nation groups continue to resist settler-colonial culture, embrace and celebrate their traditional lifeways, educate the settler population on Indigenous histories, and solidify Indigenous futures.
Community Awareness Week coincided with my time in Hamilton, which saw the Six Nations of the Grand River invite the local populations onto the Reservation to learn about the cultures and community projects. Walpole Island Nation welcomed me and settler populations to join them in their Spring Pow-wow. Artwork by Alanah Jewell, who kindly allowed me to include her illustrations in my thesis, can be seen in urban spaces across southern Ontario, and Alanah frequently organises Indigenous art and craft markets, known as ‘IamKitchener’.
Attempts to erase Indigenous cultures are pervasive across Canada – but so are acts of survivance. Exploring the archival material that showcased Tekahionwake’s advocation of Indigenous sovereignty was an invaluable experience, and will certainly inform my monograph. More than this, however, witnessing the ways in which First Nations continue to practice survivance under contemporary settler-colonial conditions was a formative experience that will shape and inform my future work, not only as a researcher, but as an ally.
*Attendance at these events was self-funded, and will not be included in any research produced.
Innes, R.A., 2009. “Wait a Second. Who Are You Anyways?” The Insider/Outsider Debate and American Indian Studies. American Indian Quarterly, 33(4), pp.440-461.
Vizenor, G.R., 1999. Manifest manners: Narratives on postindian survivance. U of Nebraska