By Alyssa Tremblay
"Technology" is a familiar and perhaps overused word in the 21st century.
But did you know that technology is far more than just a synonym for computer? In fact, the word "technology" simply refers to using knowledge to create tools and equipment — no wires or circuit boards required.
So how do we broaden our understanding of technology when the word itself has been so aggressively limited to conversations around 5G networks and smartphones?
"This narrow definition is the result of looking solely through a Western lens," explains Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, an Arctic anthropologist, curator and Inuk researcher. "For instance, Inuit technology includes hunting and sewing tools. A sled is a tool, which we can speak about in terms of technology."
A PhD candidate in Cultural Mediations at Carleton University, Zawadski’s exceptional doctoral work was recently recognized by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada.
Zawadski was one of three Talent Award finalists in the 2022 SSHRC Impact Awards, a prestigious competition that celebrates outstanding leaders, thinkers and researchers in the social sciences and humanities.
Zawadski’s doctoral research focuses on the sewing and beading legacies that are tied to a particular place in northwestern Hudson Bay, Qatiktalik. Building off her previous work on kakpiit (needle cases), as most of her research revolves around sewing in some way, her current project looks at the technology behind the manufacturing of bird bone, ivory and caribou bone needles among Inuit.
"Part of the research was out of curiosity, as I wanted to know how to make them," recalls Zawadski, who grew up in Igluligaarjuk, a community on the western shore of the Hudson Bay in Nunavut. "The other part was to gain a better understanding of the life histories of technology, as the needle is definitely one that has a colonial history, in that it was quickly replaced by metal needles."
From her BA in Anthropology at Carleton to her Master of Arts from the University of British Columbia, Zawadski mobilizes Inuit research methodologies across all her studies. She describes this approach as an understanding that research isn’t just about reading books and going to the library — it’s also about conversations with peers, families and communities.
"A lot of my own knowledge around Inuit technology, cultural material and stories have been learned from my peers — and not only from Elders, which is a more romanticized version of knowledge transmission. Oftentimes, when I ask people where they learned something, it was from friends, sisters, brothers and cousins. The misconception that it’s always a top-down process means that people in the middle are often overlooked." Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, PhD candidate in Cultural Mediations
"A lot of my own knowledge around Inuit technology, cultural material and stories have been learned from my peers — and not only from Elders, which is a more romanticized version of knowledge transmission. Oftentimes, when I ask people where they learned something, it was from friends, sisters, brothers and cousins. The misconception that it’s always a top-down process means that people in the middle are often overlooked."
For instance, the pandemic sparked in Zawadski an interest in sewing and traditional garments in her home communities, specifically Inuit copyright practices around pattern sharing.
"In my region, we still sew almost daily — except maybe in the summer, it’s seasonal like that. We use modern materials, as well as caribou skin, polar bear skin and furs. People are always busy sewing for their families; your kids are growing, someone needs hunting clothing, town clothing or traveling clothing."
Let’s say, Zawadski supposes, you’re making a parka for your son and you need a new pattern because he doesn’t fit in the old one or he wants a new style.
"You reach out to people asking for patterns and their responses can vary quite a bit," she explains. "Some will say 'I have one, this is my pattern but don’t share it with anyone else.' Others will say 'Sure, I have one and it’s sharable with anyone.' Others still will respond 'Yes, I have a pattern but I can’t share it unless I ask the owner' or 'I can’t share outside of my family.' You have to negotiate every time whether you can receive it or share it. With sewing patterns, like any technology, there are these important questions being asked around protocol, copyright and intellectual property."
Prior to and early in her doctoral studies at Carleton, Zawadski used to work as a curator for the Government of Nunavut. Through this position, she was introduced to Inuk scholar and art historian Dr. Heather Igloliorte.
An alumna of Carleton’s Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture, Igloliorte is a Canada Research Chair and co-director of the Indigenous Futures Research Centre at Concordia University. She’s also the creator of the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq Project.
Zawadski joined the Project’s mentorship program once she started her PhD and was paired with Sandra Dyck, Director of the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG). With her mentor’s support, she’s curated two exhibitions for CUAG: Nuvisi: Threading Our Beads at Qatiktalik and At the National Arts Centre: Breaking Ground / Diesing / Kalvak / Kigusiuq / Letendre (co-curated with Danielle Printup, CUAG’s Indigenous Cultural Engagement Coordinator).
"I first met Krista in the fall of 2018 and had the great pleasure of working with her over several years while she researched and developed her exhibition Nuvisi: Threading Our Beads at Qatiktalik," says Dyck.
"The exhibition so beautifully reflected Krista's intertwined roles of scholar, mother, writer, maker, advocate and curator. I only wish I could be involved in all of Krista's shows — I learned so much from her care, knowledge, sensitivity, passion and creativity."Sandra Dyck, Director of the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG)
"The exhibition so beautifully reflected Krista's intertwined roles of scholar, mother, writer, maker, advocate and curator. I only wish I could be involved in all of Krista's shows — I learned so much from her care, knowledge, sensitivity, passion and creativity."
Prior to her curatorial experience at CUAG, Zawadski already had an extensive resume of museology and collections-based research under her belt, having participated in the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution and the Otsego Institute for Native American Art History at the Fenimore Art Museum.
As someone whose motivation as a researcher is fueled by a desire to foster accessibility to museum collections for Inuit peoples, she was disappointed to discover that even she couldn’t surmount the towering walls of colonial gatekeeping around Indigenous cultural materials.
"My academic and professional backgrounds are in anthropology, archeology and museums. I thought it would be easy to navigate these institutions, because that’s precisely what I’m trained in," says Zawadski. "It was heartbreaking to experience the blatant gatekeeping from some institutions, as I was told I needed to pay huge fees in order to access archival photos of my own ancestors."
"Whether I went in as a researcher or as an Indigenous person, I faced unnecessary hurdles. I just want to see photos of my ancestors." Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, PhD candidate in Cultural Mediations
"Whether I went in as a researcher or as an Indigenous person, I faced unnecessary hurdles. I just want to see photos of my ancestors."
Currently, Zawadski is focused on dissertation writing, though she’s looking forward to more curatorial projects in the future — in addition to her work at CUAG, in 2021 she co-curated the massive-in-scale INUA exhibition at the WAG-Qaumajuq visual art museum, alongside Igloliorte and Sobey Art Award-shortlisted Inuit artists asinnajaq and Kablusiak.
For now, her post-graduate goal is to continue doing hands-on applied land-based work, "because as an Inuk, that is how we educate each other and our kids."
For instance, her research into the kakpiit has proven to be a strong teaching activity around technology and the revitalization of cultural material.
"I’ve used needle-making activities at the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning in Yellowknife a few times now, and it really helped open up conversation about research methods in our communities and around the importance of simply being curious," Zawadski says.
"I want to explore how I can continue to do that work with a PhD."
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