Given my own cultural and academic background, as soon as "agency" enters the picture, my thoughts veer towards specific situations and structures that relate to, for example, hegemony, power, colonialism, but also, resurgence, revival, and decolonization. Specifically, I always ask myself how can our material culture today contribute to studies of our own history of colonization and decolonization as Anishinabeg people?
It is relatively easy to find writings that address this question. However, I find that these critiques hold a literary bias that is mostly concerned with how the colonizer REPRESENTS our Indigenous identity and culture--how stereotypes are created and used to cement historical and contemporary colonial beliefs of who Indigenous Peoples are, what they know, and what they have. Most people in my family and circle of friends are familiar with at least one popularized example of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation (e.g. recent hipster fashion trends, athletic team brands, etc.)
While this scholarship is important, it has left a void that I believe can be addressed through the marriage of materiality, contemporary colonial and decolonial theory, and methods that focus on Indigenous Peoples' daily activities and life experiences . What I suggest is an approach to our material culture that allows the object to assist us in relating to one another and in learning, telling and re-telling our own histories, which have been subjugated by dominant historical colonial narratives and myths.
What do I mean by this?
I have a good example.
Last week at our Anishinabemowin language class, our community Kitchi-Anishinabwekwe raised a copy of our new language dictionary during her opening remarks. She held it in her hand as she spoke. She spoke about her history of being in residential school as a little girl. She spoke about the difficulty of learning the English language because her mouth "would just not move the way it needed to" (in order to make the right sounds). She spoke of how terrified she and the other children were of the English books because no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't do it... how they were just handed these books with no help or instruction from the teacher... and how the teachers would beat them when they couldn't do it. Another Kitchi-Anishinabekwe spoke of her little sister's experiences during her first year at residential school. She spoke about how her little sister was afraid and pretended to read by just doing what the other children were doing... holding the book up. She spoke of how she watched her little sister get physically reprimanded because her book was upside down.
These kitchi-Anishinabekwewag spoke of books as prison and punishment.
Since then, I "look" at my books through the filter of her story and books now mark me in a very different way.