The pursuit of research is often a personal endeavour, fuelled by the desire to answer long-harboured questions and contribute to knowledge creation in meaningful ways. For University of Lethbridge researchers Melissa Shouting (BHSc ’19) and Christine Clark (BFA - New Media ’10, MFA ’14), this sentiment and more is true.
A member of the Kainai Nation, Melissa is inspired by her community, vowing to engage in meaningful research that aims to improve outcomes for her people, the Siksikaitsitapi.
“We, the Siksikaitsitapi, are wealthy in terms of knowledge, resources, kinship and community. Sometimes we need a reminder of the strength we carry, not only as individuals or nations, but as a Blackfoot Confederacy,” Melissa says.
“My methodological approaches to research include centring the Blackfoot people and their knowledge systems. This creates a space where Indigenous people can see themselves pursuing their dreams and working towards collective well-being.”
For Christine, as a descendent of prairie settlers, she hopes that by actively engaging in reconciliation processes alongside Blackfoot collaborators, she can support generational well-being for Indigenous populations.
“I have met so many amazing individuals through the Mootookakio’ssin project,” Christine says. “Working in this collaborative way means my work could contribute to something more important than anything I could do on my own.”
At first glance, it is unclear how Melissa and Christine came to work together–Melissa is a health researcher and program coordinator in the Faculty of Health Sciences, while Christine is an Associate Professor of web design and development in the new media department in the Faculty of Fine Arts–but a second look at their research interests shows the intersections of these two minds.
Christine and Melissa initially became connected through the Mootookakio’ssin research project, an ongoing venture that brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, researchers and Elders from the Blackfoot Confederacy together with groups in the United Kingdom and beyond to virtually reconnect Blackfoot items in museums with Blackfoot people and assist in the process of knowledge renewal and transmission.
Christine’s role encompasses the use of digital technology to capture items through photogrammetry, RTI and web-based interfaces, while Melissa works to centre Siksikaitsitapi paradigms in the project through Blackfoot consultation, writing and research.
"Technology can work against us, or we can harness it and use it … from a perspective that’s ours as Blackfoot people.”
Ki'naksaapo'p, Narcisse Blood
Late activist, educator, filmmaker, visionary and Blackfoot Elder from the Kainai Nation
The quote above from the late Narcisse Blood guides Melissa and Christine in their work, which Melissa describes as actively working towards reconciliation in a meaningful way.
“Our work opens doors for conversations that can lead to understanding and relationship building between Blackfoot nations and Euro-Canadian populations and institutions. Essentially, it is working toward economic prosperity and self-determination for Indigenous people.”
Christine echoes this sentiment, adding that their research is for the public, thus, it is successful insofar as the public is interested in it.
The interdisciplinary nature of the Mootookakio’ssin project means that artists, researchers and community members from all corners are brought together in pursuit of reconciliation, knowledge creation and knowledge sharing, something that both Melissa and Christine feel positive about.
“It is such an amazing experience; I have learned so much from Christine, and the rest of our interdisciplinary team, about technology and the practices utilized within new media,” Melissa says.
“I have also learned how to use technological tools to harness knowledge renewal practices in a way that interacts with multiple populations around the world while centring Siksikaitsitapi Knowledge Systems and experiences.”
Christine adds that working with the group is an incredible honour.
“Working with the Blackfoot community has meant becoming a student again and it has been such a privilege to learn from everyone and be included,” she says.
“I see my role as being about life-long learning, vulnerability, respect, trusting the process, being accountable and letting go of fear and ego. Melissa has been a generous and patient mentor to me, I am so grateful to her for our many long and sometimes difficult conversations.”
As the pair prepare to deliver a PUBlic Professor Series talk on Indigenous health and reshaping the web with Indigenous worldviews, the string that initially tied them together continues to in their respective research projects.
Melissa is continuing her work with the Blackfoot Confederacy, aiming to improve health outcomes in areas from service delivery to gender-based equity, while Christine is currently working with Danielle Heavy Head and Blair Many Fingers on revitalizing the Blackfoot Digital Library.
Melissa and Christine’s talk, titled Weaving World Views: The web as a space for cultural vitality, takes place on Thursday, January 25 at 7 p.m. in the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge.