• Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq

No, I won't introduce you to my mama.



I'd like to share with you all remarks I prepared for the Roundtable on Good Relations I was part of October 22, 2021 for the Conference on Community Writing:


Boundary Spanners in Marginalized Communities


I want to share about the added pressures that Indigenous scholars and other marginalized scholars face as boundary spanners. In these remarks, I define boundary spanners as individuals who occupy both academic spaces and marginalized community spaces and who are called on to act as mediators between the two.


I will discuss my own navigation across these spaces and the nuances of relationship that I must recognize and respond to as an additional component of my professional and communal practice.


I will also share about the difference between credibility and accountability and how that important distinction is often overlooked.


Boundary spanners is a term that I learned from Iñupiaq scholar and PhD candidate Margaret Anamaq Rudolf at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Please check out their work because there is lots to learn from Anamaq.


Briefly, boundary spanners link together systems of people, communities, institutions, and knowledges through their belonging to and expertise with both systems.


As an Iñupiaq from a Native community in Arctic Alaska, I have particular cultural and community expertise and connections from being part of that system. As a technical communication and rhetoric scholar and professor at an R1 institution, I have another set of expertise and connections from being part of that system.


The boundary spanning I try to do is in the service of helping link my Inuit community in Alaska with institutional resources from academia.


However, the flip side to this boundary spanning-ness is that I am called to use my PERSONAL social capital for my PROFESSIONAL endeavors.


This gets even more complicated when other academic people ask me to “hook them up” with folx in my Native community so that they can do research there.


Let’s unpack what asking me to hook people up with my community means. What they’re asking me to do is to use my personal relationships that I’ve spent a lifetime building and rebuilding for their academic research needs. They are asking me to vouch for them to my people, my community, my friends, and my family.


These academic askers actually think they’re offering some BIG opportunity here to my people and they are shocked when I don’t jump up enthusiastically, call my mama, and book them and their grad students a spot on her couch.


The funniest part is that sometimes I don’t even know the people who are doing the asking. In other words, literal strangers are asking me to set them up with Native folx.


Why do they feel entitled to this ask? Well, beyond entitlement, I think one reason is because I’m a scholar and so they think that links us somehow. I guess it does in some ways, but not at all at the level that would justify such an ask.


I’m sorry, but I am not going to help rando scholars inflict their research agenda on my people. I will not risk the potential harm of that kind of set-up.

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I’m sorry, but I am not going to help rando scholars inflict their research agenda on my people. I will not risk the potential harm of that kind of set-up.


Put another way, I’m an insider to my own Native community YET I am still very cautious about approaching my own Native community regarding MY research. I don’t assume that because I’m from the community that my people will welcome or need or want the research I might propose.


Hear me when I say this: Respectful research means that research problems and research questions related to Native land and peoples must come from these communities themselves. As scholars, we need to respect their sovereignty and be humble enough to take the time to build local relationships and listen to local needs and wants and pivot our research to help fulfill those needs.


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Hear me when I say this: Respectful research means that research problems and research questions related to Native land and peoples must come from these communities themselves.


This is where the distinction between credibility and accountability comes in. I might have the credibility to do research in my community based on my fancy degrees, position, and identity---but that credibility doesn’t mean shit if I don’t hold myself accountable to the self-determination and the sovereignty of my people. When working with a Native community, it’s important to position accountability to that community and its needs as the primary factor of your work.


No one there gives a fuck about your title or your CV, they care about your heart.


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