Janice Esther Tulk – A focus on Mi’kmaw expressive culture

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Janice Esther Tulk, Senior Research Associate for the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies, recently organized a panel discussion on Indigenous business in Canada and will be presenting her personal work on First Nations dance as part of CBU’s  Research Month.

Janice has been with CBU for roughly four and a half years, starting in September of 2011. Janice previously spent some time at CBU from 2008-2010 when she held a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) post-doctoral fellowship in the Unama’ki College under the supervision of Dr. Richard MacKinnon.

As the senior research associate for the Purdy Crawford Chair, Janice’s research focusses on best practices in Aboriginal business. With a background in folklore and music, Janice says she also conducts research on Mi’kmaw cultural practices in her spare time.

Janice was led to research on Mi’kmaw cultural practices during her doctoral studies, focussing on powwows in Atlantic Canada and how they provide a space for expression and negotiation of Mi’kmaw identity. Janice says that her current project on children’s dances brings her back to these academic roots and her first love will always be expressive culture.

“It was a labour of love to go back to field recordings I’d made during my doctoral studies and review the content for this project. It was fun to conduct new interviews to help me better understand the role of these dances in the context of a powwow. I felt like I was coming back to everything with fresh eyes,” Janice says.

Janice researched this area by reviewing field recordings of powwows she collected throughout the Atlantic Provinces between 2004 and 2010, focussing on children’s dances. She made notes about the types of dances that occurred, the dance styles, and the outfits the children were wearing. Janice says she also reviewed the interaction of the emcee and the “stage talk” associated with each event.

Following her review of the recordings, Janice analyzed the different types of dances the children engaged in and grouped them into broader categories — dances that imitate the movement of animals, dances that appear to be games, and dances that appeared to be competitive, one of which was called “Indian Breakdancing” by one of the powwow emcees. After analyzing and categorizing the dances, she conducted new interviews with the Mi’kmaw emcees to learn more about the meaning and functions of the dance styles in the context of a powwow.