Medicine for the Resistance
Medicine for the Resistance
Indigenous Geographies

Indigenous Geographies

with Dr. Deondre Smiles

Patty:  So we're here talking Deondre Smiles about Indigenous geographies. And I took like grade 10 geography that was the extent of my geography training, which means I learned about glacial movement and labeling rivers and all of that stuff. But I mean, first off, just the idea of Indigenous geographies from a land bank perspective is really interesting. Because colonial borders are one thing biozones are another thing. And so it's just seemed like a real this really fascinating topic that I know almost nothing about. So why don't you introduce yourself? Explain a little bit about your work and then and then we'll get into kind of what what we mean when we're talking about Indigenous geography.

Deondre:  Sure, I'd be happy to. So my name is Dr. Deondre Smiles.  I use he him pronouns as well as the Ojibwemowin general pronoun win.  I am a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, I'm of Ojibwe, Black, and settler ancestry is specifically Swedish. On my mother's side, my mother was Ojibwe and Swedish. My father was African American man from Oklahoma. And so I am currently an assistant professor of geography at the University of Victoria. I'm out on the west coast of BC, Canada. Some other interesting facts about me, I'm originally from Minneapolis, did a did a bachelor's degree in geography at a tiny little State University that probably noticed nobody's heard of in Minnesota, I did a master's degree in global Indigenous Studies at the University of Minnesota and did a PhD in geography at Ohio State where I also did a postdoc for a year as a, as a history postdoc. Well, they're kind of interesting things about me, I tend to not think of myself as a super interesting person. So usually, I'm at a loss about this. I also, also sometimes, trying to talk about myself is really hard, but that's perfectly alright.

Probably the coolest thing about me are probably, you know, the people surrounding me right? Married to a wonderful woman for almost two years now we have a cat so um, that's probably what I'm, besides posting a lot of things about Indigenous geographies, on Twitter. I'm also well known for posting photos of my cat um, quite often. So I do that. I live out in Victoria. Most of the time, I'm actually talking to you tonight from Columbus, Ohio, where my wife is still here doing a doctoral degree at OSU. Back for our reading break, and doing some doing some other kind of appointment type of things. Avid musician. Yeah, that's pretty much that's pretty much me in a nutshell.

I mean, obviously, there'll be far much more that we'll talk about here in this interview. But specifically when it comes to Indigenous geographies, because that's what I really describe myself is, my interests in that work are multifaceted, to say the least. And so there's kind of a couple of key strands of my work that I really have drawn upon. And the first one is what we would call critical Indigenous geographies, right? Like bringing the way that Indigenous peoples engage with space and place into conversations with power and race and economics and capitalism and colonialism and all these things. The other strand is what what we would call in the United States like tribal cultural resource preservation, probably north of the border in Canada would be you'd probably use a term of, you know, Indigenous resource management or a cultural resource management.

And so a lot of my work over the last, oh, six years of my, my education and in my academic career have been focusing on the ways that tribal nations in the US and First Nations in Canada and Indigenous nations around the world have found very creative and unique ways to protect on cultural sites such as burial grounds against development and disturbance. That's been that was the focal point of my dissertation. And what I'm doing now at UVic is bringing in some of my other interests that such as science and technology studies, political ecology, or the studies of how politics and power engage with the natural environment. In an Indigenous research ethics in exploring the ways that these Indigenous nations are now using the lessons that they learn from defending the dead and applying that to more than human relatives such as you know, the land, water animals, plants, especially in an era of anthropogenic climate crisis that it seems like we as Western global northern society seem to have the throttle down, like at full in our hurdling ourselves straight into this.

And I think it's important with that where you see a lot of discourse nowadays about oh, well, the world is ending we need to look at you know, colonizing space. And you know, what are we going to do when the world ends, and I draw upon really, really awesome scholars like Kyle White, and other Indigenous scholars, especially a lot of Indigenous women and Two Spirit and queer thinkers that say, well, Indigenous peoples have already lived through the apocalypse, right? Like we have already seen, the apocalypse happened on our lands, and in the ways that colonialism and capitalism seeks to sever us from those connections. And so maybe if folks actually listened to Indigenous peoples, we might be able to offer something about how we can deal with Apocalypse, and how it's not necessarily the end of the world, but maybe an opportunity for us to reframe how we are in relation with the world.

And so that's the work that I do. I'm starting up a lab, a geography lab at UVic. In that regard, we call ourselves the Geographic Indigenous Futures lab, or GIF lab for short. While I say we have labs, mainly me right now, but I'm recruiting graduate students to work with me and work in the lab. So, if you're an Indigenous student who's really interested in space and place, and you want to go get a master's in geography, I'll make sure to drop my contact information here with the host some definitely come talk to me, I'm recruiting for fall 2022. Now, so I'll leave it there. Because otherwise I could do the time honored Ojibwe tradition of kind of going on and on and talking for a while, but we have, I'm sure you'd have some some questions you want to throw my way. And I'd love to just have a conversation with both of you. So thank you for having me.

Kerry: You know, it's interesting, I just left the shores of BC. On Saturday, I was on the west side, visiting my family, my daughters out there. And the one thing that I will say about being in BC, especially in the Vancouver area, we were right in Burnaby. North Vancouver, like we were around places there is that you you pick up, the land speaks you know, there's there is no doubt that there is a sense about the space of BC that feels old and nurtured and loved. And that energy, that space of being in that can only have been curated by those who have known and understood this land.

And interestingly enough, I was I was there spending time with my granddaughter. And I you know, Halloween was coming up. And she mentioned the idea of a zombie apocalypse. And so I thought it was so funny when you mentioned how we understand the land because what I had turned to her and said Is she was like, what if there's a zombie apocalypse Nanny. And I said to her, let me tell you something. We are people of Indigenous and of color. We've been there and done that. We don't, no nothing about the apocalypse is gonna sway us. And so she looked at me and she was like, Wow, is that true? And I said, look at where we are. This land is eons old, it has existed before us, and it will exist after us. And there are some of us that do understand this space.

So with that, Deondre.  My question for you is, are we listening anymore? Do you believe and it sounds like you know, I kind of feel that you may go this way that the the ears are now right, to truly hear the voices that are have always been an understood meaning out.

Deondre: So yeah, that's a really, really great question. Kerry, I think that we are definitely in a position where the ears are more open than they were probably a generation or two ago. I mean, one of the things that I deal with as an Indigenous geographer is still this, this this overarching kind of thought that well, you know, why do you study Indigenous geography? You know, are there Indigenous people left?  I think about in my PhD program, being at a departmental happy hour. Having fellow grad students decided that I was going to be the person to try to sharpen their theoretical claws on and say, you know, why do you do Indigenous geographies? Didn't didn't colonialism win?  And I'm you know,  I'm like, well, it didn't because I'm standing here right in front of you right now, you know, right like

But, you know, these are the things that we have to deal with. I think that in the current political climate that we find ourselves here in North America, particularly, I think that people are starting to realize that Indigenous peoples have a lot to say about how to live in relation with the environment. And it's becoming more than the romanticized  “Oh, yes, Indigenous peoples are these like, you know, very deeply spiritual folks that are out there, you know, living in community with the, with the, with the animals and things like that,” you know, this very kind of pseudo spiritual environmentalist BS that really infantilizes Indigenous peoples and kind of places us as part of, of the environment.

And what they're starting to realize is, oh, no Indigenous peoples have, you know, these really complex systems of environmental stewardship, um in particular, some that my colleagues do really, really great work on, you know, ecologies of fire management and stewardship, or lands, you know, stewardship, that are based upon, you know, long standing, you know, worldviews and ontologies and epistemologies that have predated colonization, right.

Um, you know, in particular, in BC, you know, having just dealt with the, you know, these massive fires that burned across the province this summer, I had a pyro geographer, who's from a tribe in California, come into my class just a couple of weeks ago. And he talked about fire. And he said, yet when I go around, and I talk to people about fire, for example, right, their first inclination is like, fire in forest and fire in the environment is bad, right? Like, you don't want wildfires and things like that. He says, No, if you actually do it, right, and you actually do do it properly, and you don't just you know, it isn't just some out of control fire, but it's done with an eye on the ecosystem and things like that, based on these cultural values that other tribal nations have have thought about, you can find that fire is like a really beneficial thing, for example, and it blew my students minds.

I think the obstacle that we are facing right now, though, with this kind of opening of the ears, it's not that people aren't willing to listen, what we oftentimes have to deal with is that we still have to deal with ideas of theft of Indigenous knowledge, for example. So right now, I think we're kind of we go in and out of this, this framework where settler academics and settler policymakers, governmental leaders, like all of a sudden, you know, and I've noticed this in Canada, more than the United States, right? Where all of a sudden, it's really fashionable to be down with Indigenous issues, right? Where it's like, you know, oh, yes, we actually want to listen to you. But the type of listening that they do is based upon Okay, so how can I use this knowledge to help further my career? How can I use this knowledge to take it and I can use it to get grant funding or I can use it to get accolades that don't go back, that don't trickle down to the communities that did this, right. How can I listen? In the case of some academics, how can I listen so that I can use it against them and kind of shoot back at them? Oh, well, you know, your, your forms of knowledge are not scientifically rigorous, right? Like, you have to think about the science.

I think the challenge is going to be actually listening and mastering the art of listening without preconceived thoughts about how you're going to respond and how you're going to act. Right, right, listening and actually taking what people have to say in mind. And you know, not thinking, Oh, well, I'm just going to listen and then I'm going to get a word in after that, but thinking okay, maybe I might have to sit with what they've said, especially if it's things that make people uncomfortable, I think we as as Western, a Western quote, Western global northern society are really, really quite bad at sitting with discomfort, like, we it's something that we want to get rid of. And a lot of times that discomfort is what you have to sit with. And that's actually where true growth kind of comes out of right? When you deal with those. Those awkward moments or the moments where you kind of feel like how the community is kind of taking me to task here, right? Like, I think we all kind of know that. Right?

Like, I think about, I think about the times when my mother like you know that this strong Anishinaabekwe definitely let me know what's up. I mean, she she raised me with tough love sometimes. And you know, when I was a kid, I was like, Oh, this doesn't feel really good. And now that I'm still, you know, I just turned 31 this year, and I still feel like I'm still pretty, you know, I still have so much left to left to learn in life. I'm like, I'm really glad she did that. Because those are the moments we're actually kind of through and kind of learn things right. And so I think that that's going to be the next step for listening is you know, you listen not to capitalize or to exploit you don't listen just for you know, your kind of ego’s sake, but you actually listen and you almost towards a point where you kind of pass the mic to these communities to these Indigenous peoples and you allow them to start kind of guiding the conversations going forward.

Patty:  I wanted to start with your essay on George Floyd. Yes, just because it's it's an interesting way of thinking about Indigenous geographies and urban spaces, because we think of Indigenous places, we always think of rural spaces. So, you know, so I kind of wanted to start there, it's an urban space, it's a way of thinking about the way that the state acts on our bodies. And then you had another essay about autopsy. And those two put to those two reading one after the other was kind of really interesting things in my brain. Just because they and then the last one about radio just just seems like a nice place. It feels like life. Plus, it's kind of what Kerry and I do. It's not really radio, but it's independent Indigenous media. So yeah, so that George Floyd piece was really, I didn't realize that you were actually from, from Minneapolis.

Deondre: Yep. Born, born and raised for the first few years of my life. As a matter of fact, the the apartments that I spent the probably the longest time in in South Minneapolis is about four blocks north of where George Floyd was murdered. One of those things and so I remember you know, the little convenience store, Cup Foods that he was killed in front of I remember that is a little kid passing by that. And I know that intersection quite well.

And in kind of another another sort of panel that I talked about, about this, I was like, it's actually quite funny kind of taking a look at that apartment, because in 1994, right, my, my single mother was able to afford the rent in that apartments, I mean, we were, we were pretty poor, right? I think there was one bedroom and so I got the bedroom and my mom and then my dad when he was around, slept on an air mattress in the living room. And we were lucky enough that we were right next to Powder Horn Park, which is a major center for South Minneapolis as far as like recreation and things like that. I took a look at that apartment now. I can't, I can't figure we paid more than probably 500 or 600 bucks a month for it back then in the early 90s. And now it's it's pushing like $2,000 a month. And there's like a laundry list of all these requirements, right? That you have to make so much of this income and you can't do this and you can't do that. And I'm like, man, it's some shitty ass apartment in South Minneapolis. Right? And you're, you're acting like this is like, you know, a condo in Vancouver or something like that, because it now it's across from a park. And, you know, all of a sudden, you know, Minneapolis is now cool, again to folks to live in, right?

You know, it's like I grew up in Minneapolis in the mid 90s. Like, we were like the most kind of like Wonder Bread like Midwestern city. I mean, it was cold all the time. And Minneapolis was not cool back then. I mean, it was cool for a lot of reasons, right? But kind of dominant society kind of us as “oh that Midwestern city.” And then, you know, around the time, unfortunately, I think like when Prince passed away and things like that, all of a sudden people are like, oh, yeah, Minneapolis might actually be a really kind of trendy place. And now you see that gentrification, but that's all kind of an aside of just kind of the changes that have happened. But yeah, my family's my family. My grandmother moved her kids down from the rez, from Leech Lake in the 19, late 1960s, early 1970s. And they've there's been members of my family that have lived in Minneapolis ever since. So if you have any, any viewers or listeners from South Minneapolis, we have many generations of South Highschool Tiger alumni in my family. So yeah.

Kerry: I love that

Patty: To build on what you said, you talked about gentrification, you talk about the way certain places are framed as safe and dangerous. Depending on how the dominant society sees them, right, because there are neighborhoods, so we know how to live in them. And then even is like, you know, Ibram Kendi talks about this. And in one of his books, that even though he was from a neighborhood that the dominant culture may have thought was dangerous. He thought it was safe, and it was this other neighborhood …

Kerry:  And that is such an interesting sentiment everywhere we go. Because, once again, taking it back to being in BC last week. What I thought was fascinating is that parts of Burnaby in BC is, or parts of Burnaby are considered not necessarily the best areas. And when I drove through what vague, what's considered the hood in Burnaby, I was I just couldn't fathom this. That most a lot of those places had Land Rovers and Mercedes Benz outside, even though in the lot, you know, like outside in everybody's driveways, there was nothing that would have been like the stereotypical markers of what we would consider a hood. And so for me, what it really created in my space was this, this, you know, taking an inner look at how we take these perceptions of what we do call hood, versus what the reality is. And so I think it fits really well into the question that you're asking Patty, this idea of how, you know, the bigger culture can create these ideas or these lines, these red lines that make certain areas supposedly distasteful? I could not, I'm talking beautiful, you know, houses on a couple of acres, neighborhoods, it just it made no sense to me. But this was considered the hood. Couple of shootings that happened and all kinds of things. Very interesting demographic or way of thinking about it.

Deondre: It really is, in terms of Minneapolis, right? I mean, in my lifetime, I've seen neighborhoods that were used to be considered gritty becomes suddenly these really hip places, right. For example, northeast Minneapolis, or as, as a lot of kind of hipsters like to call it nordeast Minneapolis. I mean, back in the 1990s, right, this was kind of an industrial neighborhood, kind of gritty, really blue collar. You know, there's nothing sexy about northeast Minneapolis. You know, fast forward 20 years now you have craft breweries and yoga studios, and places where you can buy kombucha and things like that, and now everybody wants to live over there.

You know, the kind of the biggest thing when I talk about the Twin City is that people, they shake their heads, even in Minnesota, when I talked about it is, I always I always kind of bring up on like it during the era of Jim Crow segregation in the south, the worst segregation in the United States often was not in cities like Birmingham, or Atlanta, or Charlotte or places like that. The worst segregation, oftentimes were in cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul, because it had that veneer of being in the north, where, you know, the North fought against slavery in the Civil War, and kind of the, you know, the American mythos. And, you know, the North with, you know, through the Great Migration and things like that the North was viewed as this is by white Americans is like, Oh, yes, see, we're opening our doors to these Black Americans from the south.

They would get to the north to find racist covenants in real estate deeds, and redlining, and things like that. You know, one of the biggest, the biggest proponents of segregation in the United States was Robert Moses right? One of these great urban planners that we hold up as I looked at all these things he did in New York City. Well, what he did in New York City, and other cities is designed highways to run right through Black neighborhoods and to divide white neighborhoods from Black neighborhoods. Right? It was like the 20th century version of the railroad tracks like the other side of the freeway. In St. Paul, in particular, the Rondo neighborhood, probably one of the most vibrant Black neighborhoods in Minnesota. found itself under under the under the bulldozer in the 1960s. When they decided, well, interstate 94 Need to go someplace, we're going to build it right through the middle of this neighborhood. There's nothing left of Rondo besides some street signs saying where it was, um,

And so yeah, it, you know, North Minneapolis, which is probably you know, the area of Minneapolis that is identified the most with Blackness and also has this reputation of all this, that's where all the shootings happen, right. You don't want to be in North Minneapolis. I'm like, Well, you know, what, what happened was that, you know, these processes of segregation and things like that ended up instigating race riots, right. And then White Minneapolitans kind of said, well, we're moving out to the suburbs because North Minneapolis used to be one of the wealthiest areas of the city and then after these race riots that were caused by you know, neglect and all of these in all these different things white Miinesotans white, Minnesota said Okay, so we're gonna move out to these new suburbs and leave Black Mineapolitans in North Minneapolis, which then became kind of economically segregated and left and left largely to its its own plan kind of obsolescence right anytime. You know, though, the city will be really quick to take any credit for like any kind of, you know, major positive developments in North Minneapolis saying, oh, yeah, you see, Minneapolis is super diverse, super welcoming city and a lot of times is like no, that happens at a community to grassroots level,right.

It's the kind of a funny story that I think I told in the article is around you know, around the time of the protests right, in Minneapolis or on the police precincts you you see it you saw a lot of folks from rural Minnesota in the suburbs, kind of jump on Facebook and say Oh, see, look how it look at those, look at those, quote, thugs rioting down there, right? Like, that's why that's why I'll never go to Minneapolis even though you know, these are the kind of folks that go to country music concerts at the baseball stadium, like once a year, and then like, leave and don't come to the city otherwise, and it's it, but that drives the dominant narrative, right?

So people, my mother lives in North Minneapolis, and people are like, Isn't she like, you know, isn't she like, scared of living there? Like, isn't that dangerous? I'm like, No, it's not dangerous, right? It's like any other big city like you, you go there, you you, you handle your business. Um, you know, it's, you know, I can if I wanted to go, if I'll put it this way, right, it's like, you, if you go looking for trouble, trouble is going to find you. And it's going to find you, whether that's in North Minneapolis, or that's in 50th and France, which is like the fanciest neighborhood in Minneapolis, right southwest Minneapolis. But it just comes down to kind of the ways that you know, white settlers, quite honestly kind of paint these kind of narratives.

Kind of one example that I don't think I talked about in that paper is, you know, the fact that Minneapolis is Dakota land. And when they talked about renaming Lake Calhoun Bde Maka Ska. It was it was kind of that moment, for the first time where people kind of saw how much masks could come off in then this moment, right. You had these people that live next to the lake, that was, you know, it's called Lake Calhoun. And it was named after a politician who was a major proponent of the system of slavery in the United States and help to, you know, support it and strengthen it in the in the early 1800s. You saw people kind of coming out saying, Why, why do we really need to rename this? Right? Why do we need to re rename it to Bde Maka Ska. Stop focusing, oh, it's gonna bring down our property values, right like that, that time honored, like, you know, dog whistle for oh, it's going to it's, you know, if it's viewed as anything other than white American, it's gonna, it's gonna hurt us.

And people are like, wow, those people are being are being like, super racist. And folks like me are saying, those are the same people that that would be, you know, flying pride flags out in front of their house and having, you know, Black Lives Matter signs in their front yards, and saying, like, everyone is welcome here. You know, because they are in a neighborhood where they don't have to confront diversity, right? Diversity is something that is far away from them. And they're like, Oh, yes, it can stay over there. Like, we'll support it, but we wouldn't actually want it coming into our neighborhood.

And then when you know, something as simple as a name change, you know, is threatening enough to them that they can be like, Oh, well, you know, if that's going to bring down the neighborhood, we don't want that. And so, I think kind of the whole kind of saga. And really what I tried to kind of attest to in this is that, well, you know, this really kind of ripped away kind of that veneer of the North, in the minds of a lot of people's being this really kind of a non-racist place, right? I'm like, it's just as racist as the South. And that if we understand that, and we and we think about those kinds of geographies of race as being something that is nationwide versus just, you know, just focused on the South, then we can actually really understand quite honestly kind of how fucked it is in the United States for a lot of folks and how we can really take concrete steps to try to push back against that, just like the the people that went out there on the streets in Minneapolis, I'm really, really tried to do Minneapolis and many other cities as well.

Kerry: In it, when I think about, you know, all of what you just said, You're it what comes to mind, I think about this whole year I've been I've been spending some time doing some reflection on like cycles. How I see things cycling in and cycling out, right. And I really feel when you mentioned that pulling back the curtain like that idea of the veneer being stripped away. I think that's very profound. Ove, over the last couple of years, I think we've all had to go internally, and and or you can't gaze at the scenery, and not recognize that there is much that is not what it seems and as much as we may have settled in some complacencies about the way that we have viewed the relationships that we have with each other or that we've even had with the land because nobody can say that Mother Earth is not saying something back to us now.

You know, what you started with a sense of we must listen, we must pull it back and really be willing to see it for all the dirt and grime that exists. And it, Are we ready now to add some soap and water hopefully it's environmentally sound and start to wipe away. Start to wipe away at some of this dirtiness that exists. And with that, like what? Where do you Where do we fit as people who, who may have this different viewpoint? Because we've been mired in some of that grime for a long time. Where do you think we can move ourselves? Or show up? You know, we're normally the ones that do we come with the grit? You know, what did they call the, you know, the Mr. Clean Magic, magic chalks or whatever we normally come in to do that deep cleaning. When do you think we fit in for that?

Deondre: So yeah, so so people, so people like us, right, that are used to really kind of doing that deep cleaning, and kind of, you know, doing that kind of labor. I think that I really points to the next generation of really badass, Indigenous and Black and other, you know, scholars of color, activists of color, community members of color. You know, I feel like with every succeeding generation, we say, you know, we're aren't we're becoming more visible and we're become we're, we're ending up in places that we were not intended to be right.

I think about as an Indigenous geographer. I think about 20 years ago, you would not see any of us in tenure track positions in institutions, I think, maybe, you know, I think for Black geographers that are better doing equally, if not more badass work, they would be the same thing, right? I think that you wouldn't see us it might be one or two in some vision, you know, very forward thinking visionary kind of departments. But you know, in my own departments, where I feel very, very fortunate to be it took a decade to do an Indigenous hire, right. And there they are so happy to have one but you know, we geography in particular, like we can be such a such a kind of a backwards kind of looking discipline and where we're constantly kind of tied to the past and kind of still trying to maneuver how to bring bring geography into the present.

And you know, when that when those conversations happen, I'm like, Well, what does the future of geography look like I always kind of say, look to like the Black, the Indigenous and the other scholars of color, especially the ones from the Global South, right? They are the ones, we are the ones I try not to use weeks, I'm like, it's gonna be all these people that are in school right now that are going to really use the work that we've done as a launching pad to really do some really, truly exciting things. And I think that happens outside of academia as well. You know, the saying that often gets put in, you know, you see it on memes on Facebook, and you also see it on Twitter a lot, you know, you know, these Indigenous students, these Indigenous children are, you know, quote our ancestors, wildest dreams. I'm like, you know, it might sound kind of hokey, but I'm like, that's actually really super tricky, right? It's the truth,

Kerry: hey, I have a bought my T shirt yet, but I so want one, I so want one because that state saying being our ancestors’ wildest dreams is the truth. And you touch something that I think is so important, and I just wanted to spend maybe a second here is, you know, Deondre, tell us what brought you to geography. And you know why, I was speaking to my husband recently. And we were talking about, you know, some of the rappers that are existing like the King Vons of the world, and, you know, some of the spaces where, you know, we've seen Black folk show up in what has been our traditional ways out of being, and yet you said something to me that I thought was so profound when you mentioned that, you know, being a Black geographer, has been, you know, you're trailblazing in certain ways.

You're, you're creating and showing up in ways that you may not have been able to before. And I think that message is so important. For those of us coming up, though, not us. I'm a little more seasoned, but those coming up like my grandchildren's generations coming up, to recognize that there are these opportunities that you don't got to be in the NBA, and, you know, a mumble rapper, to be able to show some semblance of success. Could you tell us a little bit about how you did it? What brought you there? You know, cuz geography, you know what, it’s geography?

Deondre: So that's a great that's a great question. Sorry, to sorry to interrupt. There I am. Yeah, I resonate with that. There's a lot of really, really good basketball players in my family. Actually, I was not one of them, I was a swimmer in high school, actually. So I've always kind of been that person that's kind of kind of walked a bit of a different path. And so there's two people, well, really one person and then a community that I really want to credit with kind of inspiring me to take the path that I that I've taken and so the first one is, is my mother.

So why I really like geography is my mother from a very early age. She, she was always really big on education, it was something that she she felt very strongly about. You know, one of the things that she would do when I was in high school is she said, there was no question of like, Oh, what am I going to do when I when I graduate high school? She's like, No, you're going to college, right? You're, you're going to go to college. And so she would wake me up every morning. And she would say, like, oh, you know, good morning, kid who's going to go to college, right.

But that, the framework of that started when I was two or three years old, and she would bring me to the library in South Minneapolis, right. And I would check out books and I would read the newspaper on my, I was reading from a super early age. And I would get maps, right, I also would like look at maps. And I really, really enjoyed maps, because it was always it was always really fun to look at them. And imagine that I was going places, right, like tracing the roads and kind of thinking, what would it be like to go here? What's this place like, it really inspired a curiosity about different places.

You know, growing up in growing up, as we did, you know, I didn't really get a lot of opportunities to travel. But when we did, I always really enjoyed it. I remember we went out to went out to an Indigenous march in Colorado Springs in like the mid-1990s right about, you know, honoring treaty rights and things like that. And I really, really loved it. Um, I remember having my map kind of tracing the path that we were taking and learning, you know, seeing the new cities on street signs and things like that. Um, and it's just something that I always kind of picked up because of that, because she exposed me to it at an early age. I found that geography classes in elementary and middle school in high school, were the classes that I got easy A's in right?  Um, the one story that I often tell on Twitter is, I almost got into trouble in high school because I wrote a paper about South Africa, and I had researched it so thoroughly that the teacher thought I plagiarized it, it was like, it was miles beyond what a high schooler would write, was expected to write. And so it was one of those things when it came time to go to college. You know, it wasn't, you know, it wasn't a question of, if I was going to college, it was like, Okay, where are you going to college? Because like, my mom wasn't gonna, wasn't gonna just let me not go.

But also, you know, when I thought about the majors, right, I was immediately like, Nope, I'm going, I'm going into geography. That was actually the big determining factor in where I applied to school. I was like, does it have a geography program? If it doesn't? I'm not, I'm not applying here. If it does, then then I am. And so that was, that was what led me to it.

And then when I got to school, I kind of thought, Well, what do I want to do with a geography degree? And I kind of thought, well, maybe I want to do like land surveying, or maybe I want to be a cartographer. But the American Indian Center at my school, we would do this yearly Spring Break service trip, and we would go out, they had a relationship with the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana, and we would go out there. And so the year that I went, we went out there. And they took us on a tour of the communities.

And they told us a story of the Northern Cheyenne people. And one of the big stories, big, big parts of their history is they said, Well, we our homeland is here in Montana, in the mountains. And these foothills, we were relocated down to the Great Plains by the US during, you know, the era of of treaty making and treaty breaking and relocation and things like that. And they said, Well, what we did is we we loved our homeland so much that we, you know, we as a people took off and fled back to Montana, and the US military chased them. And there was a there was a series of military conflicts, right, like the Battle of the Little Bighorn of the battle Greasy Grass happened not very far from the Northern Cheyenne homeland. And it was kind of part of the history and they said, We, you know, because of the resistance and the bravery that we, we showed up, the US decided that they would allow us to stay here in our homelands.

And they talked about, you know, having conflicts over resource extraction, that, you know, companies want to come in and mine coal on the reservation. And they they've said, Well, we as a community have, you know, a lot of us have are the feeling that we would rather live in our homelands and be and be poor, and be economically disadvantaged, versus allow them to basically tear our land apart for any kind of short term, like economic gain. And it kind of was something that really inspired me and I was like, This is a story. This is a story about a story about a love for a place love for land rights.

And I was like, well, geography is about space and place, but we often don't bring the emotion into it. We don't, we don't bring these Indigenous perspectives. And so that pretty much was like okay, so I want to bring Indigenous perspectives into geography. And then, you know, pretty much any hope for me to do any kind of other type of geography was pretty much on me down the drain at that point, and that's really kind of led me on the the the work that I do to the present day,

Kerry: A couple of things I have to say, first of all, I know your mom has got to be proud of you. Your mom has got to be so proud of you. You know, you you're just an exemplary young man. And and I know that as a grandmother as a mother, I could be totally doing the ups for you. So that's first.

Second is what I really love about your story and your retelling of it, is how you followed your passion. I think it's so important to point out that every one of us, I think, as you take your journey, we have something that is a spark, and, and really tapping into what that interest is. And then following that space, is the key to your freedom, it is the key to being able to be and living in your best space. And I know this is a little aside, but to me, it almost is about a geography. Because even our personal journeys is marked with a path, it's marked with a set of markers that allow us to be in our highest space. And so, life imitates our passions and our arts.

Patty: Yeah, no, I love I love that because that's clear in you know, kind of in the papers that you write the the layering over, of Indigenous perspective on on this space. And I was just because that was the advice that I gave to my kids, you know, if you're going to go to university study something you love, if we're, if you're going to spend that money, study something you love, because there are careers and opportunities and things that you don't even know exist right now. And they will either they will cross your path, as you walk it you know, as as as you get there like Mariame Kaba, when she talks about abolition, you know, we walk this path of abolition and the opportunities, possibilities that we don't even know about, well, you know, we will build the world we want by walking this path.

But I also want to remember that not everybody has the ability to do that. Right? That there's, I mean, privilege might be the wrong word. But opportunity. There's also you know, there's also certain necessities, right? Sometimes, you know, people may have obligations or things that, you know, so we also need to think about creating this world where people can follow their passions in this beautiful way. Because like I was making the world a better place when we can do this, when we're not getting our soul sucked out of us. Because we have to do this thing that pays the bills.

And that's, I think, where this generational stuff comes in, you know, the Deondre, you had talked about, you know, what are the you know, are the children of today kind of being our ancestors’ wildest dreams? Because I think about that, whenever I go to powow, my favorite thing, about pow wow? You know, and I don't know, Kerry, maybe, maybe the parallel is, you know, watching watching people play spades, I don't know, when the old ones are dancing with the young ones. And I look at the old ones and I think you remember, when this was illegal, when our ceremonies were illegal, when, you know, when you sang hymns in church to cover up the organizing that was happening in the basement, because our gatherings unless we were gathering in church, it was illegal, you know, we weren't allowed to gather together. But the young ones, they don't know that world. Right? So my generation, kind of the sandwich generation, we have the trauma from our parents, and then the push through of our generation of trying to, you know, blaze this path or make this path even possible.

You know, and then, you know, Deondre, you are the next generation, I'm afraid because I'm 56. So your generation behind me, you know, kind of emerging into these possibilities. And then these ones who are coming next, they don't even know, this is all just normal to them. Being able to be an Indigenous geographer, and to layer Indigenous realities over these colonial spaces that are themselves layered over Indigenous reality. So there's just that's just really cool to me.

And we've kind of gone off of my plan for the conversation which is like totally fine. That's that's a much better conversations. But I do want to end with your with your piece about listening to native radio, just because that's just so hopeful and beautiful talk and it made me think of Smoke Signals. Have you ever seen the movie Smoke Signals? I'm dating myself now. He starts off with a good day to be Indigenous, It’s A Good day to be an Indian. So, what prompted this article about listening to native radio as, as an Indigenous geographer to think about Native radio? Because I loved it.

Deondre: So that is an awesome question. And it actually speaks to the importance that I place on working with people from different academic backgrounds is me and thinking about things in a different way. I think a lot of times in the spaces that I that I'm in, I get this reputation as somebody that thinks a little bit outside the box, where it's always people are always like, well, that's not that's not possible. And I'm like, well, that's not possible, if you think about it in the way that you're thinking about it. But you know, how can we make it possible.

And so in my master's degree, I was really, it was a wonderful interdisciplinary degree. My, the program director of that of the Master of Liberal Studies program at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, which is what it's, it's kind of shifted to something else now. But he was a rhetorician. And he does a lot of Media Studies things. And so he was really good, or he's really good at at many things. Back then probably the thing he was the best at was irritating me because he would always ask, well, what is geography? And I tell him all these things, and I would say, Well, you know, it's really wide, wide, ranging and multifaceted. And you'd be like, Well, if that's the case, then is there really such a thing as geography, right? If geography can do everything, then what is geography? And I'm like, no, no, we have disciplinary boundaries.

And of course, now I really kind of come around to the thinking of like, Yeah, we actually really don't have for a, for a field that really focuses on maps and political spaces and things like that, you know, among other things, we are, we really have rather porous boundaries, and we're always in the risk of kind of like, falling away from each other, which, you know, maybe that's what geography might do in the next few generations is maybe we might turn into something else as we, which, you know, may or may not be a bad thing.

But anyways, because of his interest in rhetoric, he had me do a lot of media related stuff. And so one of the projects that I did was I there's this television show produced by the PBS affiliate in Duluth, called Native Reports, um probably one of the best television shows out there about Native American and Indigenous culture. Um, you can actually watch it on on YouTube, if you live away from Duluth, which I'm assuming 99% of the of the listeners and viewers probably do. But he had me analyze that. And so I watched like, two seasons of Native Report. And I went through and I was like, here's all the things they talk about, here's the geographic locations, here's all these things. And I did that for a project paper.

And then I started kind of a sequel to it where I'm like, Okay, so there's, there's the Indigenous radio stations as well. And I kind of want to kind of, and those, those things are more accessible on those, they've been around a lot longer than these television shows. So so let's see what they do. And I kind of started the project. And then I moved on to other things. And I graduated with my master's and I kind of left it alone. And then we fast forward, you know, three years after I get my master's, you know, this old, this old mentor and program director is like, Hey, I'm pulling together this special issue on listening, your radio piece is basically really close to being ready for publication, you should put it out. And so I sat down, and I kind of, I did more content analysis. And so I actually listened to a bunch of tribal radio stations in Minnesota, I spent like, half a summer doing that just sitting there when I was doing work, listening to the radio is like a really kind of it was really a really relaxing form of data collection, it kind of brought me back to being a little kid listening to you know, listening to the radio when I was growing up, right, I actually I did that I didn't watch a whole lot of TV, but I listened to talk radio a lot and things like that.

And so I listened. And I was like, you know, what kind of music are they playing? What kinds of messages are they saying Are there are any kind of geographical references, all these things. And by the time I got done with with listening and looking at reports about things, I took a look and I'm like, Man, this is actually a really, really good paper that ties together geography and community, right kind of saying, here's the ways that these radio stations can foster a sense of community and foster a sense of connection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous listeners. And so I submitted it. To my surprise, they got accepted, right? That was like my second ever published article.

But you know that paper, I really felt that as like, this is a really, really good way of talking about how community can be formed in some some of the most everyday kind of ways and how things as mundane as weather reports, or public service announcements, or even just the basic news can really tie people together in these really kind of enduring ways. And so it's one of my, it was one of my favorite articles to write. And I'm really glad that I'm glad that it's still picking up traction, right? I never imagined two years after writing that, that I'd be, I'd be talking about it on a on a major, you know, on a major program about some, you know, Indigenous issues and things like that. So

Kerry: The ties that we create, when we allow ourselves to just go into our own spaces, and I, I, I'm really, really loving all parts of this conversations, even the parts we veered off on, because I think what I'm really going to walk away from this conversation with is how deeply we are tied to our passions. Like we we can create these unique medicines, these unique ways of, of looking at some of these enormous problems or what feels like they are enormous problems, when we come in it come at it from these unique perspectives. And with an open mind and our creative hearts. That's what's really going to tap away at some of these problems that exists. So thank you, Deondre for being such a reminder of that space. You're right, that thinking out of the box. That's your superpower, I would agree with you. It's definitely a superpower. And we're into those here. We're into those here.

Patty: Yeah, that was that was really neat. Because when I when we think about it, because we think sometimes, you know, but you know how great social media is. And it is I mean, that's how I connect with you know, there’s so many, that's how I found you found each other on Twitter, and I find so many interesting people that way. But these are corporations, right? Like, they're corporations with algorithms, and they exist to make money. And the fact that, you know, my husband and I were just talking about this a few weeks ago, you know, he's talking about Google, and how Google, you know, just gives all this stuff away for free, you know, with the maps and the searching and everything and I’m like, that's right. Because if you're not paying for the product, guess what, you are the product. So there's limits to you know, kind of how great social media and these things can be.

And we were talking about, you know, so we were just talking about, you know, how we form connections. And then, you know, looking at your paper, it's, it's these, these smaller, independent things that we do, because we've got like national radio and national this and national that, but it's these small local connections and, you know, in podcasts to you, because we form kind of smaller communities, and we're talking to each other. Right. So we're not as like, like, there's no code switching. I'm not concerned about my white audience. And what my white, I'm always surprised that white people listen to this. Because I'm not concerned about their feelings. I'm not concerned, I'm concerned about having Indigenous conversations about Indigenous things. I'm concerned about listening, you know, to Black voices, and to Afro Indigenous voices, because that's a world that I don't walk in, that's not my worldview, I need to listen and I need to cede power when necessary. You know, I need to pay attention to when I don't know things, and be willing, be willing to listen to that.

So. So that reminder that these things, these, you know, native radios, and zines and podcasts and all of these ways that we communicate amongst ourselves, how important these things are. Because we live in diaspora, right? We have a homeland here on this continent, but we still but we're still in diaspora I do not live, it's a 24 hour drive. And I'm still in Ontario. If I want to go home, I drive for 24 hours, I'm still in Ontario, I'm going up and around Lake Superior. I don't live at home. I'm connected to them through various ways. And I'm connected to that geography through various ways. So thank you, thank you for this conversation and reminding us that geography isn't what I thought it was in grade 10. It's not labeling that some coloring rivers blue, it's …

Kerry: Longitude and latitude, that’s what I remember.

Patty: it's, it's our lives, our lives, our connection to each other into place. And that's really beautiful. And thank you, thank you so much.

Deondre: It's, it's absolutely my pleasure. Yes. As a matter of fact, the experiences that you talk about, I mean, we I get, I get so many students that talk about like, Oh, I didn't know that geography could be all these things because the way that that you're taught it in grade school is such a limited kind of way. And that's where sometimes I kind of push. And I say, hey, we, you know, in geography, we're like, why is it that so many students come to us from other other departments? Right? It's like geography is one of those great majors in the university that it's, it's something that people kind of come to, there's very few people like me that come into come into college or university thinking, Oh, I'm going to do geography. A lot of times they happen to take a class for their Gen Ed's, or things like that. And they say, Oh, hey, this is actually really, really cool.

And I and that's when I kind of pointed on …  we need to be bringing this perspective, to a holistic kind of viewpoint, we're right away. And in elementary school, and we're teaching children about maps and things like that. We're also teaching them about the ways that geography is really tied to our everyday kind of lives. Right? That's what that's one of the big themes of every single class that I teach is I say, well, geography is not some abstract thing that you kind of put away and you don't deal with it.

I mean, there's, you know, in particular, when I teach a world regional geography, which I'll be doing again, this spring at UVic, I do an assignment where I say, Okay, I want you to tell me your daily routine, right? Where do you go? What you know, when you commute to school? What routes do you take, what buses do you take? Do you drive? What route do you take to your campus? Like, where do you go to eat? Where do you go to shop? Where do you go, you know, when you're hanging out with your friends, if you're taking, you know, taking somebody out on a date, if you're going for a swim when you're doing all these things, and I tell them start writing that down? Let's make a map of your daily life. And I'm like, That's geography right there. It is not like What's the capital of BC? Or what latitude is Valparaiso, Chile on, right, it is how do you relate to space in place?

And I think that if we do that, um, you know, people are going to well, more people will come around to geography, but also, I think that may be some of the horror story that I hear so much are people in their high school geography classes or elementary school geography classes. My wife has told me some of her is actually, actually she's a she's an audiologist. So she's about as far away from geography as you possibly can be, except I'm always one that's like, oh, no, we can do things that are audiology and geography, I think of a good colleague of mine, um, Arianaa Planey, at the University of North Carolina, and badass Black geographer who she's in a, she's in a public health program. Now, she's done things related to, you know, geographic access to audiologists and things like that. And so, like, Hey, we're pretty much everywhere. Right? Geographers have fingers in pretty much every single academic pie that's out there. You just gotta, you just gotta know where to find us and kind of look for our hallmarks of who we are and in what we're doing. So yeah ..

Kerry:  I really appreciate this for the creativity of it. You know, sometimes when you think about, you know, being an academic or being in a space of puts us in a box, and you know, staying in that, you know, curvature of that well, there's not a curvature, keeping it in the perimeter of that box. This conversation, lets us know that everything can be in the flow. And I like that rhyming. So I'm going to stop right there, Deondre, and say, Thank you so much thank you for all that you brought to the show. I appreciate you so much.

Deondre: Thank you very much. It's been an honor and a pleasure. Hence, you know, I can't even believe that we've been talking for an hour. It's like, I feel like we've just been going for ten minutes.

Patty: I know, these hours go by so fast.

Kerry: They do.

Patty: Alright, well, thanks again. And yeah, I guess you're on the list to come back.

Kerry: Right. You know, what I was really thinking I would love to have you back with the our archaeologist and let's have a conversation about how, you know, geography may have shifted and changed and what has happened in the spaces of those I would kind of be interested …

Patty:  Do you mean Paulette? Paulette Steeves.  You knew Paulette right?

Kerry:  Yes Paulette.

Deaondre: Paulette yup.

Patty: Because yeah, cuz we had Paulette and then last time we chatted was with Keolu Fox and You've done work with Keolu, like these three know each other so .. we’ll figure something out. We gotta go. It was lovely talking to you. See you on twitter!

Deondre: Yes, this was a great time, thankyou very much, I look forward to the next time I get to see you all. 

Good bye

Patty Good bye

Good bye

Medicine for the Resistance
Medicine for the Resistance
An Afromystic and Anishinaabekwe talk about everything
Listen on
Substack App
RSS Feed
Appears in episode
patty krawec