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iMessaging Flesh, Friendship, and Futurities

Emi­ly Coon and Nicole Land


Abstract: This arti­cle enacts our ongo­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive exper­i­ments uti­liz­ing “iMes­sag­ing” on iPhone as a prac­tice of crit­i­cal rela­tion­al­i­ty toward build­ing our Indige­nous-set­tler mil­len­ni­al aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship. Hold­ing writ­ten text along­side our iMes­sage con­ver­sa­tions, we con­front three threads that con­tin­u­al­ly inter­ject in our exchanges: (1) what hap­pens with our fleshy bod­ies when we con­nect with iMes­sage; (2) how our co-cre­at­ed, but uncom­mon, iMes­sage-body exchanges are an exper­i­ment with poten­tial modes of Indige­nous-set­tler aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship; (3) and how our iMes­sag­ing prac­tice makes real the aca­d­e­m­ic futures that we hope, and need, to con­tribute to. Togeth­er, we grap­ple with how the iMes­saged space we cre­ate in our friend­ship might enable us to be atten­tive to the dis­junc­tures between Indige­nous knowl­edges and fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies. We won­der how we might think of iMes­sage as a mode of friend­ship that is poten­tial­ly capa­ble of chal­leng­ing set­tler-colo­nial nor­ma­tiv­i­ties and tem­po­ral­i­ties of aca­d­e­m­ic relat­ing, while also call­ing us to attend to the com­plex­i­ties of our bod­ied life­worlds as we iMes­sage our (dig­i­tal) flesh, futu­ri­ties, and friend­ship as young, emerg­ing scholars.

Résumé: Cet arti­cle est la représen­ta­tion des expéri­ences col­lab­o­ra­tives que nous sommes en train de men­er en util­isant la mes­sagerie élec­tron­ique sur iPhones comme une pra­tique rela­tion­nelle cri­tique visant à con­stru­ire notre ami­tié académique mil­lé­niale entre Autochtones et colons. En plaçant côte à côte les textes écrits et nos con­ver­sa­tions sur mes­sageries, nous sommes con­fron­tés à trois fils directeurs qui réap­pa­rais­sent con­tin­uelle­ment dans nos échanges: 1) ce qui se passe dans notre corps de chair lorsque nous nous con­nec­tons par mes­sagerie; 2) com­ment ces échanges entre corps et mes­sages, créés ensem­ble, mais séparés, con­stituent une expéri­ence de modes poten­tiels d’amitié académique entre Autochtones et colons; 3) et com­ment nos pra­tiques d’échanges par mes­sagerie élec­tron­ique con­cré­tisent les avenirs académiques que nous espérons et aux­quels nous avons besoin de con­tribuer. Ensem­ble, nous nous efforçons de com­pren­dre com­ment l’espace élec­tron­ique que nous créons dans nos ami­tiés pour­rait nous per­me­t­tre d’être plus atten­tifs aux dis­jonc­tions entre les savoirs indigènes et les études des sci­ences fémin­istes. Nous nous inter­ro­geons sur la manière dont nous pour­rions con­cevoir la mes­sagerie élec­tron­ique comme un mode d’amitié poten­tielle­ment capa­ble de remet­tre en ques­tion les nor­mal­ités rela­tion­nelles entre Autochtones et colons, ain­si que celles du monde académique, tout en ten­ant compte des com­plex­ités de notre vie cor­porelle lorsque nous échangeons élec­tron­ique­ment nos chairs, nos visions du futur et nos ami­tiés en tant que jeunes sci­en­tifiques en début de carrière.

4,595 kilo­me­ters, thou­sands of iMes­saged words, and four years of nego­ti­at­ing grad­u­ate-school female friend­ship in a world of set­tler-colo­nial and neolib­er­al aca­d­e­m­ic pol­i­tics lay between us, Emi­ly and Nicole. Emi­ly is a Kanien’keha:ka Master’s stu­dent work­ing with­in rup­tures of urban indi­geneities to (re)map col­o­nized lands and bod­ies, and grounds her work with Indige­nous fem­i­nisms and resur­gent imag­i­na­tions of Drum-work cer­e­mo­ny; she cur­rent­ly walks along Dish With One Spoon ter­ri­to­ries of the Hau­denosaunee and Anishi­naabe peo­ples. Nicole is a fourth-gen­er­a­tion set­tler PhD stu­dent who thinks with fat(s), muscle(s), and move­ment in ear­ly-child­hood edu­ca­tion while inte­grat­ing fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies and post-qual­i­ta­tive edu­ca­tion research method­olo­gies; she inhab­its the unced­ed ter­ri­to­ry of the Coast and Straits Sal­ish peo­ples. As Indige­nous and set­tler female grad­u­ate stu­dents, we under­stand our research and rela­tion­ships with acad­e­mia to be pro­found­ly fleshed. We research bod­ies dif­fer­ent­ly, care-ful­ly inter­ro­gat­ing, re-map­ping, inhab­it­ing, and re-con­fig­ur­ing the gen­dered and gen­er­a­tive, exhaust­ed and unex­pect­ed, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and frus­trat­ing, reluc­tant and resur­gent flesh we encounter in our work and lives. Uterus­es, adi­pose tis­sue, blood quan­tum, and top-knot­ted hair ani­mate our every­day tran­sit with­in the acad­e­my and, as we both anchor our research work in bod­ies, we mar­vel at the para­dox­i­cal rich­ness of the dis­tance that sep­a­rates our flesh from meet­ing in the same room.

As two female grad­u­ate stu­dents, born in 1990 and 1989, we proud­ly assert our alle­giances to the “mil­len­ni­al” gen­er­a­tional and nego­ti­ate our cross-coun­try friendship–and the col­lab­o­ra­tive and con­test­ed con­ver­sa­tions between our onto­log­i­cal­ly diver­gent research–over our iPhones’ iMes­sage. Con­fronting the ten­sions of Indige­nous-set­tler mil­len­ni­al aca­d­e­m­ic rela­tion­ships, we beam deeply cor­po­re­al expe­ri­ences dig­i­tal­ly, shar­ing our encoun­ters with bod­ies through a machine made of neolib­er­al and colo­nial techno­science. Each time our thumbs tap the “send” key, we feel, dif­fer­ent­ly, the lega­cies of abstrac­tion, era­sure, and resource extrac­tion that lit­er­al­ly craft our iPhones. In the same instant, we take seri­ous­ly the impor­tance of iMes­sage as a tool of friend­ship as we work togeth­er, and apart, to nur­ture our mode of Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship in the academy.

Our fem­i­nist aca­d­e­m­ic pas­sion project has become recon­fig­ur­ing how our iPhones func­tion as a (de)colonial techno­science in our Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship. In our dai­ly inter­ac­tions with acad­e­mia, main­stream Cana­di­an pop­u­lar cul­ture, and the mil­len­ni­al-authored blogs we encounter on our Twit­ter feeds, we notice how our iPhones can be com­plic­it in neolib­er­al nar­ra­tives of anthro­pocen­tric progress, Euro-West­ern excep­tion­al­ism, and the main­te­nance of colo­nial het­eropa­tri­ar­chal notions of dif­fer­ence that both obscure dif­fer­ence in favour of mul­ti­cul­tur­al diver­si­ty and cleave open the oppres­sive pow­er of dif­fer­ence as a prob­lem of access, plat­form, and pub­lic­i­ty in a dig­i­tal world with lim­it­ed space (con­trast Eve Tuck’s [@tuckeve], an Alas­ka Native fem­i­nist schol­ar with 2962 Twit­ter fol­low­ers with Justin Trudeau’s [@JustinTrudeau], the Cana­di­an Prime Min­is­ter with 2.4 mil­lion fol­low­ers; Jan­u­ary 2018). Dis­guised in a flashy rose-gold fin­ish, we fol­low the alu­minum in our iPhones as it trav­els from stolen Land brim­ming with resur­gent ances­tral mem­o­ries of care-ful­ly tend­ed soil, through vio­lent pol­i­tics of resource extrac­tion root­ed in ongo­ing set­tler colo­nial­ism that is then jus­ti­fied through the iPhone’s com­plic­i­ty in nar­ra­tives of human progress. As we clutch our iPhones, we know that while Euro-West­ern sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, root­ed in unques­tion­able facts, con­tin­ue to be used against Indige­nous peoples–providing sci­en­tif­ic jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for Res­i­den­tial Schools, blood quan­tum log­ics of iden­ti­ty, and forced sterilizations–Indigenous peo­ples have been prac­tic­ing their own com­plex forms of sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge and tech­nol­o­gy. Adja­cent to, but diver­gent from, these dif­fer­ent­ly lived sci­ences, fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies schol­ars chis­el at the hege­mon­ic onto­log­i­cal foun­da­tions of uni­ver­sal­ized Euro-West­ern Sci­ence, trac­ing how Sci­ence inserts itself as a tech­nique of gov­er­nance made real in fleshed pos­si­bil­i­ties for life (see Har­away, Simi­ans, cyborgs, and women; Hard­ing, Sci­ence and social inequal­i­ty; Lan­deck­er, Cul­tur­ing life; Roy and Sub­ra­ma­ni­am, Mat­ter in the shad­ows; Whitt, Sci­ence, colo­nial­ism, and Indige­nous peo­ples; Wil­ley, Undo­ing monogamy). Under­stand­ing sci­ence as embed­ded in spe­cif­ic social and his­tor­i­cal con­texts, we can under­stand how this knowl­edge serves to mar­gin­al­ize, silence, and erase groups of peo­ple (see Sanabria, “Cir­cu­lat­ing igno­rance”; Sub­ra­ma­ni­am, Ghost sto­ries for Dar­win). Embrac­ing the rela­tion­ship we have gen­er­at­ed with our iPhones and iMes­sag­ing con­ver­sa­tions, we acti­vate the iron­ic poten­tial of uti­liz­ing this colo­nial item as the very thing we have used to dis­rupt set­tler colo­nial­ism and tend to our resur­gent forms of ally­ship and solidarity.

Grape Twiz­zlers inau­gu­rat­ed our friend­ship, when Nicole offered Emi­ly a snack dur­ing a mul­ti-day child­hood stud­ies sym­po­sium on children’s mul­ti­species rela­tions with­in col­o­nized worlds. We exchanged con­tact infor­ma­tion and began iMes­sag­ing to sup­port one anoth­er through a stress­ful mid-semes­ter paper sea­son. Our ongo­ing friend­ship owes to this insti­tu­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic space where we were intro­duced, hav­ing both begun grad­u­ate pro­grams at the same uni­ver­si­ty two weeks ear­li­er. Our friend­ship thus also began with iMes­sage, as we both hold iPhones and have laboured to craft a friend­ship inter­twined with emo­ji, blue con­ver­sa­tion bub­bles, and touch­screen-typed words. As our Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship evolves, we care for dif­fer­ent threads of our friend­ship dif­fer­ent­ly: we pull at the “aca­d­e­m­ic” threads of our con­stant col­lab­o­ra­tions as we trace how our schol­ar­ly projects con­verse and diverge. We tug at fric­tions, won­der­ing how we might main­tain the ten­sion in our friendship–the uneven con­se­quences, the dif­fer­ent­ly risky labour, and the work of forg­ing female mil­len­ni­al Indige­nous-set­tler bonds that might cul­ti­vate futures. We car­ry our iPhones every day, tend­ing to the words we share with one anoth­er, just as we crit­i­cal­ly trace how this tech­nol­o­gy affects our work togeth­er. Impor­tant­ly, we do not wish to fore­ground iMessage–the patent­ed and mon­e­tized tech­no­log­i­cal inter­face that enables our dig­i­tal conversations–as a mag­i­cal or excep­tion­al par­tic­i­pant in our friend­ship. Our iMes­sag­ing is sit­u­at­ed, root­ed in Emily’s prac­tices of car­ry­ing her iPhone SE in her well-loved cross­body bag and Nicole’s habit of pop­ping her chipped iPhone 8 in her sports bra. In a world where our friend­ship evolved with a dif­fer­ent plat­form, per­haps text mes­sag­ing, What­sApp, or Face­book Mes­sen­ger might have also cared for our friendship.

In our prac­tice of iMes­sag­ing Indige­nous-set­tler mil­len­ni­al aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship, we con­front three threads that con­tin­u­al­ly inter­ject in our con­ver­sa­tions: (1) what hap­pens with our fleshy bod­ies when we con­nect with iMes­sage; (2) how our co-cre­at­ed, but uncom­mon, iMes­sage-body exchanges are an exper­i­ment with poten­tial modes of Indige­nous-set­tler aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship; (3) and how our iMes­sag­ing prac­tice makes real the aca­d­e­m­ic futures that we hope, and need, to con­tribute to. As a response, we trace the rhythms of our iMes­sage friend­ship and we imag­ine what, and how, our aca­d­e­m­ic bod­ies are capa­ble of cre­at­ing with iMes­sage: how might the­o­riz­ing through gifs and memes cre­ate degrees of rela­tion­al­i­ty that lend space for us to put our the­o­ret­i­cal loy­al­ties, from Indige­nous fem­i­nisms (see Arvin, Tuck, and Mor­rill, “Decol­o­niz­ing fem­i­nism”; Goe­man and Denet­dale, “Native fem­i­nisms”; Simp­son, “Anger, resent­ment & love”) to fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies (see Roy, “Somat­ic mat­ters”; Warin, “Mate­r­i­al fem­i­nism, obe­si­ty sci­ence, and the lim­its of dis­cur­sive cri­tique”; Wil­son, Gut fem­i­nism; Wil­ley, Undo­ing monogamy) into con­ver­sa­tion, while colo­nial techno­sciences con­cur­rent­ly con­tribute to the ongo­ing mar­gin­al­iza­tion of Indige­nous bod­ies in acad­e­mia? How can the iMes­saged space, open and closed, in our friend­ship enable us to be atten­tive to the dis­junc­tures between Indige­nous knowl­edges and fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies, and to return con­tin­u­al­ly to these ten­sions to move with their uncer­tain poten­tial­i­ties? Can we think of iMes­sage as a mode of friend­ship that is poten­tial­ly capa­ble of chal­leng­ing set­tler-colo­nial nor­ma­tiv­i­ties and tem­po­ral­i­ties1 of aca­d­e­m­ic relat­ing, while attend­ing to the com­plex­i­ties of our bod­ied life­worlds as we iMes­sage our (dig­i­tal) flesh, futu­ri­ties, and friendship?

Over three days, we combed through our his­to­ries of iMes­sag­ing, lay­er­ing upon what we know in our bod­ies to be gen­er­a­tive con­ver­sa­tions and artic­u­la­tions of how iMes­sag­ing is an exper­i­ment in crit­i­cal rela­tion­al­i­ty. In what fol­lows, please find traces of both our iMes­sages and our indi­vid­ual aca­d­e­m­ic writ­ing prac­tices. We write with for­mal bod­ies of text and iMes­sages as we thread flesh through our emo­jis and trace the con­tours of our bod­ied ten­sions through dig­i­tal con­ver­sa­tion. At points we claim our writ­ing with our names, while in oth­er moments we write togeth­er as we tog­gle between respond­ing to one anoth­er and devel­op­ing our the­o­riz­ing inde­pen­dent­ly. We invite a read­ing of our iMes­sages along­side our para­graphs of text, but we also offer a for­mat­ting exper­i­ment that allows for an uneven atten­tion to either aspect of our iMessaged/written per­for­mance. Our iMes­sage con­ver­sa­tions are dot­ted with Emily’s grey mes­sage blocks and Nicole’s blue blocks. Embrac­ing iMes­sage as a form of colo­nial tech­nol­o­gy that cares for our con­ver­sa­tions, we work towards a mil­len­ni­al the­o­riza­tion and visu­al­iza­tion of friend­ship and sol­i­dar­i­ty in acad­e­mia. Togeth­er, and apart, we exper­i­ment with how iMes­sag­ing is, and might be, pro­duc­tive of co-cre­ative, rela­tion­al, propul­sive provo­ca­tions for explor­ing the futu­ri­ties of (our) Indige­nous-set­tler (mil­len­ni­al) friendship(s) in academia.

iMessaging (Not/Digital) Flesh

iMessage (Re)mapping Bodies


I have cou­pled the prax­is of (re)mapping from Seneca schol­ar Mishua­na Goe­man (Mark my Words) with a Drum-work method­ol­o­gy to explore and expand the ways urban bod­ies engage with their iden­ti­ties, kin­ship rela­tion­ships, and the land. Locat­ing my work in Kingston, Ontario is sig­nif­i­cant, as this is a city sat­u­rat­ed in set­tler-colo­nial per­ma­nence: a place where (Sir) John A. Mac­Don­ald is toast­ed each year on his birth­day, tours of Kingston Pen­i­ten­tiary are eager­ly antic­i­pat­ed and quick­ly sold out, and Indige­nous cul­ture, rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and peo­ples are erased. Being Indige­nous in this city is not easy. With­in set­tler-colo­nial log­ic, Indige­nous bod­ies are dis­sect­ed into man­age­able cuts of (non)belongingness. Our bod­ies and lands are ren­dered into emp­ty spaces, eas­i­ly mapped with set­tler notions of pow­er and criss­crossed with bina­ries of inclusion/exclusion.

Can the frag­ment­ed-tem­po­ral-shift­ing snap­shots of con­tem­po­rary Indige­nous iden­ti­ties shared though dig­i­tal iMes­sag­ing bod­ies begin to ease the clutch­es of set­tler colo­nial­ism? My remap­ping of Drum-work method­ol­o­gy fights to leave vibra­tional traces that smudge divid­ing lines of racism, lay­er­ing decolo­nial rela­tion­al­i­ties over set­tler spa­tial­i­ties to rup­ture colo­nial­ism and allow Indige­nous sto­ries to (re)emerge. iMes­sag­ing, con­fig­ured as dig­i­tal flesh, has become a pock­et of resur­gent poten­tial­i­ty in my research–recording drum­ming-laugh­ing-singing voic­es, cap­tur­ing fuzzy pic­tures of drum­sticks con­nect­ing with deer hide, and send­ing those moments to the phones of com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and friends with whom we walk this land. Think­ing with bod­ies differently–human bod­ies, Drum bod­ies, land bod­ies, iPhone bodies–matters as we work togeth­er to gen­er­ate a resur­gent prac­tice of com­mu­ni­ty that can flour­ish in the shad­ows of lime­stone walls and blos­som in the bar­ren waste­lands of impov­er­ished neigh­bour­hoods, shat­ter­ing the dam­ag­ing nar­ra­tives and stereo­types being told about us and re-writ­ing those sto­ries with our con­tem­po­rary iMes­sag­ing bodies.

iMessage Muscles


Thumbs are my favourite dig­it, the anatom­i­cal artic­u­la­tion point that most cap­tures my atten­tion: my thumb can cir­cumduct, rotat­ing around its base, sketch­ing tiny cir­cles into the air; it cra­dles the cor­ners of my iPhone in its pudgy mus­cle bel­lies; it abducts and adducts as I touch my pinky fin­ger and bounce my thumb back across my palm; it taps out let­ters and emo­jis, leav­ing smudged greasy thumb prints across my iPhone screen; my exten­sor pol­li­cis longus ten­don pulls my thumb upwards as I type words I care for deeply; and it fatigues as marathon iMes­sag­ing ses­sions gain momen­tum. I often watch how my thumbs move across space–become displaced–when Emi­ly and I iMes­sage, and I debate often what the move­ment that ceas­es in this dis­place­ment entails (see Man­ning, “Won­der­ing the world direct­ly”)? How are my thumbs doing (with) this move­ment: how are iMes­sag­ing mus­cles? My mus­cles are nev­er abstract and they refuse to be rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al, and my dig­its are entan­gled with the digitalism(s) of my iPhone. To say that my mus­cles make move­ments that become trans­lat­ed into words that anoth­er pur­pose­ful mus­cle con­trac­tion then beams off to Emi­ly seems not just inad­e­quate but incor­rect. Fol­low­ing Manning’s Rela­tion­scapes, I won­der how thumb-iMes­sage “move­ment is always in the infin­i­ty of a cross­roads between a where and a how, and nev­er a who” (167): how does iMes­sage do mus­cles? How does iMes­sage do with, or demand dif­fer­ent things from, my mus­cles, Emily’s mus­cles, or with our mus­cles (and bicep emo­jis) of Indige­nous-set­tler aca­d­e­m­ic friendship?

Han­nah Lan­deck­er writes of “fat knowl­edges” (“Postin­dus­tri­al Metab­o­lism” 498) as a mode for trac­ing the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal effects of adi­pose tis­sue while attend­ing to how fat knowl­edges gen­er­ate pos­si­bil­i­ties for life (as opposed to debat­ing what caus­es adi­pose tissue/metabolisms that then neces­si­tate inquiry). In my research, I bor­row fat knowl­edges into phys­i­o­log­i­cal knowledge(s), spec­u­lat­ing how phys­i­olo­gies gen­er­ate propo­si­tions with ear­ly-child­hood edu­ca­tion ped­a­go­gies. I trace how phys­i­o­log­i­cal knowl­edges might col­lab­o­rate with my iMes­sag­ing thumbs, with our iMes­saged Indige­nous-set­tler aca­d­e­m­ic friendship. 

A mus­cle-anato­my phys­i­o­log­i­cal knowl­edge makes my thumb mus­cles per­cep­ti­ble as parcels of con­trac­tile pro­teins that pro­duce con­trac­tile force. Con­trac­tile pro­teins that are made know­able as actin and myosin lay­er upon one anoth­er to form myofib­rils, which are knit­ted togeth­er to com­pose mus­cle fibres (see Krans, “The slid­ing fil­a­ment the­o­ry of mus­cle con­trac­tion”; McAr­dle, Katch, & Katch, Essen­tials of exer­cise phys­i­ol­o­gy). With this phys­i­o­log­i­cal knowl­edge, these active mus­cle fibres are fash­ioned togeth­er to com­pose a mus­cle bel­ly. With­in a mus­cle, actin and myosin myofil­a­ments meet and enact a cross­bridge, as myosin slides actin along the length of the actin fil­a­ment to gen­er­ate motion. This actin-myosin cross­bridg­ing entails a slid­ing of fil­a­ments, a coor­di­nat­ed but asyn­chro­nous bridg­ing tedious­ly enact­ed across a mul­ti­tude of bridges and through many mus­cle fibres to pro­pel my thumbs. Actin-myosin cross­bridg­ing: my thumb mus­cles are a cas­cade, a tor­rent of col­lec­tive force that par­tic­i­pates in my iMes­saged words to Emi­ly. With phys­i­o­log­i­cal knowl­edges of aer­o­bic metab­o­lism and adeno­sine triphos­phate ener­gy mol­e­cules, I won­der iMes­sage as a space “where the messy grooves of our organs present open­ings with­out clear end­ings” (Roy, “Somat­ic Mat­ters” para. 3): when I beam Emi­ly a cita­tion that I am cap­tured by, what are my thumb mus­cles entan­gled with? How am I account­able to the shared, gath­ered, and fleet­ing elec­tron ener­gies and non-Nicole mov­ing thumb mus­cles that iMes­sage col­lab­o­rates with–to my iMes­saged coex­ten­sive­ness? I mar­vel at how the col­lec­tive con­trac­tions of my thumbs against my iPhone, of our thumbs against dif­fer­ent iPhones, dis­rupt Euro-West­ern nar­ra­tives of bound­ed human skele­tons or of flesh that can be con­tained, con­trolled, and commodified.

iMessaging (Indigenous-settler) Friendship

We hold our friend­ship between our bod­ies but we can­not write about friend­ship with­out cen­ter­ing the friend­ships that cir­cle our under­stand­ing of what friend­ship demands. We have many mil­len­ni­al female aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship cita­tions that escape cita­tion­al­i­ty, both because we live them and because we wit­ness friend­ships lived on Twit­ter and in arti­cles writ­ten by schol­ars we have nev­er met. How might we cite friend­ships that unknow­ing­ly build up our friend­ship? We take great inspi­ra­tion from Bil­ly-Ray Bel­court and Mau­ra Roberts’ con­ver­sa­tions on car­ing for friend­ship kin capa­ble of weath­er­ing the mess­es of set­tler colo­nial­ism (“Mak­ing Friends”); from Zoe Todd (@ZoeSTodd) and Eri­ca Vio­let Lee’s (@EricaVioletLee) Twit­ter storms of build­ing Indige­nous fem­i­nist friend­ship; from the heart­break­ing­ly tough and nec­es­sary writ­ing of Nao­mi Say­ers (@kwetoday) and Sarah Hunt (@thesarahhunt) as they both cel­e­brate and fight for the lives of Indige­nous sex work­ers, trans folk, and Two Spir­it youth who face unimag­in­able vio­lence and stig­ma in this coun­try; and from Susan Blight (@Blightboo) and Melody Mck­iv­er (@m_melody) swap­ping resur­gent Nish words over Twit­ter and con­sid­er­ing Anishi­naabeg gov­er­nance over Snapchat voice chang­er. We are learn­ing to write our Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship into words from Cathy Richard­son and Vic­ki Reynolds (“Here we are, amaz­ing­ly alive”), from Eli­cia Loiselle, San­d­ri­na de Finney, Nishad Khan­na, and Rebec­ca Cor­co­ran (“We need to talk about it!”), and from Te Kawe­hau Hoskins and Ali­son Jones (“Lessons in flu­id encounters”).

Keeping Sweetgrass iMessage Tensions


Keep­ing the ten­sion in our friend­ship imme­di­ate­ly brings an image of a taut rope to mind: frayed pieces entan­gled and twist­ed togeth­er, a back and forth exchange of ener­gy, ideas, and mar­gar­i­tas. Nicole at one end and me at the other.

To echo the words of Bil­ly-Ray Bel­court (“Mak­ing Friends”), doing decol­o­niz­ing work feels selfish–centring my Indige­nous body, my Hau­denosaunee knowl­edge sys­tems, my expan­sive kin­ship net­works, and the land in spaces where that intel­lect is ren­dered worth­less, myth­i­cal, and irrel­e­vant in favour of white bod­ies and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion rhetoric—and end­less­ly exhaust­ing. Every breath I take is an act of resis­tance, refusal, survival–my body con­stant­ly coiled with the ten­sion of exist­ing in a world where I should not. Keep­ing the ten­sion is a chore I have no choice but to per­form every­day: vac­u­um the car­pet, dust the shelves, scour “hon­ourary” appro­pri­a­tion, mop up set­tler tears. Yet I know how to walk and talk as a func­tion­al Cana­di­an because Indi­an bod­ies have been assim­i­lat­ed to do so. Doing decol­o­niza­tion work and bring­ing my decol­o­niz­ing self into this iMes­sag­ing friend­ship means learn­ing how to nav­i­gate the com­plex anx­i­ety of call­ing out “set­tler moves to inno­cence” (Tuck and Yang, “Decol­o­niza­tion is not a metaphor”), unapolo­get­i­cal­ly carv­ing out space for ances­tral ontolo­gies (see Simp­son, Danc­ing on our turtle’s back and “Land as ped­a­gogy”; Watts, “Indige­nous place-thought & agency amongst humans and non-humans”), and ten­ta­tive­ly-care­ful­ly-deter­mined­ly press­ing send on iMes­sages that trans­form an easy, roman­ti­cized friend­ship into a pro­duc­tive­ly com­plex one that nur­tures the ten­sion of expand­ing our com­radery as Indige­nous and set­tler friends.

This friend­ship is a space I return to again and again, because it stands firm in remind­ing me of what I am fight­ing for. It holds space for me to flesh out the resur­gent future I am dream­ing of and gen­er­ates space for me to iMes­sage my way towards a more inclu­sive real­i­ty. iMes­sage is a place where I do not have to explain why I choose to pick up decol­o­niza­tion while refus­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion; a place where I can com­plain about being skirt-shamed and then strate­gize ways to (re)embrace my Indige­nous fem­i­nisms (see Lee, “Seek spaces of Indige­nous Fem­i­nist lib­er­a­tion with­out com­pro­mise”; Simp­son, Danc­ing on our turtle’s back; Todd, “Moon lodge this way”) in the face of inter­nal­ized Indi­an Act tra­di­tion­al­ism and misog­y­ny. The friend­ship nego­ti­at­ed between Indige­nous-Emi­ly and set­tler-Nicole is not afraid to pick up rigid bound­ary lines and jump rope with them, to utter the raw words of priv­i­lege that are often swept under the ally­ship rug, to expose the painful and resilient real­i­ties of co-exist­ing as uneven bod­ies in this set­tler-colo­nial nation-state called Canada.

While keep­ing the ten­sion in my social life is masked as an ugly oblig­a­tion, keep­ing the ten­sion in this friend­ship makes it eas­i­er to face the ten­sions that are wait­ing out­side of our iMes­sag­ing bub­bles. As Eri­ca Vio­let Lee (“Seek spaces of Indige­nous Fem­i­nist lib­er­a­tion with­out com­pro­mise”) calls for Indige­nous women to find spaces that smell like sweet­grass, nur­tur­ing and hold­ing up this friend­ship smells like sweet­grass. Car­ry­ing the sweet­ness of this iMes­sag­ing friend­ship in my pock­et, I am remind­ed of the chal­leng­ing gen­eros­i­ty we con­tin­ue to nego­ti­ate as we dream, cre­ate, and fight our way for­wards as Indige­nous and set­tler friends.

Keeping Demanding iMessage Tensions


I can­not think the con­cept of “ten­sion” with­out “exten­sion” inter­ject­ing. I thread back to marathon anato­my study ses­sions dur­ing my under­grad­u­ate degree, mem­o­riz­ing quan­tifi­ca­tions of what mus­cles can do. I rehearsed my exten­sion def­i­n­i­tion count­less times: mov­ing a limb into exten­sion inten­si­fies the angle between body parts. Anato­my-exten­sion extends as it acti­vates length­en­ing con­trac­tion ten­sion in mus­cles (see McAr­dle, Katch, & Katch, Essen­tials of exer­cise phys­i­ol­o­gy; Unglaub Sil­ver­thorn, Human phys­i­ol­o­gy: An inte­grat­ed approach). When I grip my iPhone in my palm and extend my elbow, my hand trav­els toward my waist, expand­ing the space between my shoul­der and my fin­gers. When I do exten­sion with our Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship, what hap­pens? I think first of exten(d)sion; a stretch­ing, a mov­ing into the felt pres­sure of ten­sion in a mus­cle bel­ly and in friend­ship. As a white set­tler, our friend­ship moves my body into dif­fer­ent­ly-per­cep­ti­ble tension(s). For me, this is less a ques­tion of nam­ing these ten­sions than it is a ques­tion of account­abil­i­ty, of being response-able (Har­away, “Anthro­pocene”) to the ten­sions that Emi­ly and I gen­er­ate togeth­er. Our friend­ship extends the spaces of ten­sion that my set­tler body can inhab­it, gen­er­ous­ly extend­ing my pos­si­bil­i­ties for par­tic­i­pat­ing in deset­t­ler­ing, anti-neolib­er­al, inven­tive pol­i­tics. In the same pulse, the ten­sions I can extend into are nec­es­sar­i­ly lim­it­ed. I think of Erin Manning’s artic­u­la­tion of an emer­gent pol­i­tics, where “it’s the move­ment of thought pulled forth from the rela­tions of ten­sion that make up the work” (“Cre­ative propo­si­tions for thought in motion”, 16). It is how the Emi­ly-Nicole friend­ship extends my/our ten­sions that actu­al­ly cre­ate the ten­sions that Emi­ly and I con­front in our Indige­nous-set­tler friendship. 

It mat­ters that the space of ten­sion is between us, just as extend­ing my elbow is filled with dif­fer­ent poten­tial than when I extend my knee. This is our exten­sion, one that I have to make tense because our ten­sion demands account­abil­i­ty. This ten­sion, our rela­tion­al space of co-cre­at­ed, uneven, nour­ish­ing ten­sion, needs to be cared for because it is what we have in (un)common. We are gen­er­at­ing a col­lec­tive but un-share­able node of ten­sion, a Emi­ly-Nicole ten­sion, where the ten­sion demands that I can only ever strain against a small frac­tion of the mess­es of ongo­ing set­tler colo­nial­ism. I know that there is an unimag­in­able mass of ten­sions that my body being on this stolen land engenders–for Emi­ly, for myself, for all of the peo­ple and lives that I might nev­er meet–but that to keep the ten­sion demands that I make the ten­sion per­cep­ti­ble and trace how I make ten­sions matter.

My eth­ic of car­ing for ten­sion echoes Isabelle Stengers, who argues that those who are embed­ded with­in a delim­it­ed geneal­o­gy of knowl­edge must nev­er “con­sid­er that prob­lems ‘are’ trans­ver­sal, but see that con­nec­tions are some­thing that must be cre­at­ed … this is the only way of suc­ceed­ing in cre­at­ing prob­lems rather than receiv­ing them ready­made” (“His­to­ry” 9). I do not assume that there should be ten­sion at the heart of Emi­ly-Nicole friend­ships, nor that the ten­sion we have cul­ti­vat­ed will endure; if I let my extend­ed elbow dan­gle by my side, it is no longer loaded with the same elas­tic ener­gy. I also do not assume that Emi­ly should con­front the ten­sions I cre­ate. Rather, I take ten­sion as some­thing that requires tend­ing: extend. Keep­ing the ten­sion then, for me, is a prac­tice of exten­sion (of limbs and friend­ship). It mat­ters to our friend­ship that I bring phys­i­ol­o­gy to this arti­cle, a knowl­edge built upon the voyeurism of colo­nial sci­en­tists who craft­ed a knowl­edge on the un-con­sent­ing flesh of minori­tized humans and ani­mals, but also a knowl­edge that, as a set­tler, I have been trained in (or financed into)—a knowl­edge that I must claim in order to dis­rupt (Wil­ley). Keep­ing the ten­sion as friend­ship: extending, exten­sion, extend.

Deploying Friendship Tension

Emi­ly + Nicole

We are in the for­est with a group we know well. Emi­ly is Drum­ming, Nicole is kick­ing a deflat­ed soc­cer ball, and a stranger inter­jects, ask­ing Emi­ly about Drum. I notice this lady imme­di­ate­ly, and am very aware of how loud­ly she is crash­ing through the for­est to get to me/us. I do not have to notice the pres­ence of this inter­jec­tor imme­di­ate­ly, as I am focused on the mov­ing bod­ies and rhythms that sur­round Drum. The lady approach­es me and I am imme­di­ate­ly uncom­fort­able with how close she is to my body and to Drum’s body. I catch her dis­rup­tion when I hear a strange adult voice over the sound of children’s boots on the for­est floor. I try to move back­wards as her hand reach­es out to touch Drum. I look over and see Emi­ly wrap her arms, shoul­ders, neck over Drum. I look around to see if any­one else has noticed the enti­tled human stand­ing in front of me, ask­ing too many ques­tions and caus­ing my heart to pound hard­er in my chest. I share eye con­tact with a col­league as I debate if I should inter­rupt this con­ver­sa­tion, try­ing to assess what my inter­jec­tion might pause. I find angry looks being thrown at the unwel­come stranger by col­leagues’ eyes. I wor­ry about the lim­it­ed words that I might put togeth­er acci­den­tal­ly cam­ou­flag­ing Emily’s refusal or some­how set­tler-soft­en­ing the pow­er of con­fronta­tion for this stranger and I stay crouched on the for­est floor. I feel a numb cold­ness flow through my blood, par­a­lyzed by the unex­pect­ed­ness of her pres­ence, her ques­tions, her body too close to mine; while this hap­pens more than I care to admit, I am thrown off-guard by her appear­ance in the for­est with rag­ing words refus­ing to tum­ble off my tongue. I am so unsure how to nego­ti­ate ally­ship when I haven’t been invit­ed into this encounter, and as I debate why I am allow­ing my need for a sig­nal to silence friend­ship, I do not move. I hasti­ly turn away from the woman, the unease of this encounter lin­ger­ing, her thick French accent creep­ing along my skin, unset­tling anx­i­ety burn­ing in my body. 

This moment lingers as I pick Drum up in pub­lic spaces, fear prick­ling in my mind when I raise my voice to match Drum’s heart­beat, dread­ing the next set­tler intru­sion into these moments of cer­e­mo­ny. Scrolling through the words so care­ful­ly writ­ten by Indige­nous women, I have found a strange and unex­pect­ed com­fort in know­ing that I am not alone in these inva­sive encoun­ters. Unrav­el­ing this set­tler enti­tle­ment to Indige­nous bod­ies, Eri­ca Vio­let Lee shares how “bead­ed ear­rings are “beau­ti­ful” mag­nets for white folks who can nev­er resist grab­bing at our ears with­out our con­sent, as if they expect we’re made of the same hard plas­tic as the lit­tle Indi­an dolls sold in Cana­di­ana gift shops” (Lee, “My ances­tors sur­vived col­o­niza­tion” para 20.). White hands reach out to claim flesh that was nev­er meant to sur­vive under the poli­cies of the Indi­an Act.

This moment lingers while I hear Te Kawe­hau Hoskins and Ali­son Jones (“Lessons”) speak of uneven risk as a ques­tion made real in Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship. I trace how my set­tler body nec­es­sar­i­ly con­fronts a dif­fer­ent regime of risk than Emi­ly, a (de)settler “risk” that (absurd­ly) allows for me to even debate my participation.

I know that I did not want, or need, a set­tler sav­iour to brave­ly fly in and save me from the white hands that felt enti­tled to my Indi­an body. Yet I grap­ple with the bud­ding ten­sions that emerged in our Indige­nous-Emi­ly and set­tler-Nicole friend­ship, where bound­aries between help and safe­ty became blur­ry: what do I expect/demand/need from a rad­i­cal friend­ship that is com­mit­ted to sol­i­dar­i­ty? Reflect­ing on this moment, I did not want anoth­er set­tler body to take up space, but my best friend heart ached at Emi­ly describ­ing the mag­ni­tude of the dis­rup­tion, the vio­lence it did to her resur­gent decolo­nial self-love, and we debat­ed what our friend­ship asks of one anoth­er in places with lim­it­ed space: what do I need if I want to care for rad­i­cal friend­ships that tru­ly keep the ten­sion, even when trac­ing ten­sion becomes very (uneven­ly) tough? We cre­at­ed ways of cop­ing-attend­ing-deploy­ing togeth­er, with iMes­sag­ing the ten­sions; we iMes­saged for hours, days, and even weeks and months through this encounter, imag­in­ing what it demands of our Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship. We are still unsure what the pos­si­bil­i­ties for deploy­ing our ten­sions, with­out always know­ing what our ten­sions are capa­ble of, might entail. We debate our process­es of friend­ship and iMes­sage through our deploy­ing of the ten­sions we keep in a pro­duc­tive, safe, politi­cized, con­fronting, and imper­fect way; we fore­ground deploy­ing our ten­sions, not ten­sions we have deployed.

iMessaging (Our Feminisms + Academic) Futurities

iMessaging (as) Survivorship Futurities


I refuse to enter­tain an illu­sion of “decol­o­niz­ing the acad­e­my.” My decol­o­niz­ing projects will not attend to the dis­man­tling of a colo­nial insti­tu­tion. Yet as an Indige­nous woman who haunts the hall­ways of the ivory tow­er, I demand an acad­e­mia that is soft­er, more for­giv­ing, and account­able. This aca­d­e­m­ic world is always in flux, expand­ing into new fields of study and proud­ly pro­claim­ing the inno­va­tion of their care­ful­ly cho­sen students–how is it that Indige­nous intel­li­gence is still re-labelled with colo­nial the­o­ret­i­cal titles? In the face of rapid­ly spread­ing knowl­edge about the cul­tur­al geno­cide of res­i­den­tial schools (see Sin­clair, Wil­son and Lit­tlechild, Hon­our­ing the truth, rec­on­cil­ing for the future), and the incor­po­ra­tion of land acknowl­edg­ments into uni­ver­si­ty pro­to­col, why do Indige­nous stu­dents con­tin­ue to grap­ple with the debil­i­tat­ing anx­i­eties of nav­i­gat­ing post-sec­ondary edu­ca­tion? You can­not dis­pos­sess us from our lands, wrap up our iden­ti­ties with assim­ila­tive Indi­an Act poli­cies, and then laugh when you try to ruin our bod­ies in acad­e­mia. Cana­di­an uni­ver­si­ties are built on ances­tral bones, stand on top of bloody lega­cies, and inter­rupt land ped­a­go­gies (see Simp­son, “Land as ped­a­gogy”) with man­i­cured green­spaces creep­ing with Eng­lish ivy. I need an acad­e­mia that is steeped in respon­si­bil­i­ty to Indige­nous peo­ples, cleav­ing open room for sur­vivor­ship while work­ing dili­gent­ly to move beyond this. 

Speak­ing to sur­vivor­ship in acad­e­mia means gen­er­at­ing space for the com­plex­i­ties of Indige­nous love and pain–not a pain that is expect­ed from set­tlers with an “at risk” label, greed­i­ly gob­bled up as a cer­tifi­cate of lived Indige­nous authen­tic­i­ty (see Tuck and Yang, R-words), or even one that is eas­i­ly dis­missed with an impa­tient eye roll. I need space for the ten­sions of being an Indige­nous body swim­ming in a sea of white the­o­rists, white the­o­ries, and white class­rooms. I need an acad­e­mia that is not afraid to cen­tre the pain-full, anx­i­ety-rid­dled, extra­or­di­nar­i­ly resilient expe­ri­ences of Indige­nous peo­ples, unrav­el­ing this expec­ta­tion that Indige­nous minds do not belong in “high­er” colo­nial edu­ca­tion systems.

A sur­vivor­ship aca­d­e­m­ic futu­ri­ty is both rad­i­cal and gen­tle; a decolo­nial love cou­pled with pain and rage (see Flow­ers, “Refusal to for­give”) will unapolo­get­i­cal­ly push against the restric­tive rules of acad­e­mia, elbow­ing appro­pria­tive the­o­ret­i­cal books in the spine, speak­ing jus­ti­fi­ably angry words that unplug fin­gers from igno­rant set­tler ears–making space and demand­ing space for itself in insti­tu­tions sim­mer­ing with impa­tience, fear and hate. The embod­ied ethics I expect from my cor­ner of the acad­e­my is for Indige­nous sur­vivor­ship to be present in our uni­ver­si­ties, root­ing our aca­d­e­m­ic futu­ri­ties in gen­tle kind­ness and ten­der gen­eros­i­ty (see Jus­tice, “Car­ry­ing the fire”).

As mil­len­ni­al female grad­u­ate stu­dents, Nicole and I have iMes­saged exten­sive­ly about our respec­tive expe­ri­ences as fem­i­nist women in the acad­e­my. Our emo­ji-stud­ded con­ver­sa­tions repeat­ed­ly return to the ethics and prac­tices we hope to embody as emerg­ing writ­ers, researchers, and instruc­tors; our iMes­sag­ing rela­tion­ship hints at the aca­d­e­m­ic futu­ri­ties we both dream of as rad­i­cal Indige­nous and set­tler allies. As I seek to (re)map dis­sect­ed Indige­nous bod­ies, and Nicole aims to engage fat­ty-mov­ing-muscling bod­ies, we each tend to our respec­tive fem­i­nisms that inspire us to research bod­ies dif­fer­ent­ly. Envi­sion­ing an aca­d­e­m­ic world that refus­es the per­ma­nence of cis-het­ero-white-set­tler-men with our fem­i­nist “soft­ness,” we embrace the destruc­tive strength of our men­stru­al cramps, the pow­er of our per­fect­ly timed egg­plant emo­jis, and the ass-kick­ing abil­i­ties of our moc­casin boots and Birken­stocks, as we take on the tired, old ways of doing in the academy.

iMessaging (as) Transdisciplinary Futurities


The word “trans­dis­ci­pli­nary” makes 12 appear­ances in my lat­est dis­ser­ta­tion arti­cle draft. My trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty owes to numer­ous bril­liant fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies and fem­i­nist new mate­ri­alisms schol­ars, as I echo their calls to fash­ion “incor­po­ra­tions, appro­pri­a­tions, and rere­cord­ings of inher­it­ed dis­cours­es in affec­tive trans­dis­ci­pli­nary labour” (Roosth and Schrad­er 6) capa­ble of cul­ti­vat­ing “epis­te­mo­log­i­cal­ly eclec­tic mode[s] of engag­ing with the body” (Pol­lock 3). I am so inspired by invi­ta­tions to make cri­tiques of Euro-West­ern sci­ences pro­lif­er­ate and be bod­ied oth­er­wise (see Wil­ley), to trace ped­a­go­gies as they ani­mate phys­i­olo­gies (Lenz Taguchi, “The con­cept as method), and to inhab­it the bor­ders of dom­i­nant dis­ci­pli­nary silos (Stengers, “Intro­duc­to­ry notes on an ecol­o­gy of prac­tices”). I can endeav­or to do this in my research and craft pro­duc­tive, rig­or­ous, pre­car­i­ous amal­ga­ma­tions of trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty; I can acti­vate what an imme­di­ate­ly acces­si­ble aca­d­e­m­ic trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty might ask of me. In doing so, I often fall into draw­ing finessed onto-epis­te­mo­log­i­cal loops around my trans­dis­ci­pli­nary imag­in­ings as I par­tic­i­pate in an excit­ing but coher­ent trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty. This is my prac­ticed short­com­ing, not that of the fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies, fem­i­nist new mate­ri­alisms, or post-qual­i­ta­tive edu­ca­tion schol­ars I owe. Although the parts of my trans­dis­ci­pli­nary bun­dles might pro­found­ly trou­ble one anoth­er, it remains that these dual/multiple knowl­edge frag­ments are made per­cep­ti­ble and hos­pitable to one anoth­er when I trans­form them into text. That phys­i­olo­gies and ped­a­go­gies can forge col­lec­tive provo­ca­tions is the crux of my doc­tor­al research, which assumes the pos­si­bil­i­ty of trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty and requires a spe­cif­ic sort of trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty. While I work hard to artic­u­late method­olog­i­cal exper­i­ments that do not “approach prac­tices as they are–physics as we know it, for instance–but as they may become” (Stengers, “Intro­duc­to­ry Notes” 186) and ori­ent toward pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and prob­lems rather than mount­ing mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary response-solu­tions to prob­lems of ped­a­go­gies and phys­i­olo­gies, I won­der how I dou­ble back on myself to tie togeth­er bun­dles of a very par­tial sort of transdisciplinarity.

When Emi­ly and I iMes­sage trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty, we are not doing a trans­dis­cip­inar­i­ty where each moment, nor the con­tent of each mes­sage, is whol­ly intel­li­gi­ble to anoth­er. Emi­ly and her Indige­nous fem­i­nisms and resur­gent (re)mapping inter­ven­tions do not dia­logue with ease with myself and my post-qual­i­ta­tive ear­ly-child­hood edu­ca­tion fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies alle­giances. There exists no man­age­able cross-talk, no tra­vers­ing of a par­al­lel dis­ci­pli­nary plane. We are typ­ing into prac­tice a tense–an extended–transdisciplinarity, one where what it is to tran­sit and what it is to be dis­ci­pli­nary are craft­ed dif­fer­ent­ly and momen­tar­i­ly (Lath­er, “Top ten+ list”). In our con­ver­sa­tions, move­ment requires dig­i­tal space, the fast taps of our thumbs, and fleshed intel­lec­tu­al motion across onto­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal spaces that nec­es­sar­i­ly refuse entrance (or that we refuse to tres­pass) and force us to work in the spaces where we become incom­pre­hen­si­ble to one anoth­er. I think of the “trans” in our trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty as a pre­cise mode of mov­ing, of “pol­i­tics as move­ment, not as ‘a’ move­ment, [where] we open it to the out­side rather than under­stand it as an intrin­sic, pre­de­ter­mined rela­tion­ship. This is not a pol­i­tics that rests on rep­re­sent­ing or speak­ing for a sin­gle group of peo­ple to a wider audi­ence, but is ground­ed in bring­ing bod­ies togeth­er in and through space” (Rotas and Spring­gay 386). This tran­sit demands imme­di­a­cy, unin­tel­li­gi­bil­i­ty, and account­abil­i­ty, but it nev­er expects that this answer­abil­i­ty will ever rest with one of us hold­ing the oth­er to account; it is an account­abil­i­ty to what we nego­ti­ate togeth­er, not an expec­ta­tion that account­abil­i­ty will emerge by virtue of our being in dig­i­tal con­ver­sa­tion. Our iMes­sag­ing trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty needs to be con­tent in being unable to tran­sit, as Emi­ly and I often find our­selves say­ing to one anoth­er “I have absolute­ly no idea what that means for your project, but I would think the prob­lem like this…”. 

Our iMes­sages are filled with arti­facts, from GIFs to aca­d­e­m­ic quotes, screen cap­tures of Twit­ter threads to moments of writer’s block, emo­jis to lengthy nar­ra­tives about our research days. We are dis­ci­pli­nary, but loy­al to the dis­ci­plines beget by the ten­sions we keep and deploy in our friend­ship con­ver­sa­tions. We are aca­d­e­m­ic, but per­haps not in a way the acad­e­my might wel­come (or pub­lish). I think of Haraway’s artic­u­la­tion of ten­tac­u­lar think­ing, of the need to gen­er­ate modes of col­lec­tive inquiry that cul­ti­vate prac­tices that “make a dif­fer­ence, they weave paths and con­se­quences but not deter­min­ism” (Stay­ing 31). I imag­ine our iMes­sages lay­er­ing on top of ten­tac­u­lar think­ing, an iPhone screen-pro­tec­tor sheen of par­tial­i­ty; our iMes­saged trans­disi­pli­nar­i­ty is about paths and con­se­quences but also about the uneven imper­fec­tions of the paths and con­se­quences we gen­er­ate togeth­er (see Hoskins and Jones, “Lessons in flu­id encoun­ters”). Our iMes­saged trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty is hard, and it often undoes my crit­i­cal ear­ly child­hood and fem­i­nist sci­ence stud­ies propo­si­tions as they are in the process of unfurl­ing. My iMes­saged trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty is not often Emily’s iMes­saged trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty. We do a trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty that expos­es my words to the trou­ble in being trans­dis­ci­pli­nary in mil­len­ni­al Indige­nous-set­tler aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ships. It high­lights how the work in which I invest calls for increased aca­d­e­m­ic trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty and can be com­plic­it in per­pet­u­at­ing exist­ing forms of schol­ar­ly engage­ment and con­ver­sa­tion; it also makes clear how col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly diver­gent trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ties are already thread­ed through our the­o­riz­ing and spurs me toward an eth­ic of trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty that allows for nei­ther the tran­sit nor dis­ci­plines that my set­tler body (of schol­ar­ship) knows now.

Writing Knowledge Futurities with iMessage


iMes­sag­ing has evolved into a space where words flow, ideas are fleshed out, and the block that exists between my heart, thoughts, and posed fin­ger­tips on lap­top keys dis­ap­pears. In acad­e­mia, the knowl­edge that escapes from the lips of Indige­nous women is often silenced. This era­sure, as a pur­pose­ful vio­lence enact­ed in the acad­e­my, mir­ror­ing the greater sys­temic issue of colo­nial gen­der-based vio­lence in Canada–where the rape, kid­nap­ping, and mur­der of tar­get­ed bod­ies is not just wide­spread, but nor­mal­ized (see Arvin, Tuck and Mor­rill; Simp­son, “Anger, resent­ment & love”).Turning to Face­book sta­tus updates, Insta­gram cap­tions, tweets, and blog posts, Indige­nous women have found “alter­na­tive” ways to raise their voic­es and hold up the endur­ing efforts and resilience of Indige­nous women, girls, and Two Spir­it folks in the midst of tar­get­ed vio­lence. Yet these meth­ods of shar­ing have also been cast aside as hold­ing lit­tle weight in the acad­e­my. As a young Indige­nous grad­u­ate stu­dent, I am end­less­ly inspired by the unapolo­getic fierce­ness and fear­less­ness of Indige­nous women and Two Spir­it schol­ars that are paving the way for me to do the same (@KimTallBear; @tuckeve; @justicedanielh; @apihtawikosisan; @sammynock; @BillyRayB; @kwetoday; @ZoeSTodd; @EricaVioletLee; @thesarahhunt; @betasamosake; @RedIndianGirl2). Col­lect­ing pieces of Indige­nous intel­li­gence and truths to store in my bun­dle, these women lend me life with their words, nudg­ing me to hold my head up high in this hos­tile world.

In light of this, I have found that the quick­ened pace and fleet­ing tem­po­ral­i­ty of iMes­sag­ing mat­ters for my writ­ing. I often feel dis­con­nect­ed from the rigid­i­ty of for­mal aca­d­e­m­ic writ­ing. The frus­tra­tion that mounts inside my body, as I stut­ter to trans­late heart knowl­edge and ances­tral teach­ings into aca­d­e­m­ic jar­gon is par­a­lyz­ing. I over­think every let­ter, los­ing myself in the process, allow­ing doubt, fear, and inse­cu­ri­ty to nav­i­gate and over­take my writ­ing. As a Hau­denosaunee woman, I gath­er inspi­ra­tion from how we are well-known for our lengthy cer­e­monies. As peo­ples of an oral cul­ture, every word we speak is sig­nif­i­cant, drip­ping with knowl­edge, care­ful­ly shared and craft­ed between gen­er­a­tions. In our Cre­ation Sto­ry, as Sky Woman danced and sang this world into exis­tence, she out­lined the orig­i­nal instruc­tions by which the Hau­denosaunee live their lives–we are the ones respon­si­ble for weav­ing a com­plex web of lov­ing kin­ship rela­tions. My body, my voice, and my words must be account­able to more than just the acad­e­my. As Nicole and I found our way to an iMes­sag­ing friend­ship that cares for our con­ver­sa­tions, I have found myself tip­toe­ing clos­er to a writ­ing prax­is that res­onates with my embod­ied Hau­denosaunee knowl­edge. iMes­sag­ing frag­ment­ed words, frac­tured ideas, and rel­e­vant memes carves open a path where my voice can flour­ish and my words are cra­dled in a dig­i­tal web of human inter­ac­tion. My writ­ing, freed from the heav­i­ness of colo­nial expec­ta­tion, is effort­less­ly trans­port­ed across the coun­try, instant­ly appear­ing in the Mes­sages app of Nicole’s iPhone–a space we both nur­ture so that my words are able to take on a per­sis­tence that defies the sys­temic silenc­ing and era­sure of Indige­nous women, girls, and Two Spir­it peo­ple in Canada.

Writing Careful Futurities with iMessage


Writ­ing arti­cles is immense­ly com­fort­ing to me. I take (often indul­gent) joy from fill­ing the vibrant white pages that live on my lap­top screen with words made of ped­a­gog­i­cal inquiry, Pho­to­shop art, schol­ars whose texts nour­ish me, and my own his­to­ries of knowl­edge. I am overt­ly aware that my cozy rela­tion­ship with writ­ing owes to the “per­cep­tu­al style and habits of see­ing” (Jack­son and Mazzei, Think­ing 134, orig­i­nal empha­sis) that I have been trained into; I am often remind­ed that I am in “grade 22,” hav­ing been, for my entire adult life, a con­stant­ly com­plic­it par­tic­i­pant in the dom­i­nant Euro-West­ern sys­tems of nor­ma­tive edu­ca­tion that my ances­tors built. I do not take the same com­fort in iMes­sag­ing as Emi­ly. iMes­sage demands of me a dif­fer­ent habit of see­ing, an inter­rup­tive per­cep­tu­al pace, and an unfa­mil­iar pat­tern of mak­ing words real (see Jack­son and Mazzei, “). Plug­ging on text into anoth­er”; Koro-Ljun­berg & MacLure, “Provo­ca­tions, re-un-visions, death, and oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties of “data””; Paci­ni-Ketch­abaw, Tay­lor, and Blaise, Decen­ter­ing the human in mul­ti­species ethno­gra­phies). We cul­ti­vate iMes­sage tem­pos that are both urgent and slow—urgent, as we pull out our iPhones in moments of cri­sis to tap into our col­lab­o­ra­tive brain trust, and with a slow­ness that for me res­onates with slow sci­ence as I work “to acti­vate the pos­si­ble, and not to describe the prob­a­ble, that is, to think sit­u­a­tions with and through their unknowns when I can feel them” (Stengers, “Anoth­er Sci­ence” 1). iMes­sage makes itself felt in a mode that co-writ­ing in a shared Word doc­u­ment does not. To sched­ule “iMes­sag­ing time” into my day feels ludi­crous, as our iMes­sag­ing has its own momen­tums that announce them­selves with phone vibra­tions and that ebb and flow in con­cert with the unfold­ing of our days. I car­ry our iMes­sage threads with me, pulling out my iPhone in the mid­dle of the gro­cery store to add to our con­ver­sa­tions about smash­ing the colo­nial het­eropa­tri­archy as I throw an indus­tri­al­ly farmed and water-devour­ing avo­ca­do in my bas­ket. Often I can­not iMes­sage per­fect­ly artic­u­lat­ed bun­dles of words, because my fin­gers are too cold to keep the pace. There is no “save” func­tion with iMes­sage, no space where my words hang in lim­bo on a page but not logged; I hit “send” and my think­ing tran­sits to Emi­ly. iMes­sage, then, enacts a cura­to­r­i­al care for our con­ver­sa­tions; it car­ries our chats, keep­ing them con­stant­ly with­in arm’s reach, while we nur­ture our own urgency that is patient and slow and gen­er­ous and contradictory. 

I re-read that para­graph and chuck­le at how so-called mil­len­ni­al it sounds. I always have my iPhone near me. We iMes­sage all the time. Such a sum­ma­ry lacks the pre­ci­sion with which Emi­ly and I iMes­sage, where we write with ten­sions that demand a gen­er­ous urgency. I think of Erin Manning’s imag­in­ing of an eth­ic of research-cre­ation per­for­mance that “is emer­gent anew each time, yet car­ries a pre­ci­sion of tech­nique” (“The Dance” 344), of how Eliz­a­beth Adams St. Pierre (2014) writes of her own col­lab­o­ra­tive poten­tial­i­ties “but only in a cer­tain way” (374), and how Eliz­a­beth Wil­son stakes a ter­rain that res­olute­ly “does endorse biol­o­gy” (27). Our iMes­sag­ing method­olo­gies are bound­ed dif­fer­ent­ly than those Man­ning, St. Pierre, or Wil­son inhab­it, but I bor­row from them to trace the con­tours of our prac­tice as a method of car­ing. This is a pre­ci­sion that is not pre­scrip­tive but one of inten­tion­al­i­ty, of keep­ing and deploy­ing the ten­sion, and of iMes­sag­ing sur­vivor­ship and trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty. I iMes­sage many friends, but Emi­ly and I allow for a dif­fer­ent ethos of mes­sag­ing that is more laboured, that tugs at more pre­ci­sion. I do not sim­ply need iMes­sage to fin­ish my dis­ser­ta­tion or to imag­ine what my research con­tri­bu­tions might look like into the future. I need to iMes­sage (with) Emi­ly. I need to iMes­sage our Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship because of the ten­sions we keep and the pre­ci­sion we curate, because this is a pre­ci­sion that gives to iMes­sage the pow­er to make us think how we can acti­vate the unknowns between our lives (see Stengers, “Intro­duc­to­ry notes on an ecol­o­gy of prac­tices”). To deploy the ten­sions our iMes­saged friend­ship cares for feels like an ethics rel­e­vant to the aca­d­e­m­ic futures that I need to help create.

iMessaging Process and Pause, Again and After, Across and Apart

As we look toward how our iMes­sage col­lab­o­ra­tions might con­tin­ue to evolve, we have only ten­ta­tive respons­es to ques­tion, “how does iMes­sag­ing flesh, friend­ship, and futu­ri­ties mat­ter?”: iMes­sage is present in our col­lab­o­ra­tions and through­out this arti­cle, because our iMes­sag­ing prac­tices are entan­gled with the engage­ments, flesh, friend­ship, and futu­ri­ties we make pos­si­ble through the bod­ies, ten­sions, and tem­po­ral­i­ties we craft with iMes­sage. Think­ing with flesh, we take seri­ous­ly how our hands clutch our iPhones as our fin­ger­prints leave traces of the dig­i­tal words we have beamed to one anoth­er across their screens. As we con­sid­er how ten­sion mat­ters to our Indige­nous-set­tler mil­len­ni­al aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship, we sit with the messi­ness of rely­ing on expen­sive, com­modi­tized tech­nolo­gies to sus­tain col­lab­o­ra­tions we hope might chis­el at the het­eropa­tri­ar­chal habits of our aca­d­e­m­ic com­mu­ni­ties. We do not have any inter­est in deploy­ing our friend­ship toward tra­di­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic ends, such as increas­ing our pub­li­ca­tion count, or mount­ing “inter­dis­ci­pli­nary” or “rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” research col­lab­o­ra­tions. We car­ry the ten­sions of our friend­ship along­side the uneven, dif­fi­cult work of inher­it­ing and inhab­it­ing shared and incom­men­su­rable worlds. Imag­in­ing futu­ri­ties, we notice how iMes­sage lends a patient urgency to our schol­ar­ship, lean­ing into a tem­po­ral­i­ty of col­lab­o­ra­tive work we can­not oth­er­wise access in the acad­e­my, where­in noti­fi­ca­tions of our mes­sages instan­ta­neous­ly light up our iPhone screens but then faith­ful­ly linger until we are ready to read, reply, debate, or return to the unin­ten­tion­al archive of schol­ar­ship our iPhones hold for us. We take seri­ous­ly iMes­sag­ing, not iMes­sage: iMes­sage mat­ters as our mode of Indige­nous-set­tler mil­len­ni­al aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship only with the kin­ship we make real.

We extend these par­tial respons­es to how our friend­ship has become entan­gled with iMes­sage into to ques­tions of how we might con­tin­ue to hold up the ten­sions of our friend­ship in our aca­d­e­m­ic work: if mobil­i­ty mat­ters to how we iMes­sage bod­ies in our Indige­nous-set­tler mil­len­ni­al aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship, how might we gen­er­ate active, live­ly con­ver­sa­tion­al spaces that stretch beyond aca­d­e­m­ic con­ver­sa­tion­al con­ven­tions with our stu­dents, col­leagues, and col­lab­o­ra­tors? Where our work of main­tain­ing our ten­sions becomes the gen­er­a­tive back­bone of our Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship, how might we cul­ti­vate gen­tle and uncom­pro­mis­ing, demand­ing and evolv­ing ten­sions through­out our aca­d­e­m­ic com­mu­ni­ties, while doing ten­sion as a method of love, friend­ship, and schol­ar­ship? How might we enact our iMes­sage trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty and tem­po­ral­i­ties beyond the skele­tons of our iPhones, work­ing to col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly imag­ine not-yet-present aca­d­e­m­ic prac­tices that val­ue lin­ger­ing and urgency, per­fect sen­tences and inex­act won­der­ings, return­ing and respond­ing, and ten­sion and inten­tion as modes of relat­ing that do schol­ar­ship and Indige­nous-set­tler mil­len­ni­al aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship in the same breath?

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  1. Our under­stand­ing of how we might begin and the neces­si­ty to reimag­ine futu­ri­ties and tem­po­ral­i­ties bor­rows inspi­ra­tion from Indige­nous schol­ars who empha­size the urgency in resist­ing and recon­fig­ur­ing set­tler-colo­nial con­cep­tions of space and time (see Bel­court, “On ‘mov­ing too fast’, or decolo­nial speed”; Mor­rill et al.,“Before dis­pos­ses­sion, or sur­viv­ing it”; Rifkin, “Queer­ing Indige­nous pasts”; Rowe and Tuck, “Set­tler colo­nial­ism and cul­tur­al stud­ies”; Tuck and Ree, “A glos­sary of haunt­ing”). We sit­u­ate our work as a ten­ta­tive, par­tial prac­tice of mak­ing pub­lic how our iMes­sag­ing ori­ents us toward spe­cif­ic paus­es, archives, words, and exchanges that mat­ter to our Indige­nous-set­tler mil­len­ni­al aca­d­e­m­ic friend­ship because they com­plex­i­fy the tem­po­ral and dis­ci­pli­nary con­tours of our (schol­ar­ly) writ­ing and read­ing habits.
  2. At the time of pub­li­ca­tion, @RedIndianGirl has been con­tin­u­al­ly cen­sored by Twit­ter and their account has been blocked mul­ti­ple times. We are cit­ing the account that was active as we wrote this arti­cle, but want to note that this Twit­ter han­dle has nec­es­sar­i­ly changed, and con­tin­ues to change, to avoid ongo­ing cen­sor­ship.