The Limits of Sovereignty: Practices of Indigeneity among the Teetl'it Gwich'in
Principal Investigator: Alexie, Elaine D. (1)
Licence Number: 15148
Organization: University of Victoria
Licenced Year(s): 2012
Issued: Aug 31, 2012

Objective(s): To gather information on practices of Indigeneity: the spiritual, physical, and cultural practices of the Teetl’it Gwich’in from the community of Fort McPherson; to engage with Fort McPherson community members who still maintain a connection to their traditional culture, embody an understanding of physical and spiritual well-being, and practice subsistence ways of life and land based practices with their families, and with the community as a whole.

Project Description: The purpose of this research project is to gather information on practices of Indigeneity: the spiritual, physical, and cultural practices of the Teetl’it Gwich’in from the community of Fort McPherson. The researcher will be interviewing Teetl’it Gwich’in knowledge holders who can provide insight to the concept of Indigeneity and the significance it holds for them. A major focus of this project is to engage with Fort McPherson community members who still maintain a connection to their traditional culture, embody an understanding of physical and spiritual well-being, and practice subsistence ways of life and land based practices with their families, and with the community as a whole.

This research project will use a methodological approach that incorporates the Teetl’it Gwich’in worldview and respects the Indigenous knowledge of community members. It will apply social science research methods in utilizing both primary and secondary sources relevant to the research area, with a particular focus on interviews as a way of gathering information on the direct experience of Teetl’it Gwich’in people. The research project will utilize decolonizing methodologies, participatory action research and will focus on strengthening community relationships. The major target group that will be approached for interview are Teetl’it Gwich’in land-based knowledge holders, most commonly elders, who can provide insight on the importance and reliance of land based living, traditional conceptions of governance and the political history of their community, whom witnessed immense changes in their lifetime. The main focus of the research is to understand the practices and the politics of Indigeneity of the Teetl’it Gwich’in by using the oral tradition as the primary resource.

This project will gather oral knowledge from individual interviews, as primary research, while ensuring direct community engagement and involvement throughout every stage of the research process. The interviews will be very open-ended and in-depth, to get at the interconnected land-based knowledge, which will be the major focus of this research project. Questions will be general, open-ended, and the direction of the interview will be determined largely by the research participant. The researcher may from time to time ask for clarification or for the interviewee to expand on what they are sharing, but, knowledge-holders will be sharing what they feel is relevant to share with the researcher. Basic and open-ended questions about Teetl’it Gwich’in conceptions of lndigeneity, their subsistence lifestyles, access to land base practices, and spiritual wellbeing, these questions will stimulate some discussion, but by-and-large, the knowledge holders will be allowed to dictate the structure and direction of the interview. The interviews are estimated to be 45 minutes to an hour, and participants are given the choice to whether they want to have their interviews audio recorded with a recorded device.

The emphasis of recording this knowledge is to articulate a community-based perspective and to lend legitimacy to the voices of Indigenous people. The ultimate goal is to empower local community, reclaim their Indigeneity, and assist them in asserting their political self-determination vis-à-vis nation-states.

The purpose of this research project is to locate and address the importance of the concept of Indigeneity to the Teetl’it Gwich’in community, and to make this knowledge accessible to our community and to the new generation of young people. It will also inform and educate others about the incomplete facts presented to us relating to Arctic sovereignty and state security policies. Both of these issues necessitate the development of Indigeneity as a concept relevant to the self-determination and sovereignty of the Teetl’it Gwich’in people. It is with my hope that this academic research project can be a benefit to the Teetl’it Gwich’in people, our community, and to our future generation of young people.

The community participants will have the chance to read, edit, examine, and remove any of their knowledge from, at any point leading up to the thesis defense. All participants interviewed will be consulted when chapters and drafts applicable to their participation are produced. This is to ensure what is written best represents their experiences and knowledge that they agreed to share is best reflective of their lived experiences of land-based practices and of the cultural traditions of the Teetl’it Gwich’in. As a priority, the researcher will make a follow up presentation back to the community and organizations involved during the research after the thesis defense is finalized.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from August 31, 2012 to December 31, 2012.