On November 5, scholar Kim TallBear will give a Life (Un)Ltd. Lecture at the Young Research Library. Her talk, titled “Beyond Life/Not Life: A Feminist-Indigenous Reading of Cryopreservation Practices and Ethics” examines cryopreservation, a scientific endeavor that, according to TallBear, “enables storage and preservation of bio-specimens—including those taken from indigenous peoples’ bodies, often within earlier ethical and racial regimes—into times and spaces beyond those inhabited by the (once) living bodies.” She investigates the ethical concerns that indigenous critics find with bioscience methodologies utilized by non-indigenous institutions. She proposes “that indigenous responses to cryopreservation technologies and practices can be more fully understood not simply by recourse to ‘bioethics,’ but also by weaving together the approaches of indigenous thinkers historically with newer thinking in indigenous studies, feminist science studies, critical animal studies, and the new materialisms.”
TallBear has worn many hats both within and outside of academia. An enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota, she is also descended from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. She was raised on the Flandreau Santee Sioux reservation in South Dakota and in St. Paul, Minnesota by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. TallBear’s lineage has profoundly informed her work, which primarily grapples with the ways in which bioscience informs and is informed by indigenous life, culture, history, and politics.
TallBear’s academic pursuits were first born of practice in some of the fields that she now studies. She originally trained to become a community and environmental planner at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). From 1992-2001 she worked on various planning projects for national tribal organizations, tribal governments, federal agencies and in private consulting. She worked primarily on projects having to do with tribal government interests in nuclear waste management and on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded project to explore the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) for indigenous peoples of human genetic research.
Realizing that her deeper intellectual interests were in the cultures and politics of science and technology and their implications for tribes and other indigenous peoples, she received a Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Cruz in History of Consciousness. Her scholarship has developed new approaches to and knowledge based on some of the work that she did as a community and environmental planner.
Her recent book, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, examines the ways in which genetic science is co-constituted with notions of race and indigeneity. The book has been strongly praised by respected scholars in the field.
Troy Duster, Silver Professor of Sociology and Bioethics at New York University, writes that “Native American DNA is a book of far wider scope than its title, establishing the author as a leading authority on the topic. The politics of tribal DNA is but the starting point of a complex analysis that encompasses the whole framework in which DNA is appropriated in the study of human populations. Molecular geneticists, science studies researchers, legal scholars—and of course Native Americans—will find their horizons considerably broadened and newly engaged.” Alondra Nelson, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University, describes the book as “a gracefully written, powerfully argued, and urgently needed examination of indigenous identity and politics after the genomic turn,” proclaiming that TallBear’s work is “pathbreaking.”
On Tallbear’s website, www.kimtallbear.com, she points out that she is broadly interested both in how science and technology participate in the colonization of Native people (and others), and how such groups use technoscience in enacting their own agency. She writes:
“Because tribes and other indigenous peoples insist on their status as sovereigns, I am also interested in the increasing role of technoscience in indigenous governance. How do U.S. tribes and others resist, regulate, collaborate in, and initiate research and technology development in ways that support self-governance and cultural sovereignty? What are the challenges for indigenous peoples related to science and technology, and what types of innovative work and thinking occur at the interface of technoscience and indigenous governance? Finally, how will indigenous governance of and through research and technology development affect the priorities, practices, and values of technoscientific fields? I bring into my research, collaborations, and teaching indigenous, postcolonial, and feminist science studies analyses that enable not only critique but generative thinking about the possibilities for democratizing science and technology.”
One of her current research projects, Constituting Knowledge Across Cultures of Expertise and Tradition: Indigenous Bio-scientists, deals with the aforementioned issues. TallBear explores the role of Native American scientists in the democratization (and making more multi-cultural) of bio-scientific fields. She is also interested in their potential role in the development of scientific governance within tribes.
In addition to her book, TallBear has published research, policy, review, and opinion articles on a variety of issues related to science, technology, environment, and culture in anthologies and journals including Aboriginal Policy Studies; Current Anthropology; The Journal of Law Medicine, and Ethics; Science; The Wicazo Sa Review, International Journal of Cultural Property; and Indian Country Today. In popular media, TallBear has served as consultant and/or interview subject in various venues, including New Scientist, The Globe and Mail, ScienceDaily, and ABC7 (KGO-TV in San Francisco) News. She also blogs on science, technology, and indigenous issues at www.kimtallbear.com, and tweets at NDN_DNANotes and STS_NDN.
TallBear’s teaching record is as varied, impressive, and interdisciplinary as her praxis and research. Since graduating in 2005, she has taught at Arizona State University in Tempe (Department of American Indian Studies), University of California, Berkeley (where she held a postdoctoral appointment in both Gender and Women’s Studies and in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, before being hired as Assistant Professor in the latter), and University of Texas at Austin. At UT Austin, she was Donald D. Harrington Fellow in the department of Anthropology in 2012-2013, before being hired as Associate Professor of Anthropology and Native American & Indigenous Studies.
TallBear has an instrumental roll in a variety of organizations related to her scholarship. She recently finished a 3-year term as an elected member of the Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). She is a member of the Advisory Board to the Center for Integration of Research on Genetics and Ethics at the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics; a member of the Advisory Board for the University of Illinois' Institute for Genomic Biology Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING); and an Editorial Board member for the U.K.-based journal Science as Culture. She recently joined the SACNAS News Editorial Advisory Board, published by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. Finally, she has also advised the President of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) on issues related to genomics and indigenous peoples (demonstrating, once again, the ways in which scholarship, policy, and praxis can and should intertwine).
Outside of her academic work, Tallbear is devoted to documenting and contributing to Native American culture. She is a member of the Oak Lake Writers’ Society, a group of Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota (Oceti Sakowin) writers. She is also Content Editor of their Web page: www.oaklakewriters.org. The writing group’s works include This Stretch of the River (2006), a collection of memoirs, historical and critical essays, and poems. The volume documents Oceti Sakowin relationships with Mnisose (the Missouri River) and other rivers in their historic homelands, especially in the wake of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition. In August 2011, Living Justice Press (St. Paul, MN) published their collection, He Sapa Woihanble (Black Hills Dream), which documents Oceti Sakowin peoples' ongoing relationships with He Sapa, or the Black Hills.
Susan Power, author of the national bestseller The Grass Dancer, wrote that “The voices of He Sapa Woihanble are a diverse and powerful chorus, offering critical testimony on one of America's most iconic sites. These authors chart an enduring relationship with sacred ground and remind us of our kinship to this exploited territory. Through oral histories, poems, legal documents, and scholarship, these voices swell with urgent grace until I am convinced the Black Hills themselves are singing.”
On her website, TallBear says that her work outside academia has, ultimately, inspired her writing methodologies in her social sciences scholarship. She says:
“I developed a conversational method of knowledge production, the ‘dialogue,’ that served as the basis for a multi-authored piece in This Stretch of the River. The method looped back to inform my social science work as I seek to build knowledge collaboratively with community members, scientists, and others that I might study. The Oak Lake Writers have also inspired me to take up in creative prose format my favorite academic topic, technoscientific cultural politics.”
Her creative prose approach to her academic interests can be found in a piece titled “Posts from En Route,” in the Black Hills volume.
CSW is so excited to welcome this multi-talented scholar and visionary, as she shares with us work that will have the power to change the social politics of bioscience.
--Ben Raphael Sher
Ben Raphael Sher is a doctoral student in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA and a graduate student researcher at CSW.
“Beyond Life/Not Life: A Feminist-Indigenous Reading of Cryopreservation Practices and Ethics,” November 5, 4 to 6 PM at Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. The event is co-sponsored by the Charles E. Young Research Library, American Indian Study Center, and Institute for Society and Genetics. For updated info on the event visit: http://www.csw.ucla.edu/events/kim-tallbear
Kim TallBear’s website/blog: www.kimtallbear.com
Kim TallBear on Twitter: @KimTallBear
For more info about Kim TallBear’s book, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, visit: http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/native-american-dna
For more info about Oak Lake Writers’ Society, visit: http://www.oaklakewriters.org