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Unsettle the Future: The Inaugural Re-Lab Conference

When Dr. Kim TallBear (Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Environment) was introduced to Bedpost Confessions in Austin, Texas — a series of performances that showcase work about sex, sexuality, and gender identity — she thought about how to Indigenize the show to align with her research.

“Indigenous relational frameworks disrupt some pretty fundamental concepts and ideas in settler thought, especially the idea that nature and culture are two separate sides of a divide,” TallBear says. “That nature-culture divide is at the heart of the way sexuality has been deployed in colonialism. Indigenous peoples and cultures have been denigrated because we’ve been considered more on the nature side, and culture is considered more evolved. All of our work is about disrupting that binary.”

TallBear produced the first Tipi Confessions show in 2015: an Indigenous-run, academic version of Bedpost Confessions that is focused on stories about reclaiming Indigenous sexualities using Indigenous relational frameworks. It was meant to be a one-off show, but it was well received and there were numerous requests from symposiums across North America for performances. When TallBear started to conceive of her work within a research-creation framework, she thought about how Tipi Confessions could fit alongside traditional research and presentation. TallBear, alongside Dr. Tracy Bear and Indigenous Studies PhD student, Kirsten Lindquist, now co-produces three to four shows a year in Edmonton and across North America.

“[The Bedpost Confessions founders] have been really excited about our Indigenizing of the show and making it more academic,” TallBear says. “I started Tipi Confessions before I knew about research-creation, then realized that it’s one way of talking about what we’re doing. Research-creation methods are helping frame the show and our own activities.”

According to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, research-creation is “an approach to research that combines creative and academic research practices, and supports the development of knowledge and innovation through artistic expression, scholarly investigation, and experimentation.”

“Research-creation is an area that’s burgeoning across Canada,” Kim says. “There’s some research-creation activities on campus, like [Department of Art and Design Assistant Professor] Natalie Loveless who just had a really high-profile book come out on the topic, How to Make Art at the End of the World. In the Faculty of Native Studies we’re trying to figure out what that looks like in relation to Indigenous scholarship. Most of the research-creation literature that’s out there is non-Indigenous. So we’re putting that into conversation with Indigenous analytical frameworks.”

In 2018, TallBear was named as a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow. The fellowship was awarded to “see her establish a research-creation laboratory known as the RELAB, where she will conduct social science and humanities scholarship as well as creative practice aimed at restoring the Indigenous concept of ‘good relations.’ Being in good relations means recognizing the relatedness of all beings.”

On November 7, 2019, the first of a series of RELAB initiatives officially launches with a research symposium, research-creation keynote speaker, and an installment of Tipi Confessions. RELAB will also serve as the launch for the research-creation group TallBear is developing within the Faculty of Native Studies. Lindquist, who is also a research assistant for RELAB, is assisting with the symposium and co-producing Tipi Confessions. She will be presenting on her own work on Indigenous Burlesque during the symposium.

“There is a very generative crossover between the symposium and Tipi Confessions,” Lindquist says. “Even during their presentations, people are encouraged to do performance in academic spaces.”

Case in point: there is some crossover between the participants who will present research at the symposium and also perform in Tipi Confessions (in some cases under performer aliases): Geraldine King, kj. saami hernández, Brittany Johnson, and Tashina Makokis.

For its inaugural year, the keynote speaker is Prof. Jason Edward Lewis of Concordia University. As the director of the Initiatives for Indigenous Futures and one of the few scholars in Indigenous Studies to incorporate AI, Jason’s work is focused on Indigenizing gaming.

RELAB is a reference to all of the “re” words that TallBear kept using to describe her research and the work explored in Tipi Confessions: research, re-story, reclaim, resistance, revitalization.

“Part of conceptually unsettling and pushing back against settler colonialism is insisting that there were Indigenous stories and governance systems already covering these lands,” TallBear says. “Those were replaced by settler narratives and governance systems. Our work is a lot about disrupting settler narratives.”

The RELAB Symposium and Tipi Confessions runs from November 7–9 at Enterprise Square. Guests are welcome to attend any portion of the programming. There is no charge to attend the Symposium, and tickets to Tipi Confessions are available on a sliding scale rate. Visit for details and more information.

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