Ja aa haanach’e. Cheyanne Connell (Dunne-Za and Cree from West Moberly First Nations) is a Doctoral student in Anthropology student at the University of British Columbia. She received her Bachelor of Arts, Honours with Distinction, Anthropology, and Masters of Arts, Anthropology from SFU under the supervision of Dr. Michael Hathaway in 2019 and 2021 respectively.
Her BA honours thesis, titled “Decolonizing Urban Indigenous Studies: Defining and Redefining Indigeneity,” was an exploration and critique of the use of the diaspora model in framing urban Indigenous peoples, experiences, and livelihoods. In her paper, she argued the need for a more inclusive framework with respective to some urban Indigenous peoples, given that many of them, especially in Canada, still reside on ancestral land and are therefore not displaced; have little to no connection to a non-urban traditional homeland and as a result, may feel little to no cultural loss, particularly among those whose family and traditional experiences and practices are rooted to their current urban region of residence; and lastly, she argues that in Canada and elsewhere, state recognized traditional territories are often either only a fraction of or not at all one’s ancestral lands, thus, showing that homeland-making can and does occur outside of ancestral lands. Not only does this show that homelands can be fostered outside of ancestral lands, such as in urban regions, this also lends to her argument of the need to recognize and meaningfully engage with urban Indigenous experience and livelihoods as being authentically Indigenous and not of a cultural, traditional, and land deficit.
Cheyanne’s MA thesis is titled “Precarious Indigeneity: Ainu Identity-Making in [Digital] North America and its rootedness in Western Indigenous Experience.” Based on digitally-mediated fieldwork conducted in 2020/2021, and building on existing scholarship, her thesis works to understand how Ainu in North American experience Indigenous identity-making. Working with eight young adults of self-identified Ainu ancestry at various stages of their Ainu journeys, but all started within the last few years, she asks how Ainu and Ainuness is learned and understood through their primary connection and access to Ainu community and culture: digital spaces. From this, she argues that whereas Ainu identity-making of those who grew up and live in Japan is rooted in Japanese Ainu experience, American Ainu identity-making is largely informed by and rooted in Western Indigenous experience. With this comes uniquely North American-based experiences and anxieties of culture appropriation, identity gatekeeping, and Indigenous authenticity. She argues that such narratives can best be understood through what she calls precarious indigeneity—that identity-making as Ainu in North America is inherently unstable and insecure due to the aforementioned anxieties. Through this thesis, Cheyanne aims to provide another way to reimagine Ainu identity-making that speaks to the realities of learning what it means to be Ainu and Indigenous in present day and as multiethnic and digitally connected individuals and communities rooted in North America.