Episode 1: Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq
(Released July 2, 2021)
Welcome to Tell Me More!, a podcast for amplifying the work of graduate students. In this, the first episode of the show, host Wilfredo Flores chats with Dr. Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq, who recently graduated with a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric from Utah State University and is an incoming assistant professor of professional and technical writing at Virginia Tech.
Dr. Itchuaqiyaq talks about their article draft on historical Inuit narratives about subsistence practices as a way to learn about climate change. They also talk about social justice in technical communication, knowledge legitmitation, and moving the field toward equitable publishing.
If you could like to know more about Dr. Itchuaqiyaq, their work, and more, check out their website at https://www.itchuaqiyaq.com. You can also follow them on Twitter at @CanaItch. If you'd like to learn more about the show, find transcripts, or sign up to be a guest, please check out tellmemorepod.com. Feel free to follow us on Twitter at @TMM_Pod, too. See you next time.
Links to things discussed in this episode:
Transcript for "Episode 1: Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq"
Wilfredo: You’re listening to Tell Me More!, a podcast for amplifying the work of graduate students. I’m your host, Wilfredo Flores... or just Wil.
[opening theme song plays, “Metre” by Slow Alarm]
W: This is a show where we ask graduate students a singular question: Tell me more. About their ideas, their work, and more.
W: Before we get into the episode, a quick note. Since recording the episode, Dr. Itchuaqiyaq has since graduated with her PhD, and they are an incoming assistant professor at Virginia Tech university. So with that out of the way, let’s get into the episode.
[music continues and then fades out]
W: Hi there. Welcome to Tell Me More!, where we chat with graduate students about their work, ideas, and more. In this episode, I'm chatting with Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq, a PhD candidate in technical communication and rhetoric at Utah State University. So welcome Cana. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Cana: Hi Wil. Thank you! Yes. So I am a PhD candidate at Utah state university, like you said, and I study technical communication and rhetoric with a real focus on social justice, particularly thinking about knowledge legitimation of marginalized populations and their knowledges and concerns, issues, frameworks, whatever.
Just kind of like, I don't know, people just need to do better. That's what I study.
W: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you for joining me today. So you're here today to talk to us about an article draft on historical Inuit narratives about subsistence practices as a way to learn about climate change. Can you please tell me more about that?
C: Thanks. Yeah, it's something I'm writing right now. It's due, you know how you like, kind of write something right before it’s due, but you have all these intentions the whole year prior, like, you know, you're like, I'm going to get, I'm going to get to that, but I get to that. So I have like pages of notes or weird links. But basically, this this article or this chapter is for an edited collection about climate change and technical communication edited by Sean Williams. And basically it is a, well, it's going to be, I was going to say.
W: Yeah, let's speak it
C:Yeah, let’s speak it into the universe. It's going to be an amazing discussion about narratives from my people. So basically, you know, I studied environmental science as an undergraduate, and so my background hasn't always been in the humanities has been more on the science side. And I've also spent a huge part of my life working with, and, you know, talking to—like being involved—in the climate sciences community and environmental sciences community. And my dad was an activist for—yeah, he would probably be an activist yeah, Cana, whatcha sayin’? I’m going to categorize him as an activist. He was an activist for Indigenous peoples being getting a seat at the table when it comes to discussions of climate change in our regions.
Before, you know, a lot of people just, didn't consider the ideas, perspectives, and expertise of Inuit people, especially when talking about how climate change affects Inuit and Arctic communities. And so my dad, Caleb Pungowiyi was really involved in that. So I grew up with, I grew up with like a bunch of people coming into our house all the time.
Like reporters, scientists, all sorts of stuff coming in and interviewing my dad and just kind of like watching us, like doing this whole video, taping our lives to see if it looks good on TV, you know, it was very weird. So that, that actually kind of got me on this other trajectory of the knowledge legitimation that, and, and also like identity and agency and identity when it comes to research and, and co-production of knowledge. But what, so this chapter, when it's in full bloom, we'll discuss [laughter] will discuss this book that my great uncle wrote. My mom, she's from Noorvik, Alaska, and her dad’s oldest brother—so my grandfather’s brother—wrote a book in the seventies called Ipani Eskimos, A Cycle of Life in Nature (don't say that word yourself). So Ipani Eskimos, A Cycle of Life in Nature, and it's, it's really, it's, it's really cool. His name is [redacted out of respect] or his name is James Wells, [redacted], was what he was was known in our tribe. And he did, it, this book, it says in the jacket, “This book offers a full course in environmental education to anyone wishing to learn to subsist off the land in the old ways in Arctic Alaska.”
And so this is this like cool thing that's been in our face family and it's out of print now. And I so I've, I've read it a few times and basically it's month by month, like January through December, of activities, subsistence activities that happen around Noorvik, Alaska, like on the Kobuk River in Northwest Alaska. And, it describes all these different shenanigans and things that people would do related to subsistence. But when I, when I read it with this, like science, you know, Western-trained science mind, right. I thought to myself, “Oh, okay. [Redacted] he like keeps talking about bears and all these different months and what these bears are doing and what people are doing in relation to the bears—also ptarmigan also like geese, like all these different animals. And I thought to myself, “This is really interesting because we do have a lot of folklore narratives, right, talking about hunting and subsistence, because that's kind of part of our, a huge part of our culture.”
And I thought, well, I wonder if I could take those subsistence activities and chart them in a way, for example, or like ice even just, or just in relation to like... so ice in relation to like what bears are doing. And I could think about like the conditions of ice related to the activities of bears back in the early 20th century, when he's, he's discussing traditional ways from like 1905 or something, because he, at the time when he wrote it, he was an elder and he was probably born early, like early 1900s, somewhere around there. And so I thought, “Well, that would be really a cool way to use these narratives, right?” This, these nonfictional narratives and try to extract some information about what was, what was the general climate or what was the expectations of, of timing? Because that's, everything was very cyclical. And like, “At this time, we do this.” Nowadays, it's not the same.
The ice is really different. The birds, when they come is different, the grasses, when, that support the birds, when the migratory birds, are coming up and blooming and different times are going to seed at different times. So like, so this food source from those grasses are different. So it's like this real, like, there's a way to, to look at this. Now, that was my, like, intentional, like the intention of this research when I started it. And then, you know, you start the research and you go, “Okay. Yeah. Like I had a really great idea, but how the hell do I do it?”
Like. What like, you know what I mean? The classic, “Oh, this could have been, this is like a major project, but I thought it was going to be a quick little thing.” Yeah, no, so that's, that's kinda my, you know, I get like big ideas and then I go uh and reality smacks me.
W: Yeah, as it often does. [laughter]
C: Yeah! So that's, that's kind of like this, that's kind of the foreground of this work that I'm doing writing right now, actually organizing and researching right now. And can I tell you the big conundrum with it?
W: Yeah, go for it. You can talk about whatever you want!
C: Thank you. So here's the big conundrum: When... so I'm writing about new perspectives of climate change and traditional narratives to talk about our local environment, right? So thinking about like how is a research article framed, what is it, what are typical parts? Right. And there's generally this like lit review. Well, in technical communication, at least in my field, and in other fields, people expect you to frame your perspective based on what others in the field have been already saying. This article is basically saying, “Hey, we have lots of knowledge. We've been charting this using story for all this time.” So like, why do I need, like, this internal struggle is like, I really don't want to frame it from these like Western academic perspectives that are basically the dominant perspectives in the field of TPC right now. You know, especially when it comes to climate change or environment stuff. And so. I, like, how do I, how do I at once position my people as experts of the lands around them and the climate, like in the perspectives of science, around them, like themselves as scientists, while having to first frame that whole situation from the perspective of basically white scholars, right. I'm sick of that move. I'm sick of it.
W: Yeah. And it reminds me a lot of what Kathleen Absolon wrote in Kaandossiwin, about Indigenous knowledge and Western science and how the former is often subjugated by the latter, even by the way that research itself operates. So, yeah, I totally, well, I don't get your conundrum because it's beyond my, my scope, but I understand. Yeah. Cause it's an issue that I had as well, at least in my own research. And I don't like want to talk about it because it's your episode . But trying to frame queer and trans people of color talking about their sexual health as experts about their sexual health, when people are like, “Your health literacy level is low, so you're probably gonna get HIV, whatever. Let's just focus on these other people.” So yes, I get that. It's a weird way of trying to frame community knowledge in a way that treats it valid without having to subjugate it to this like framework from these other people who are like, this is not, she's not valid enough.”
C: Gentle listener. What was happening while Wil was talking about all, this is my face reacting to the basic BS that he's having to experience and do his research as well. There was lots of like me rolling my eyes at, at the, at the academy, there was lots of me sticking out my tongue and making like a gag face. [laughter] So just so you, just because you all can't see what was going on.
W: Yeah, the silence doesn't mean anything. [laughter]
C: The silence... the silence is like, it's, there's a lot of commiseration happening on my side, you know? And here's the real truth. Right? Here's what it is. The way academia is still set up, right, and even though they try to pretend, oh yeah, no, we're like diversity and inclusivity—we’re so anti-racist—and I'm, maybe I sound too, whatever, but what you know. It’s like, basically everything needs to be filtered through whiteness. Like, you want to say something's true? Let's filter it through whiteness and then we'll test it. That's how we test it. And that's the way knowledge production works. And, you know, thinking about co-production of knowledge is an important thing. And, and also Indigenous-led research in my case versus Indigenous-driven research. Those distinctions, they sound like minute, but they're very big. And, you know, I, so my work with knowledge legitimation like that is, is basically the crux of what I'm trying to do is saying, “Back off, you know, if you, if you want to, like you say, you want marginalized, knowledges, like knowledge is coming from marginalized communities, right, to be valued?” Then, value it.
W: Right, like accept it—not face value—but like accepted as it is rather than running it through any kind of litmus tests or validation checklists like, oh, we need these four things to be touched on in this kind of schema, and if it doesn't, then it's not valid or something like that.
C: Yeah. Like I've got a cite, like three or four white guys first. Do you know what I mean? In order to make my, my stuff pass review and you know what, like I've, I've actually, I've, I've pushed against that in a lot of my other work, and it's worked so far. One thing, if any listeners are wondering like, “Well, how do you, like, how do you get around that?” Here's how you get around it. You talk to the editor directly and you say, “Hey,” and you tell them like the, what you're trying to do. Or in my case, I write about it in the manuscript itself. And I put it like, and so then when the reviewers are reading it and going, “Well, why didn't you site, blah, blah, blah?” Okay. Then I guess they just see or recognize what I'm trying to do for what it is versus like, why hasn't, “Why haven't they read X, Y, and Z?” It's like, yeah, I have read X, Y, and Z, but, and I've learned from it. Thanks. But what I'm trying to say is, is not like, just because X, Y, and Z or whoever, right? Authors A, B and C, whoever have like, talked about climate change in general, doesn't mean it's the same, what they're talking about at all, like literally like relates to what I'm trying to talk about. But the way it’s the way citation works in our field—and you and I talk about citation, you know what I mean?
We both think about it. The way it works in our field, basically centers, whiteness, no matter what or centers, because it centers the canon, but the canon was established through whiteness, and resistance to that is what this generation now is really trying to work on and finding ways to resist, and ways to resist is you calling upon allies, and in my case is like contacting the editor and saying, “I'm going to be doing this move. You might see notes about it from the reviewers, but this is what I'm trying to do.” And so because ultimately it's the editors, not the reviewers, that determine what you do need to do and not do. So that's, that's a technique or a, a tactic that one can use to resist.
W: Right, yeah. And I think, I think editors will, hopefully a lot of editors would be amenable to that kind of move because it has to happen because if it doesn't, it's just the same old, same old, like it's the same status quo. So if there's an editor listening to this, hopefully there is, that's my hope for this podcast. Please take these words to heart wherever you are listener or nameless listener out there. Yeah. That's excellent. So have you thought about, well, not excellent because it's not an excellent thing. But what you've said is excellent. So have you thought about how to get through this conundrum within the article itself, outside of the tactic of reaching, reaching out to editors as like a viable strategy that those of us attendant to citation politics can adapt?
C: Well, luckily I come, I'm writing from an Indigenous rhetorics perspective, which has a whole component of sovereignty built in. So thinking about Indigenous sovereignty and sovereignty of our knowledges, right? There's a, there's a, a precedent for people for, for refusal, right, to adhere to Western norms. And then there's also just, there's a, you know, an anti-colonial like push that I can, that I can, I can, I can take. So it's, it's kind of like, circumlocution right, in a lot of ways where I'm going. First, we're going to talk about this and then we're going to go around and run around, and this is why I'm not doing it. Do you know what I mean? And then, so it's kind of like, I have a little tangent that has to happen. And, you know, a lot of fields have had to do those tangents, those justifications in text. Right? And then, then it becomes taken up by other scholars and validated. And then that little tangent doesn't have to happen. We're still in that little segue tangent where I'm like, huh, here's about knowledge, legitimation, sovereignty of knowledges. So. You know, don't try to colonize my work by making me, you know, filter it through whiteness. Well, the same moves, like in technical communication. So my field right there, there's this whole social justice arm turn, that has happened. And a lot of manuscripts going up until like 2018 or more, you know, later. If you read any kind of social justice turn, like where they're really talking about social justice, there's a section where they're like linking social justice to technical communication and that in every article about that. So they have to take, you know, 500 words of their space, right? Cause it's all about space 700. You have like 7,500 words. You got to take 500 words of that to make that move saying this relates to technical communication and social justice. Well, today you don't have to do that anymore because people have done the work consistently and other scholars have validated it. So gentle ally scholar audience members, right? This is the work you can do. The work you can do is when you, when you notice people making these moves, you can validate those moves in your own work. Right? You can validate the, these kind of moves towards knowledge sovereignty and legitimation that other people are doing and help make it so people aren't having to explain themselves why, why knowledge legitimation or sovereignty is important when talking, in my case about Indigenous perspectives, and the refusal I do to filter them through whiteness.
C: One thing that I really like about this piece that I'm writing it is an application of a lot of work that other scholars in my field, especially Natasha Jones, is doing centering narrative as theory building in technical communication. I don't have to do that work of justifying the use of narrative because she's done that multiple times. So like I was saying before about people validating and moves that people are making a normalizing them within the way academic practice works. It's those moves are really important and I'm really grateful to those who have done that work. Similarly, Andrea Riley-Mukavetz has done a lot of work thinking about stories as theory and, and so have a lot of other Indigenous thinkers. Patricia Hill Collins has done a lot of work with Black Feminist thought and positioning experiences and narratives of Black women as theory. It's like, how do we deal with the world?
This is theoretical. And so like this, this is a framework that we can look at. So I really have you know, I was talking to earlier. I don't want it to sound like my indebtedness doesn't exist because it does. The parts that I'm pushing against is not...I don't want to sound like
like I don't want to acknowledge people before me doing this work because I do acknowledge people before me. I just don't want to have to filter my work through whiteness in order for it to seem valid. And there's a distinction there. And so that's, that's, that's what I'm happy about is using narrative, because narrative is, it's such a powerful communication technique.
W: So when do you think readers... or readers [laughter] listeners who will become readers might expect your work to be published?
C: Well, the first wave of some of my publications are coming out in this May. So I have a I have a piece that I think sets up this one that I'm working on now called Iñupiat Iḷitqusiat,” and that's the short title, and I forget the long title, but it's coming out in an edited collection in May about social justice and tech comm edited by Rebecca Walton and Godwin Agboka. And so it does a lot of, it does some of this work and thinking about the sovereign right of refusal and those different things. This piece that I'm writing for this edited collection, well, it has to go through all sorts of review first, right? It's you know, I had an accepted proposal. That's that's, that's where I'm at. So it doesn't mean that it's necessarily going to get published, but if it does go through all those things and everything runs smoothly, I think it is going to be like late spring 2022 is what I'm anticipating. But yeah, keep an eye out for some of my, my work coming out. Some of the stuff is going to be a little... like I have, you know, a bunch of tech, tech-ish kind of stuff, where I look at corpus analysis and then I have all this like culturally rhetoric stuff. And then, I do some pretty singing critiques of the decolonial turn, because people tend to forget that Indigenous people and indigenous land repatriation and sovereignty and all that stuff tends to be in the, in the heart of de-colonial frameworks. And I mean, that, that does not to say that other other groups have been colonized and whatever. I'm just talking about here in North America in general, like what people are like, the conversations that we're having. And so thinking about Tuck and Yang's 2012 critique of decolonial being just basically a metaphor for social justice kind of things is, is really important, especially in the social justice turn where everybody's looking for alternative frameworks in order to kind of ride that wave? You know, popular wave or whatever it is.
And so, I have a coauthor, Breeanne Mathison, and we've been really looking at that closely. And so that’s when some of my work's coming out, and I, you know, I want to encourage your readers—or listeners—I want to encourage your listeners to, you know, that the publication process in academia is just not necessarily fair and it's not necessarily easy. And it's not necessarily straightforward, either. And, you know, I I'm really fortunate to work for a journal—I'm the managing editor of Technical Communication Quarterly—and so, I have this so I I've, I can see both sides, you know, cause I'm a graduate student with, with relatively little experience, writing academic publication type prose, right? I'm learning, but then I'm also witnessing other scholars, some of them, senior scholars, also grappling with the same thing. So it's not like there's a, the learning curve is long and steady. And, and so just to have patience for where you are in your writing process, you know? Nothing—trust me—things that come in for publication that are accepted or not are sometimes kind of messy still, you know, and that's where good copy editing and that's where all that stuff kind of comes in. That's when the editors really do the editing. And so just have some—take heart in, in the process and also do not be afraid to reach out to the editor in chief and ask about your idea and get a little mentoring.
So that's, that's, those are the things that like, I would like to like share that I've learned that, you know, there's... And if people are kind of jerks to you if editors or whatever, then that's a red flag and skip like, look for somewhere else to publish your work. You're worth more than that. Right? So there's that other part, because basically here's the deal.
You are volunteering to do free labor and academic knowledge production, right? For the sake of these journals, for sake of there, that lived behind a paywall, right? That, that, that generate income that you will not receive. But so, you know, you... like writers, authors of these publications are contributing, are, are offering a beautiful and necessary and free service. So understanding that you are one of the stakeholders and a valued stakeholder is really important because sometimes that is not conveyed.
W: Thank you for your time. This was an excellent chat. I'm so excited to learn about your work and to see where it's going and to see when it comes out. So do you have any social media that you'd like to plug or a website that you would like to share?
C: Sure! I mean, so my last name was kind of hard to spell. I do have a website and a scholarly website that is my last name: I-T-C-H-U-A-Q-I-Y-A-Q, Itchuaqiyaq.com. But it's also linked on my Twitter, you can follow me on my Twitter for my, my hot takes. I don't, you know, you may or may not like it. I get a little salty, but then I'm also like kind and loving. So it's just, you get a full range of Cana. I'm not very edited about who I present on my, on my Twitter. And that's @CanaItch: C-A-N-A-I-T-C-H. And yeah, you can follow me for frank, personal confessions, and also [laughter] and also candid, I guess reactions to the BS that I recognize in academia. And, and I also talk about my work and I talk about those different things, but yeah. So if you're interested in that, that'd be cool.
W: Awesome. I will hyperlink everything and thank you again for your time.
C: Thanks, Wil. I appreciate you listening and thank you for this.
[outro music plays]
W: Thanks for listening! You can find out more about this and other
episodes at tellmemorepod.com, where you’ll also find transcripts for each episode. The opening and closing theme song is “Metre'' by Slow Alarm. Music licensed under an Attribution, Non-commercial, Share Alike License, and special thanks to Slow Alarm for providing the music free of charge. You can learn more about Slow Alarm at nultielrecords.blogspot.com. Be well!