Growing GRASAC: Mobilizing Great Lakes Indigenous Heritage for the 21st Century

SSHRC Partnership Development Grant: 2016-2018 ($192,454)

Written by Kate Higginson, October 2016

Large group photo 2016Growing GRASAC PDG Planning Meeting, Woodland Cultural Centre, September 2016.

In April 2016, we were delighted to learn that GRASAC and its partner institutions had been successful in their application for a Partnership Development Grant (PDG) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The purpose of these PDG grants is to help researchers to develop partnerships that will then enable them to subsequently apply for a larger SSHRC Partnership Grant with a 4 to 7 year duration; GRASAC plans to apply for a SSHRC Partnership Grant in 2019.

Over the next 2 years this new GRASAC PDG will fund our plans to expand and formalize the GRASAC research network by defining specific research problems and groups of researchers who wish to pursue them collaboratively.

The Growing GRASAC PDG project has 4 main goals:

  • to develop the potential of the GRASAC database as a research platform for the creation of new knowledge about Great Lakes heritage through the identification of specific research problems and the creation of pilot projects;
  • to extend the GRASAC partnership base to a much wider community of First Nations/ Tribal Council operated Culture Centres, universities, and researchers in Canada and the United States;
  • to refine GRASAC’s governance structure and protocols for the protection of Indigenous intellectual property in keeping with its projected expansion of partners and users;
  • and to develop strategies for the long-term sustainability of the project’s digital resources and human community.

For more on the details of this new project, please see the Growing GRASAC summary below; for more on the PDG program, see the SSHRC website.

The Growing GRASAC project’s first major event was the wonderful Grounding GRASAC at Cornell workshop co-hosted with Cornell’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program in April 2016.  Our second major event was the large PDG Planning Meeting held for all PDG partners and prospective partners at the Woodland Cultural Centre at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in September 2016, which generated a set of exciting new GRASAC pilot projects – stay tuned for more developments on these in the upcoming months!

GRASAC Workshop at Cornell: Naomi Recollect, Crystal Migwans, Lance Heidig, David Penney and Heidi Bohaker examine a peace treaty with the Delaware Nation dating from 1765, in the Cornell Library collections.

Growing GRASAC: Project Summary Statement

Museums and archives are logical places for Canadians to go to learn about the past. But the legacies of colonialism and historic global trade networks have meant that for many Indigenous peoples, aspects of their material cultural heritage and historic records have been removed from their communities and many are in overseas collections. To address this problem for the Great Lakes region in North America, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers founded GRASAC, the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Cultures. This international collaboration of researchers, based in universities, museums and Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat communities are working together to digitally reunite Great Lakes artifacts, art, historic photographs and archival documents currently scattered in different museums and archives around the world.

GRASAC was founded in 2005, and now has 145 contributing full members (as well as many guest members) who share information and insights in our GRASAC Knowledge Sharing (GKS) database. In this collaborative digital work space, our members produce new understandings of Great Lakes heritage that incorporate multiple cultural and disciplinary perspectives on the arts, Indigenous languages, identity, territoriality and governance. Through our public web site, we are now experimenting with different ways to curate and present our findings in support of community heritage, K-12 education, and indigenous language learning program needs.

By supporting the exchange of members’ different cultural and academic knowledges, the GRASAC research network is building bridges across existing disciplinary, culture area and national silos in scholarship on Great Lakes Indigenous histories. By making these connections, we hope to contribute to broader political, social and cultural challenges related to the repositioning of Indigenous knowledge. Our work is attentive to the important implications of long-standing relationships developed between these distinct civilizations prior to the arrival of Europeans in the region and the changes in those civilizations over more than four subsequent centuries to the present day. GRASAC has had multiple successes to date.

The GRASAC Steering Committee has recognized the importance of transforming GRASAC from what is in effect a voluntary organization supported by a few principal researchers to a permanent one, with homes on both sides of the Canada-US border and with a governance structure that draws from and is responsive to Anishinaabe, Huron-Wendat and Haudenosaunee practices and worldviews. GRASAC’s continuity depends upon broadening the basis of our institutional and community support. This will also greatly enhance the potential of the GKS, by expanding the number of ongoing research projects and facilitating greater flow of information between Great Lakes peoples and traditional academic discourses.

Our work has also raised ethical concerns about the best way to respect the intellectual property of all contributors to the GKS database, including the Indigenous knowledge contained in the material culture and language in our database, and how best to balance those concerns with the need to make not only our research findings but our research data as publicly available as possible. The Partnership Development Grant will allow us to meet these crucial objectives with our existing partners – the Woodland Cultural Centre and Carleton University – and establish four new formal partnerships with three units at the University of Toronto (History, Museum Studies and the Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives) and with the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program at Cornell University, and to grow the network to include multiple Indigenous Cultural Centres and other institutional partners, ensuring the continuity of GRASAC.

Meeting at WCC 2016

Growing GRASAC PDG Planning Meeting: Crystal Migwans, Alan Corbiere, Maureen Matthews and Sherry Farrell Racette.

Growing GRASAC PDG – Current Participants:

Applicant:  Heidi Bohaker, U of Toronto (History)

Co-Applicants:  Cara Krmpotich, U of Toronto (Information); Janis Monture, Woodland Cultural Centre (Executive Director); Ruth Phillips, Carleton (ISCLAC); Jolene Rickard, Cornell (Director of American Indian Studies); Paula Whitlow, Woodland Cultural Centre (Museum Director). 

Collaborators:  Laurie Bertram, U of Toronto (History); John Borrows, U of Victoria (Law); Alan Corbiere, Lakeview School, M’Chigeeng First Nation; Mary Ann Corbiere, U of Sudbury (Indigenous Studies); Sophie Corbiere (Ojibwe Cultural Foundation); Anne de Stecher, University of Colorado at Boulder (Art History); Carrie Dyck, Memorial University (Linguistics); Michael Galban, Ganondagan State Historic Site; Adriana Greci Green, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; Anna Hoefnagels, Carleton (Music); Kahente Horn-Miller, Carleton (Indigenous Studies); Darlene Johnston, U of British Columbia (Law); Kurt Jordan, Cornell (Anthropology); David Penny, National Museum of the American Indian; Katrina Srigley, Nippissing U (Arts & Sciences); John Steckley, retired (Huron-Wendat Linguistics); Lisa Truong, Carleton (Cultural Mediations); Rand Valentine, U of Wisconsin, Madison (Linguistics).

Formal Partners: University of Toronto’s Department of History, Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives, and Faculty of Information; Woodland Cultural Centre; Carleton University; Cornell University’s American Indian Program.

Prospective Partners: (who have expressed interest in potentially becoming partners in this grant): Ojibwe Cultural Foundation; Ganondagan Seneca Art & Cultural Center; Curve Lake Cultural Centre; Native North American Travelling College; Kitigan Zibi Cultural Centre; Mille Lacs Indian Museum & Trading Post; Ziibiwing Centre of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways; Kahnawake: Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre; Mississaugas of the New Credit, Lands, Research and Membership Department; Wikwemikong Heritage Organization; Chippewas of Rama First Nation; Native Canadian Centre of Toronto; Seneca-Iroquois National Museum; Nipissing First Nation, Culture and Heritage Department.

* This list is preliminary and we welcome other potential partners.*

Saturday, October 1, 2016 in
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