3 students watch an elder-in-residence cut up a white fish

July 20, 2016

Unique research experience makes for one unforgettable summer

For Cole Sayers, it’s a summer job like no other.

As an Indigenous student visiting from the University of Victoria – Sayers is Hupačasath of the 15 Nuu-Chah-Nulth nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island – he has his first taste of graduate school in a program at McMaster University, called the Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars (IUSRS). Sayers is completing his undergraduate degree in Political Science.

The IUSRS is in its second year of a two-year pilot run out of the School of Graduate Studies, in partnership with the Indigenous Studies Program. The program – unlike any other in Canada – focuses on both the graduate research experience and the importance of community connection. Visiting students from across Canada spend time working on research under the guidance of McMaster faculty supervisors, but they also learn about Indigenous knowledge and research methods through organized lectures and learning opportunities on campus and beyond, at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.

This is Sayers’ first chance to straddle the two worlds – an academy based in Western learning methods and a community steeped in traditional Indigenous knowledge and research methods.

He spends four days a week at the Deyohaha:ge: Indigenous Knowledge Centre located at the Six Nations Polytechnic. There, he works on a team that sorts, analyzes and digitizes archive material, under the guidance of community researcher Rick Hill, senior project coordinator at the Centre. Documents include important historical records of the arts, culture, and politics of Haudenosaunee society. The project is part of the Two Row Research Partnership between McMaster and the Indigenous Knowledge Archives at the Polytechnic. Hill is co-supervising Sayers – and other IUS scholars – with McMaster professor Daniel Coleman.

“What’s great about this program is, it offered me an opportunity to work in a First Nations community, doing community-based research. That’s what I’m interested in,” Sayers says.

The opportunity to work with Coleman and Hill, “an amazing Six Nations historian,” has added to the experience.

Sayers says the day-to-day archival work isn’t always exciting, but it is important. And the payoff from that perseverance can be pretty special.

“Every once in a while, you stumble across an amazing document. It could be a creation story or something about the War of 1812, or perhaps a document referencing the Haldimand Treaty.”

Building up … and out

The IUSRS program has provided Sayers the chance to build his network, connecting him to Indigenous students, researchers and community members. Backgrounds are diverse and he’s learned so much.

“First, I think we each need to look into ourselves, to build ourselves up,” he says. “Once that happens, we can work on building relationships with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.”

The IUSRS environment has been one of support and organization for him – an eight-week glimpse of what could, and likely will be, Sayers’ future.

“I’m so far away from home, but this has given me a chance to challenge myself, just as grad school would.”