Tanya (She/Her) is a Michif woman from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Treaty 1 Territory. She is currently living in Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta) where she is enrolled in the PhD program with the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. Here, she is working with her family from St. Ambroise to research the connections between Michif storytelling and experience of religion. She is also a sessional instructor at the School of Information Studies at the University of Alberta teaching LIS 598 Indigenous Librarianship within a Canadian context.
Describe yourself in three words.
Positive trouble maker.
What was the first job you ever had?
My first official job was working as a grill cook at McDonalds. I ended up staying there for about 3 years and wound up in a management position. It was an intense job and I have lots of stories from working there. I won’t spill the tea here, but if you take me for coffee I’d be happy to share.
What was your first position in the library or information field?
I started working at the Edmonton Public Library as a Library Assistant. I was actually a library patron before getting the nerve to apply for a position there. At that time, I just had my daughter and was going through postpartum depression. After confiding in a friend, she convinced me to attend a Baby Laptime program. I attended every Friday as a solid reason to get out of the house. Obviously, I fell in love with the library at this time!
I would have to say that this was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It was extremely rewarding working with community and KIDS. I never realized how much I love singing to babies and playing with LEGO: key qualities for any public librarian.
How do you stay up to date in your field?
Visiting. Lots of visiting. I can’t even tell you how many breakfasts and coffee’s I’ve drinken to keep up-to-date with community members and other librarians.
What is your favourite part of library, archive, or information services work?
Definitely the people: staff members and patrons. We’ve all had those grumpy days where everything seems to go wrong. Sometimes we can forget that just one small thing can make a huge difference. I love being the person that can add a little bit of hope to someone’s day: whether it’s forgiving fines, finding a lost book, or being a friendly person to chat to. This gives me all the feels.
What are you reading or watching right now?
Right now, I’m reading books from my comps list for my PhD in Native Studies at the University of Alberta. So, basically pumping through a bunch of badass Indigenous authors. I’d have to say though that my favourite book has been A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood by Kim Anderson. This book was a game-changer for me. Being a Michif woman comes with a lot of challenges and (for a lot of us) it also comes with a lot of sexual trauma. I have been going through my own journey to heal from these moments in my life. This book was able to lift me up from a dark place by discussing the beauty of Indigenous culture and what it means to be a woman. This is a MUST read.
For television shows, I’m currently re-watching UNHhhh. It’s a video series on YouTube with two of my favourite drag queens: Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova. Being a pansexual woman, watching shows that highlight the queer community fill my heart with happiness. Plus, it’s full of random, dark humour which is right up my alley.
If you didn’t work in information services, what do you think you’d be doing?
This is a great question. Honestly, I’m not sure how to answer it.
I’m no longer a practicing librarian. Currently, I am working towards my PhD in Native Studies while working as a co-instructor at the School of Library and Information Studies teaching LIST 598: Indigenous Librarianship within a Canadian context. After piloting the course last fall with my great friend and colleague Kayla Lar-Son, I feel like I’ve found my niche in teaching. Specifically, I think it’s really important that I can teach from my own culture and perspective. We are all about heart learning in our class. Oftentimes, academia is focused on developing the mental pieces of a person by throwing journal articles and theory at the students. Personally, I think learning happens in the heart. I’ve heard many Elders say that learning is about “going from the mind, to the heart, and back again.” By focusing on the hearts and emotions of the students, we hope to enact change in every individual who comes through our class.
I guess this is a long-winded way of saying… I’m living the dream! The icing on the cake would be to teach a course on Storytelling and Graphic Novels. I feel like I could decolonize the crap out of those topics.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
My supervisor gives me all the good advice. Thanks Paul! You’re the best.
On a sentimental note, he says: “Family first, work second.”
On a badass note, he says: “Punch colonialism in the face.”
I channel both of these phrases in everything I do.
What is the coolest thing in your office or on your desk?
I’m not sure if I even know what cool is. Everything I find cool ends up being super nerdy, ha!
I would say that my favourite thing in my office (outside of my excellent office mates) is my Lying Cat toy. Lying Cat is a character from my favourite comic book series, Saga. They have the ability to target liars by stating, “Lying” to anyone who is not being truthful. Plus, it was a graduation gift from Kayla, which makes it extra special. This is lying cat.
Why do you think library work is important?
This is a big question. I could probably write a book on this one!
There are so many aspects of librarianship that are beneficial, but I like to focus on how I can use my expertise to give back to the Indigenous community. This could take form in a number of ways. For example, one thing I am learning a lot more about is data sovereignty. From what I know about Indigenous knowledges (purposeful pluralization here since there is not just ONE form of Indigenous knowledge) is that knowledge is not a privilege that everyone has. It has to be earned. You can’t just wake up and be an Elder. It takes years and years of preparation and learning to be able to perform certain ceremonies. Traditional Knowledges need to be protected and Protocols must be enacted. I see librarians as being able to help communities work with their own information, or even to repatriate stolen items. Within this scenario, I see librarians providing materials, expertise, and specific training so that Indigenous communities can do this work themselves. Because…really…we aren’t gatekeepers for THEIR knowledge. We should just lend a hand where and when it is needed/wanted.
I guess within this frame of thinking, I see librarians as helpers and facilitators to empower others to do what they need.