Sebastian De Line
May 30, 2021
For the last four years, I’ve been sitting with a text that was first introduced to me in a graduate course at Queen’s University with Richard Day on community-based research. The text, “R-Word: Refusing Research” by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang (2014) builds upon the work of Audra Simpson (2008) in its call to apply methods of refusal that curtail a constant neocolonial extraction of pain narratives, particularly from Indigenous, Black and racialized folks by academic researchers who want to document and tell our stories, apply for more grants, and repeat cycles of “well-intended” attempts at decolonizing institutions (Indigenous Action Media, 2014). “Refusal, and stances of refusal in research, are attempts to place limits on conquest and the colonization of knowledge by marking what is off limits, what is not up for grabs or discussion, what is sacred, and what can’t be known” (Tuck and Yang 2014, 225). Long before I ended that class, I resolved to keep my participation in community separate from my research, as a practice of healthy boundary setting.
Throughout the process of undertaking this research fellowship in the Abolition Dream-Mapping project, I had access to a material budget to support my artistic contribution. Originally, I intended to use my portion of this money/budget to frame a small series of watercolours that I intended to show in our group exhibition at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre. Given restrictions in response to the Covid-19 global pandemic, where we were no longer safely able to gather in-person within public buildings (or in a strict, limited capacity), my project understandably shifted. Not only did framing these paintings seem unnecessary given that our research group could no longer meet or exhibit in-person, the longer I sat with a question of what I could contribute to abolition or a move towards further liberation locally, the more I felt that my art practice was ineffective in dismantling systems of oppression.
What I proposed instead was to gift my portion of the budget for materials to two community-led and centred Indigenous projects in Ka’tarohkwi and Tyendinaga, in support of the good work they already do to facilitate our peoples’ cultural resurgences grounded in the land. As David Garneau states, “The primary sites of Indigenous resistance, then, are not the rare open battles between the colonized and the dominant but the everyday active refusals of complete engagement with agents of assimilation” (2016, 23). It is with intention, that I refuse to name my community relations within this report, as a method of research refusal. This is not because I do not value, celebrate, learn a great deal from, and work to uplift my relatives – I simply do not broadcast it in an academic setting for the purpose of promoting an implied, unique research contribution for the primary benefit of academia – which has little to no benefit for communities living beyond the confines of this extended cartography of mapped carceral systems and processes (Harney and Moten 2013; Zou 2019), and yet still has the power to impact peoples’ actual lives by wielding their stories and ours (Tuck and Yang 2014). We have our own relationships outside of these institutions and our own Good Ways of contributing to our reciprocal well-being as a whole.
But as it may, academic institutions and funding bodies make it seemingly impossible to detach from their willful extraction. In order to satisfy the requirements of the grant, I could not donate my portion of the material budget as a gift to our local Indigenous community initiatives for the community-based work already being done that contributes to abolition and liberation. All research grants come with a catch – monies can only be exchanged as a result of some transaction in one form or another. There must be tangible evidence of some form of labour or commodity received if money is to willfully flow out of academia and into community. This may come in a multitude of forms, including as ‘subjects’ of a body of research that can be pointed to referentially – who is roped into this research, and what can potentially be garnered under a guise of “knowledge production.”
As a research fellow within the Abolition Dream-Mapping project, I take on the responsibility of decidedly implicating myself within this academic system, and therefore, I assume the obligation of performing the labour being extracted, while drawing boundaries between my community and the institution. This is in the form of my refusal to offer knowledge, or share my relationships, which may inadvertently harm or which are not in alignment with the Good Ways that my Onkwehonwe and Anishinaabe relatives embody and are focused on. I also draw a line in what specifically, and how much, I consent to offer to the academy as ‘payment’ for intellectual and material exchanges. I am constantly asked to perform my brownness for the benefit of ‘diversification’ efforts, or in teaching my colleagues, not only at Queen’s University but also beyond, how they might decolonize their own minds and reciprocally move through the world in good relation.
Rather than reinforcing colonial cartographies of charted territories – whereby mapping abolition and liberation reify lines of property ownership, encasing the freedom to dream without attempting to define, explain, and institutionalize – I pen refusal through a diction of silence. This diction of silence unlatches the doors of institutional knowledge acquisition, opening up to a clearing where liberation exists within relationships nourished beyond mention.
Garneau, David [ed. Keavy Martin and Dylan Robinson]. (2007). “Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation: Art, Curation, and Healing.” Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action In and Beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
Harney, Stefano and Fred Moten. (2013). The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Minor Compositions.
Indigenous Action Media. (2014). “Accomplices Not Allies: An Indigenous Perspective & Provocation.” Accessed May 28, 2021 from https://www.indigenousaction.org/.
Simpson, Audra. (2007). “On Ethnographic Refusal: Indigeneity, ‘Voice’ and Colonial Citizenship.” , No. 9.
Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. (2014). “R-Words: Refusing Research.” Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities. Sage Publications.
Zou, Carol. (2019). “Against the Carceral Logic of the University.” Public: Arts, Design, Humanities, Vol. 5, Issue 2. Accessed May 27, 2021 from http://public.imaginingamerica.org/blog/article/against-the-carceral-logic-of-the-university/.
 Carol Zou states, “The paradox of a university pursuing community-engaged work is that the proposition already presupposes a hierarchy of difference. For the university to work with “community,” the “community” must be defined as outside, or other; the university cannot at once be the community it proposes to engage. […] For the university to see itself as part of a community, however, means that the violences that one may perceive and try to address in this otherized “community”—precarity, incarceration, displacement, etc.—are acknowledged as the same violences that pervade the university. Accessed May 27, 2021 from http://public.imaginingamerica.org/blog/article/against-the-carceral-logic-of-the-university/.