November 15, 2023
In From the Skin edited by Jerome Jeffery Clark and Elise Boxer with foreword by Nick Estes, contributors describe how they apply the theories and concepts of Indigenous studies to their communities, programs, and organizations. These individuals reflect on and describe the ways the discipline has informed and influenced their community programs and actions. They show the ways these efforts advance disciplinary theories, methodologies, and praxes. Their chapters cover topics that include librarianship, health programs, community organizing, knowledge recovery, youth programming, and gendered violence. Through their examples, the contributors show how they negotiate their peoples’ knowledge systems with knowledge produced in Indigenous studies programs, demonstrating how they understand the relationship between their people, their nations, and academia. We share an excerpt from the book’s Introduction below.
From the Skin: Defending Indigenous Nations Using Theory and Praxis originates from conversations at the 2016 American Indian Studies Association (AISA) conference held at Arizona State University. The membership met to consider the theme “Native Leadership in Community Building.” Each year the conference concludes with an association business meeting where new board members and the president are nominated and voted on. Once the new board is selected, they decide on the conference location for the next year. We both remember that year for separate conversations. The first conversation had to do with organizational direction and the nomination and election process. The board and membership discussed ways the organization could grow and the areas in which we should put our focus. The membership broadly recognized that the AISA could do more to formalize structure and establish new protocols, so the board established committees to research non-profit status and the adoption of bylaws. Conference attendees then nominated new board members and a president.
The second conversation among J. Jeffery Clark, Eric Hardy, Madison Fulton, and Waquin Preston happened after the business meeting ended. They all listened and participated in the business meeting discussions, offering their professional skills and knowledge to help the organization. Their post-business meeting conversation was about more than offering their abilities because they discussed the organization’s direction and their specific place within it and the field more broadly. They had all attended association meetings throughout their undergraduate studies, sometimes to present but other times to hear panels and to be in community. As graduates of Indigenous Studies programs, some of them had moved on to professional careers, while others enrolled in masters’ programs. They found themselves at a crossroads, recognizing that their work in Indigenous Studies was not visible because they weren’t academic professionals. But they valued and applied the scholarship and intellectual conversations that shaped their thinking and informed their community work. They asked: What is our place in this association? What is our place in the discipline? Does our work in the community have a place? Is our work taken seriously? They knew the worthiness of their work, which they felt deserved the same consideration as scholarship produced by professional academics. Because they applied disciplinary theories and concepts in their work, they knew there was room for their efforts. At that moment, though, they felt like their presence and efforts were underappreciated. At the root of their conversation and questions are matters of belonging, disciplinary scope, academic connections to community, legibility of community intellect and practices, and what counts as Indigenous Studies.
We recount these conversations and questions because this book holds space for former Indigenous students to display the ways they apply and develop Indigenous Studies in community work. If any students of Indigenous Studies have ever asked: What contributions do my practices make? What are my intellectual contributions? Where does my work belong? The response is this project, which is a testament to the creativity, commitment, and intellect of Indigenous students in the discipline. This edited collection features practitioners and thinkers of Indigenous Studies actively working with nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and academic institutions, all of these contexts represent the distinct ways to apply disciplinary knowledge. The collection of essays illustrates how the contributors apply the discipline in community contexts to recover, revitalize, and assert Indigenous knowledge systems. These individuals reflect upon and elucidate the ways the discipline has informed and influenced their community programs and actions, and it also shows the ways these efforts advance disciplinary theories, methodologies, and praxes.
The authors represent nine disciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs that include Arizona State University, University of New Mexico, Fort Lewis College, and the University of California Los Angeles, among others. The authors in this volume work with Indigenous Nations located in the political boundaries of the United States, but the intellectual labor of global Indigenous scholars informs their efforts. A similar project could have included contributors from other countries, but we limited our contributors to the US context for the simple reason of project manageability. Our process of selecting authors was to make a general call to our networks. We do not represent all Indigenous Nations from the US. We selected authors to ensure they covered a range of topics (gender, youth, education, health) and places (university, community, non-profit).
In the following sections, we discuss disciplinary origins and principles to contextualize our contributors’ locations within Indigenous Studies. Primarily, we focus on longstanding debates around the relationship between our discipline and Indigenous communities and nations. We then propose and define the term practitioner theorist to demarcate how the contributors fit in our discipline and intellectual practices and why we must pay attention to how they apply concepts and theories in their communities. We present their work in three sections: Animating Embodied Knowledge, Unsettling Institutions and Making Community, and Making Good Relations Now and Beyond. Although each chapter could fit under multiple sections, we decided on their placements to emphasize key topics and themes in their work and because we saw them in conversation with contributors they’re grouped with.
Randi Lynn Boucher-Giago
J. Jeffery Clark
Brittani R. Orona