This is the content of the introduction letter that was pubished in the September edition of Waaskimaashtaau. You can read the original, unabridged (and too long for the newsletter!) version here.
Wachiya! Jacky nii. You may have seen me and my son, Jacob, walking or driving around town during the month of August. We’re from Montreal where I teach anthropology at Vanier College. I’m also involved in awareness raising about Native rights, LGBT rights, autistic rights and social justice in general. Jacob is 11 and loves music, movies, drama, running around and throwing rocks in the river.
I was here for the first time in 1998 doing research for my master’s in anthropology. I was 25 and I realised that I came here more for personal reasons that for academic reasons. I was running away from my life in the south. I had just lost my father to alcoholism and I was recovering from my own alcoholism. Spending time here helped me find a sense of peace and hope that I had lost somewhere along the way. People shared their homes, their food and their lives with me and taught me the value of sharing. The sense of resilience, spirit and generosity that I encountered here made me a better person. The decision to do a PhD project here was largely an excuse to come and spend a year here so that I can see, really, if this is a place that I would ultimately like to settle down in. This time, instead of running away from the south, I ran toward the north.
I decided to deal with a topic that is both important to me personally and important to this community: alcohol. I know it is a very sensitive topic. You all know about the stereotypes that many Euro-Canadians have about “drunken Indians.” My goal is not to support these stereotypes – it is the opposite. When I walking around town here in 98, I did stop to talk to people who were drinking or drunk in spite of warnings from well-intentioned people. I learned that, even in a state of intoxication, there was a sense of spirit that remained uncrushed. I learned that sharing is an important value whether it be sharing material objects or a can of beer. I learned that traditional Eeyou culture was a topic that inspired passion in many of the people who were drinking and that many of them were very angry about what had happened to Eeyou lands and culture through the processes of colonization and neo-colonialism.
Why am I personally interested in the topic? I grew up with heavy alcohol use in the family. Many of my early memories involve a drunken parent and the smell of alcohol. However, I also grew up with a view that a person who drinks is not evil. My dad never abused me or my mom. He was tender, loving and loved to laugh. The messages I was hearing around me about “drunks” were confusing to me because they made it sound like people who drank were like monsters who had turned away from their society. But that’s not what I saw at home. And that’s not what I saw here when I was talking to small groups of young people sharing cans of beer.
While I’m here, I’m hoping to have discussions with about 120 – 140 people in the community to learn about their perspectives on alcohol. Coffee, tea and snacks will be provided during the discussions! I will suggest some discussion themes but I will let the person talk about whichever themes are of interest to them with no interruptions by me. The suggested themes will be given in advance to let participants think about the topic for a while. My main focus is to learn about the perspectives of people who drink or used to drink, I also seek to learn the perspectives of people who do not drink. Participants can be Native or non-Native but they must be over 18. On my website, https://anthrojack.wordpress.com/chisasibi-research, you can see more about the topics I would like to discuss and learn more about my work.
Everything that participants tell me is confidential. To respect people’s privacy, I will use pseudonyms in my writing and I will avoid describing participants in a way that would allow people to identify them. Participants can change their minds about their participation at any time. I will do everything in my power to conduct this research in a way that is respectful to everyone. My goal is not to propagate negative stereotypes. Rather, it is to encourage people who rarely get heard to voice their thoughts on a topic that impacts their lives.
Other than research, I would like to volunteer my time and skills to help with any organisations or people that can use them. I’m also very open to learning anything that anyone wants to teach me: the Eeyou language, fishing, hunting, making clothing, skidooing . . . anything. We are very open to spending time in the bush if the opportunity arises.To contact me about the research, volunteering, or anything else (my son and I are still looking for a place to live), please contact me at 7786 or by email at email@example.com.
I look forward to working with you!