When I present my research at conferences, I usually get asked why I chose to focus on disabled Native Americans, especially as a non-Indigenous person. I usually explain that my interest came from my family’s history of living in the ancestral land of the Saginaw Chippewa people, and from my own experiences as a first generation student at Central Michigan University (CMU). While I was at CMU I had the opportunity to wash artifacts from the Mount Pleasant Industrial Boarding School during my volunteer time in the archeology lab. This was a very profound experience for me as someone who grew up in the original territory of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, who had been displaced to Mount Pleasant. It allowed for me to understand my own history and my own positionality as a descendant of settlers.
My interest in disability studies is a bit more obvious. I have a lot of experiences as someone who was, and continues to be, an instrumental caregiver for my brother. I have two brothers and they are both autistic, with one being defined by his social worker as “severely impaired.” This brother is non-verbal and needs a lot of assistance in day to day life. In addition, I was diagnosed with a learning disability when I was in elementary school and have personal experience as someone who is considered to be “disabled.”
Aside from my personal experience, I have worked with Community Mental Health as a Community Living Support Specialist and have received specific training on how to work with “Consumers,” or people with special needs and disabilities from an institutional standpoint. I have been able to connect my experiences in these areas to my academic work, by engaging in disability studies and using the details of my own experience to understand the literature and vice versa.
Me and my brother Wesley on his computer, this is a rare moment in which he chose to hold my hand, he is very selective in who he chooses to engage in physical affection with.