Drawing on doctoral research, Candace Brunette-Debassige pens first book

January 18, 2024

Adapting her dissertation into a book “was kind of a little secret dream of mine,” said Faculty of Education assistant professor and Western University Teaching Fellow Candace Brunette-Debassige, who wanted her research to be more accessible for Indigenous communities.

Faculty of Education assistant professor and Western University Teaching Fellow Candace Brunette-Debassige has penned her first book as she brings her research to a new medium, and more importantly a new audience.

Tricky Grounds: Indigenous Women’s Experiences in Canadian University Administration is a story that draws on the experiences of twelve Indigenous women administrators working in Canadian universities. A Mushkego Cree woman with mixed Cree and French lineage, Brunette-Debassige’s own experience is among those informing the new book.

Tricky Grounds is also based on Brunette-Debassige’s doctoral research.

Published in 2021, her dissertation, “The Trickiness of Settler Colonialism: Indigenous Women Administrators’ Experiences of Policy in Canadian Universities,” was written in the wake of “a plethora of new administrative policies” that emerged in universities following the 2015 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.

With these policies come various “interconnecting Indigenous administrative roles,” Brunette-Debassige writes in her dissertation, “many of which have been taken up by Indigenous women who find themselves working in challenging and complex contexts steeped in settler colonialism.” As its title suggests, the research tells the story of Indigenous women leaders who are expected to implement the promises of Indigenizing policies and the challenges they face in these positions while employed by institutions that remain colonial, Eurocentric and male-dominated.

Adapting her dissertation into a book “was kind of a little secret dream of mine,” said Brunette-Debassige, who wanted her research to be more accessible for Indigenous communities.

“I really didn’t think it was a reality until I defended and my external examiner, Magaret Kovach, encouraged me,” Brunette-Debassige added.

Kovach, a professor in The University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Education, stressed the importance of sharing Brunette-Debassige’s research and linked her with a publisher. After exploring a few options, Brunette-Debassige decided to work with the University of Regina Press.

“And then there I was on a long journey of making it into a book, going through the peer review process and editing the manuscript” Brunette-Debassige added, smiling as she reflected on the process.

It’s likely no surprise to those familiar with Brunette-Debassige’s dissertation that she wrote it with a book in mind.  The thesis features a prologue and epilogue along with 10 chapters, one of which is a performance script that draws on Indigenous storytelling and Cree Weesakechahk dramatic trickster form.

“A lot of the dissertation is still there,” Brunette-Debassige said, adding that much of the adaptation process involved updating literature, tightening up her discussion and conclusion and focusing on how to reach a wider audience. She was also intent on making the book accessible to other institutions beyond the higher education realm.

“A lot of the themes and content in the book around Indigenous women leadership is not only relevant to a university, but it’s relevant to Indigenous peoples working in the public sector, government, healthcare, Indigenous organizations and so forth.”

Book launch at Wampum Learning Lodge and upcoming release

The wait is now over for those wanting a copy of Tricky Grounds and Brunette-Debassige says she’s excited for the months ahead.

On Jan. 23, the Wampum Learning Lodge will host Brunette-Debassige held a launch event that features a discussion on the book with Lina Sunseri, an associate professor of Sociology at Brescia University College.

The following week, on Feb. 1, Brunette-Debassige joins Brock University for an event co-hosted by Sheila Cote-Meek and Robyn Bourgeois, who serve as Brock’s director of Indigenous Educational Studies and vice-provost of Indigenous Engagement, respectively.

Another launch event is being planned for the University of Toronto, Brunette-Debassige’s alma mater, and at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which is being held this year at McGill University.

“I’m really curious to see how people frame and respond to the book,” Brunette-Debassige said.

Along with hearing from fellow scholars, Brunette-Debassige says she’s just as excited to hear how wider audiences react to the story.

“When you’re doing Indigenous storytelling work that has been silenced for so long, a big part of the validity, for lack of a better word, is ‘verisimilitude,’ which is about Indigenous readers having a vicarious experience — when you hear that the work resonates with Indigenous people and speaks to our reality.” Brunette-Debassige added.

“When I hear other Indigenous women say that they feel connected, they feel represented, that tells me that I was on the right track and that the research is doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Order a copy: The book is now available for pre-order directly from University of Regina Press. Tricky Grounds is also available through Indigo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Western Bookstore.

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