January 2011 Report

Center & Circumpolar Initiative News
 

Canadian Studies Center Welcomes 2010-11 Canada-U.S. Fulbright Chair, Marcia Ostashewski

group of educators

Marcia with horses on the farm of Arnie Strynadka, January 2011.


Marcia Ostashewski, the 2010–2011 Canada-US Fulbright Visiting Chair, is an ethnomusicologist investigating intersections of music and dance with race and ethnicity, gender, class and region. She is currently involved with two research projects in different regions of Canada.

In one of her research programs, “Mixed Music,” she is exploring a legacy of colonialism specifically, Aboriginal and Ukrainian settler encounters and relationships on the prairies. This project developed out of discussions with research consultants who identify as Ukrainian-Cree and Ukrainian-Ojibwe, families and communities of Métis who have been forgotten or, at least, have gone unacknowledged.

The current focus of her research in this area is Alberta musician Arnie Strynadka, who says he “grew up with bannock in one hand and kobassa [Ukrainian garlic sausage] in the other,” speaking Cree with one grandmother and Ukrainian with the other. This declaration draws on widely recognizable and easily parodied stereotypes of two cultures — one aboriginal, the other, immigrant — that have centrally shaped his identity. Yet Arnie’s musical life has been anything but stereotypical.

Arnie, who bills himself as ‘The Uke-Cree Fiddler,’ articulates a particular encounter and fusion of ethnicities, inherent conflicts and syntheses of values, symbols and expressive forms. From the early 1980s until early 2000s, he travelled in his touring bus/mobile home between venues in western Canada and mid-western USA. He enjoyed great success in country music centres such as Nashville and Branson after being taken up by an ‘Indian art’ promoter, leading to overseas acclaim. His repertoire and style are reminiscent of Métis fiddlers and what Arnie calls the “old Indian way of playing” and also incorporate elements of Ukrainian Canadian fiddling. Historians and anthropologists have focused on social histories and genealogies of Métis and families of mixed-ancestry. Ostashewski is working on a genealogy of Arnie’s musical performance, examining his musical life in relation to social institutions and practises, exploring productive tensions arising between stereotypes and individual experiences, cultural expectations and individual capacity.

Investigating Arnie’s life and the ways in which he presents it — within a broader context of Aboriginal and Ukrainian histories in North America — Ostashewski is preparing a book-length manuscript that brings to light the ways in which Arnie and his music have functioned within cultural webs along the many avenues they have travelled. Contributing to a burgeoning ethnomusicological literature on musicians’ life stories, this work reveals shared practices and ideologies within northern Alberta indigenous communities and immigrant settlements, and beyond.

Ostashewski is also engaged in a collaborative research program with an urban, industrial-based Ukrainian community in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in which she is exploring Ukrainian music, dance, community and labour history, and contemporary cultural production. The overarching research program consists of publications and presentations to scholarly and wider community audiences; an interactive exhibition in a local museum commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the city of Sydney’s Holy Ghost Ukrainian parish in 2012; and a comprehensive web portal (leading to ten distinct websites, virtual exhibits and learning opportunities).

This expands upon preliminary research she conducted during a series of short-term site visits in 2008-09, in which Ostashewski created an interactive multimedia exhibit at the Cape Breton University (CBU) Art Gallery. The exhibit, based on her original research, introduced Cape Breton Ukrainian communities and culture (and ways they intersect with other local ethnic groups, including descendants of West Indies immigrants and a local African Orthodox parrish in particular, and European Jews) and explores both the historical and contemporary practice of Ukrainian dance and music in the area. A model of successful collaborative research, with the enthusiastic involvement of many community leaders and other members, this exhibit was also facilitated by collaboration with an art gallery, archives, research centres in different parts of the country, and various offices and scholars at CBU.

Ostashewski’s research has since garnered national recognition and led to increased interest in the area; findings have been integrated into site interpretation for tourists; it has become the basis of academic conference papers; and it is cited widely by other university-based researchers as well. This preliminary research has also subsequently provided opportunities for further scholarly collaboration, intercultural relations and teaching/learning together with communities. (View a slideshow of the 2009 exhibit opening at: http://culture.cbu.ca/ccbs/Ukrainian_Exhibit.html)

In these and other research and teaching projects, Ostashewski works closely with research participants, community and cultural institutions. Her research is dialogic — she seeks to integrate a variety of perspectives, facilitating conversations among ‘doers’ and ‘knowers’, changing the way knowledge is produced and represented and stimulate the involvement of students and scholars as social and cultural activists.

In addition to being the recipient of the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Canadian Studies (2010-2011), Ostashewski is also generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC, Government of Canada). She also holds a Visiting Research Fellowship in the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria, British Columbia – where she taught courses on indigenous music of North America and ethnomusicology this past Fall. Ostashewski has taught at several universities across Canada and is regularly invited to speak at universities and community institutions. Her work has been published in scholarly journals, books and magazines, as well as in the public press.

The Fulbright Visiting Research Chair is sponsored by Global Affairs, Social Sciences (College of Arts and Sciences), the Graduate School Fund for Excellence and Innovation, and the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.

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