Just a quick update to share an example of a PhD student directly challenging the ways in which we evaluate thinking within the academy–enacting Indigenous pedagogy, language and legal orders in a tangible way within his discipline. Nisga’a architect Patrick Stewart recently submitted a dissertation for his PhD in architecture at the University of British Columbia without punctuation.
A National Post story on Stewart’s dissertation explains that he originally submitted his dissertation in the Nisga’a language:
“He wrote his first draft in the Nisga’a language. That failed to impress at least one senior UBC professor, a powerful figure who would eventually have to sign off on the work, or all would be lost. Stewart was called on the professor’s carpet and told his work was not acceptable. He was asked to translate “every word” of his dissertation into English. “So I did that,” he recalls. “There was still no guarantee it would be approved.”
And approval was crucial, of course. Without it, Stewart couldn’t complete his doctorate in interdisciplinary studies, which he’d been pursuing since 2010. It was his second attempt at a PhD; Stewart says he “ran into similar problems” in the early 1990s at UBC, while working towards a doctorate. He gave up, and concentrated instead on his architectural practice.”
What is important to note is that Stewart’s ability to write his dissertation in his own language was prevented by Euro-Western academic conventions that reinforce English as one of the de facto languages of knowledge transmission in Canada (the other being French). However, not all Canadian universities are hostile to students working in their own Indigenous language. In 2009, PhD student Fred Metallic submitted his dissertation at York University in Toronto in Mi’kmaq.
How can we truly enact self-determination, pluralities, Indigenous legal orders within the academy if Indigenous languages, themselves an integral part of Indigenous laws and sovereignty, are deemed only worthy to study as objects or relics, not to employ for intellectual labour itself?
I, for one, am thrilled by Stewart’s choice to forego punctuation in response to the demands that he translate his dissertation to English.