Innovations in Indigenous scholar mentorship: Relationships and responsibilities

Professor Beth Leonard, Olga Skinner, Garrison Tsinajinie and Sheilah Nicholas - IIRC20
Thursday, November 19, 2020

For many Indigenous scholars, mentoring is a long term, wholistic pathway based in responsibilities and relationships; perhaps, akin to ‘godmother-ing/father-ing’. Mentoring often goes well beyond preparation for academic writing, research, and ‘getting students through’ their programs. Emerging Indigenous faculty remain underrepresented in many institutions, and are recruited into mentoring, in addition to teaching and research responsibilities, often without appropriate guidance or professional development. Indigenous mentoring models engage processes of “survivance” (survival and resistance) as defined by Vizenor (1994) through “utilizing Native perspectives and…actions performed within contested cultural spaces where Natives are at political and cultural disadvantage” (Watanabe, 2014, p. 157).

Rhetorical sovereignty as discussed by Lyons (2000) references academic discourses in terms of “decisions regarding the goals, modes, styles, and languages” (Watanabe, 2014, p. 155). Western academia and writing in particular remain ‘contested sites’ for many Indigenous scholars. Indigenous scholars’ personal expertise/funds of knowledge (Gonzalez, Moll & Amanti, 2005) are not often acknowledged in higher education, and Western institutions mandate changes to personal and professional goals, languages and communication styles in order to ‘fit in’ and/or ‘be successful’ in academic, and promotion and tenure processes. 

Authentic Indigenous mentoring is unique in that students need to be encouraged to stay true to themselves; this is often a challenge when institutional practices do not include – and mainstream faculty do not understand or see the need for – processes of developing both personal and scholarly identities for Indigenous students. Critical awareness of ‘disadvantage’, ‘contested sites’ and strategies grounded in Indigenous values, are needed to ensure retention of emerging Indigenous faculty in mainstream institutions. This presentation engages the perspectives of graduate students, and emerging and established faculty in a condensed “Storywork” (Archibald, 2008) and ‘Critical Storying’ (Watanabe, 2014) session. We frame our comments in rhetorical sovereignty and survivance as pathways through Western academia, with the hope of transforming Indigenous scholar mentoring in higher education.