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Building the capacity for accountable Irish-Mi'kmaq relationships through research

Building the capacity for accountable Irish-Mi'kmaq relationships through research

Aedan Alderson

What are the links between the past and present impacts of colonization in Éire and colonization in Mi’kma’ki?

How might deepening our understandings of these potential links inform accountable and decolonial relationships between the Irish and the Mi’kmaq?

Since 2019, Aedan Alderson's doctoral research at the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC) has allowed him to travel to Éire and Mi'kma'ki gathering oral life histories to help investigate these questions while working towards building capacity to create new links for allieship between the Mi'kmaq and the Irish.

Aedan at the Free Derry sign in the bogside while gathering oral histories in LondonDerry

"I really felt it was important to move beyond just abstract comparisons or theoretical debates and to center the living histories of community members through oral history research," says Aedan.

Gathering oral histories from community members themselves has helped Aedan to highlight the way that colonialism continues to impact everyday life in both regions. In Éire, he travelled to the borderlands between County London Derry and County Donegal where he was able to gather oral life histories from community members who grew up during the rise of the Irish civil rights movement, living through the events of the Troubles, and the subsequent post-Good Friday era/Brexit era. In Mi'kma'ki, he interviewed community members from Eskasoni, who were able to share their experiences growing up in Unama'ki, through the post centralization era which saw the survival and transformation of L'nuk communities on the island from being heavily policed and repressed by Canadian colonialism to being internationally recognized as leaders in Indigenous politics, knowledge production, and culture. Putting the oral histories from both nations into comparison, Aedan's dissertation lays out a plethora of shared links between Irish and Mi'kmaq communities in both regions including discussions of relationships with land, refusal of colonial identities, survival of intergenerational trauma and healing, cultural resurgence, and border crossing, while also highlighting the ways that the Irish and the L'nuk have been treated differently in their struggles by both local and international communities.

As a Celtic and L'nu scholar, part of what motivated Aedan's doctoral research is his ongoing commitment to create mutual recognition between the Irish and the Mi'kmaq that can not only support Mi'kmaq sovereignty but also help to address the way that the historical harms that the Irish have participated in during the colonization of Mi'kma'ki. To help create a resource for this work,his dissertation provides geographic and socioeconomic overviews of both regions and includes a discussion of key events in both regions that demonstrate that the histories of colonization in Éire and Mi'kma'ki are interwoven (while also exploring the role of the Irish in colonization). Addressing debates around whether Ireland is a feasible site of comparison with Indigenous nations - Aedan's dissertation also provides a comparative chronology that lays out 55 strategies, policies, and political processes of British colonialism that were first applied to Éire before being deployed to Mi'kma'ki.   

Aedan listening to L'nuk educator Lindsay Paul teaching visitors at Mi'kmaq Culture at Eskasoni Cultural Journeys

Aedan's time in the PhD program in Environmental Studies at EUC has allowed him to engage with these issues in an interdisciplinary way forging partnerships between our faculty and numerous institutions and organizations in Canada and abroad. As part of the momentum building around scholarship promoting new avenues for Irish-Indigenous allieship, he has been able to have his project supported by Unama'ki College at Cape Breton University and Ryerson University, and organizations like Eskasoni Cultural Journeys and the Oral History Network of Ireland. Demonstrating the potential of using transnational research to create more international accountability towards Indigenous sovereignty, he has been able to serve as a Nathanson Doctoral Fellow at Osgoode Hall Law School and a (visiting) Dobbin Atlantic Scholar for the Ireland Canada University Foundation, at University College Dublin. Emphasizing his commitment to using this project as a stepping stone towards future research, he was also able to secure a Mitacs Research Training Fund award for a project he designed (with his supervisor Dr. Liette Gilbert) titled: Advancing archival contributions of transnational research in Canada and Ireland for the Mitacs Research Training Fund program at York.

Drawing on his experiences preparing to submit the oral histories he gathered during his dissertation to archives in both Canada and Europe, Aedan's Mitacs project allowed him to work on a forthcoming guide that he hopes can be used to help future transnational researchers navigate similar processes. Building on his doctoral research at EUC, Aedan will be joining the School of Geography at University College Dublin in 2021 as a SSHRC postdoctoral researcher where he will be undertaking a large-scale research project examining the way that the Irish in Canada and Éire understand their historic (past and present) relationships with Indigenous nations in order to assess what resources he can help design to advance future Irish-Indigenous relations in the years to come.

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