Courtesy of the Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration Center at Yale

Tarren Andrews joined Yale as assistant professor in Ethnicity, Race and Migration in 2022. Her scholarship employs critical Indigenous studies to “(re)evaluate and (re)narrativize histories” of the early medieval North Atlantic before 1100, according to a biography that Andrews sent to the News. 

Andrews’ forthcoming book takes a transtemporal approach to law and literature, examining textual and material artifacts from the early medieval North Atlantic to better understand the earliest formations of Anglophone settler colonial logics as they are manifested in U.S. and Canadian settler law. In addition to this upcoming monograph, she contributed the opening lines — ln. 1-12 — in the 2021 translation of Beowulf by All. The citation for this translation includes the Flathead Indian Reservation where Andrews grew up, which she credited as a co-author to honor the relationship between land and language. 

Andrews received her doctorate in English from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She has graduate certificates in Native American and Indigenous Studies, Culture, Language and Social Practice and College Teaching.  

I sat down with Professor Andrews to learn more about her career, background and time at Yale.

  1. What inspired you to pursue a career in critical Indigenous Studies? And how has your background influenced your academic journey?

Professor Andrews:  

I did not really know Indigenous Studies was an academic discipline, actually, until I got to my PhD As I was applying to PhD programs, I knew that I wanted to pursue the kind of ways of thinking and intellectual traditions that I had grown up with back home after teaching at SKC, which is Salish Kootenai College, the tribal college on my home reservation. A little bit of my origin story there is that after I finished my masters at the University of Montana, I taught for a year abroad and then when I came home, my grandparents were at a point of transition in their life. I knew I wanted to be home. They had raised me, and I knew I wanted to be home to help them with that transition. So, I stayed on the reservation and I worked for a year adjuncting at Salish Kootenai College. 

When you’re adjuncting, especially at a kind of small institution, you just end up kind of teaching all sorts of random stuff, although I was primarily based in the liberal arts department. During the winter quarter, I was teaching this class called Intro to Humanities. There wasn’t a set syllabus, but because in winter we’re allowed to tell coyote stories — they’re seasonally bound for us — I had a unit on coyote stories and creation stories more broadly. As part of that unit, I had Chauncey Beaverhead, who is an elder from our culture committee, come in and tell stories for a day. Then for another day, we read some stories in translation out of the Norton Anthology of pre-1865 American Indian literature. At the time, I had come out of a master’s degree that was in Medieval Studies and I had been really intrigued by this move towards  “Global Middle Ages.” So, in this unit on creation stories, I really wanted the students to think about chronology — to kind of assign a year to the story because I was hoping if we could arrive at a year, that was 1200, or 1100, or something, I could be like, “Oh, well, look, here’s what was happening in Europe at the time, right?” I still had such a Eurocentric understanding of the academy. As I was asking the students to give me a year, when do you think it came to be, and there’s a woman who sat in the front row, who beaded as a note-taking device, which is still the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. She was Lakota, and we were reading Lakota stories. She just was very nonchalant. She was like, “Oh, my grandpa said that came from the time that we were by the water.” That moment undid me in a really radical way. It made me confront several things about myself. Number one, that I was back in my home community, and I was a teacher, which was a dream of mine that I think I always had, but had never really realized. But I was doing that job from such a Western perspective. I went in there with a master’s degree in medieval studies thinking that I was going to do something with that. I just was undone by this chronology. I really had to encounter myself and who I wanted to be not as a teacher, but as a Native woman in a classroom. So then I was just like, oh, man, that dating scheme accounts for so much more than 1200 or 1400, or like any numerical date could have done. There was relationship and removal and movement and care. All of these things that come from when someone lives by the water were kind of encapsulated in that date. 

I was luckily in the midst of writing up PhD applications at the time, and I was like, I want to be myself in this next phase of my academic career. I want to be myself and I don’t want to see my identity as an Indigenous person as something that I engage with at home and then not in the classroom. I applied to PhDs on those grounds and when I got to Colorado, I took Indigenous Thought and Theory with Danika Medak-Saltzman and it blew my mind. That’s where I sort of started to understand Indigenous Studies as an academic discipline. It was really that one day, that one moment in that classroom that made me decide to pursue that in a different way. I had a very different educational experience kind of leading up to that.

  1. Your research takes a transtemporal approach to law and literature. Can you explain this approach and how it helps in re-narrativizing stories of the early medieval North Atlantic?

Professor Andrews:  

By transtemporal, I evoke and have coined [it] — not entirely like other people have talked about things that are transtemporal — as a way to offer a different word than transhistorical. By transtemporal, what I mean, is really, that the times and places that we often imagined to be disconnected, sort of post 1492, America and early medieval England in my case. I argue that they are in fact, not disconnected at all, that there is both a linguistic and also an ideological genealogy that’s connecting both of those places. When I think about my work as transtemporal, what I mean is tracing all of the various timelines that have contributed to the construction of these places, both as real and imaginary — kind of like tracing those timelines back in whatever configuration they end up being intertwined. I think that it is also equally important to study a place and its own kind of time and cultural milieu — it has to be both historical and transtemporal. Understanding much of what happened in early medieval Europe as having consequences or having a relationship to what’s happening now, number one, makes the early medieval past relevant for us in ways that are important. It also allows us to see differently, these sort of moments in the past that had a very specific impact in their own time and place that have a very different but related impact now. 

I think telling new stories about the medieval North Atlantic is an opportunity, especially for Indigenous scholars to do several things, the first of which is to exercise intellectual sovereignty. It is just really cool to look at old books. It’s so nice, and it’s fun. I think there’s something that is rigorous in a really fun way about learning these languages and learning how to read Gothic script. For me, it’s an act of intellectual sovereignty, but it also gives us an opportunity separate from what is pleasurable about scholarship to think specifically about how we perhaps have done ourselves a disservice by thinking about settler colonialism as something that just sort of explodes into existence at this moment of contact. What kind of credence is that actually giving settlers and colonists saying that they were just experts at this when they arrived? I don’t want to give them that much credit, to be honest. So, for me trying to understand a deeper pre-contact history of settler colonialism as a structure that was always developing, that is, in fact, tied not necessarily to the encounter between colonizer and Indigenous person, but rather deeply embedded in the linguistic and cultural traditions of these people who come to then be colonizers is a useful way to expand and push and reconsider deep histories of settler colonialism in the service of then imagining very different futures. If we’re going to imagine our way out of where we’re at right now, if we’re going to imagine our way into a different set of relations, we have to have a really deep understanding of the past.

  1. How does incorporating Indigenous perspectives and methodologies transform our understanding of this early medieval North Atlantic history? Are there any specific examples that you would point to?

Professor Andrews:  

I have an example that is both kind of specific and also kind of general at the same time. I was interested, when I first got into this sort of line of inquiry, about how cavalierly people use the terms “conquest” and “colonization” when they talk about medieval Europe. There’s any number of medieval texts that are titled “Conquest something, colonization something” and almost always that’s done in relation to the Norman Conquest of 1066. That is seen as the kind of radical dividing line between the “early medieval” and “medieval.” The “early medieval” being the boundary of a past that we have no relationship to, that is so ulterior that we only are engaging with it in this kind of mystical fashion, and then a version of the “medieval” past that does have some continuity with the early modern and thus the modern. I think that Indigenous studies in particular, we are attuned to hearing words like conquest and colonization in a different way, in a very embodied way, in a very felt way, and, for me, the kind of inclusion of Indigenous methodologies specifically as they are articulated by Indigenous peoples allows us to be much more specific about these words that have structured so much early medieval scholarship, but without the kind of critical attention to not just their denotation, but their connotations. So, it gives us a different relationship to the vocabulary that we’re already using to talk about the medieval world.

  1. You’re passionate about language revitalization and translation as well. How do you see these practices contributing to the preservation and empowerment of Indigenous cultures?

Professor Andrews:  

To my mind, there is no more central question for Native communities than language revitalization. Language as a thing that unites people, language as a container for all sorts of epistemological and ontological foundations, language as an inheritance, language as something that’s felt, language is something that makes poetry, language is something that makes story. There is nothing quite as central to Indigenous revitalization, broadly Indigenous cultural revitalization, as language revitalization. 

I’m very fortunate to come from a community that’s had a dual immersion school for quite some time. Students can go from pre-K through eighth grade before they have to matriculate into local high schools. There’s also an adult apprenticeship program, which I will say was honestly, my plan after graduate school. I had aspirations but no expectations of finding a tenure track job in a place that I would want to be in. I was set and ready to go home and join that apprenticeship program and just get into it with language revitalization. It’s absolutely central that we’re teaching kids, that we’re teaching adults, that we are, in turn, then, feeding our elders. I’m convinced that tribal nations that have really robust language programs, especially where elders are working with little kids, those elders live longer. That’s only anecdotal. I have no factual basis for that. But, I think they do, because it gives them something in return to see themselves come alive again, in a new way in this generation, because there is, in many tribal communities, a lost generation. 

My mom, she grew up just off the reservation. She spent summers on our family’s original allotment land in Hot Spring, but  my Grandpa never really talked to her about what it meant to be Indian. She knew she was Native, but it was not part of the discourse all the time. By the time I was born my grandpa had quit working at the aluminum plant and started working  for the Tribe in the lands department. He then started to have a different relationship to being Native. So I grew up knowing, and I grew up with it being talked about all the time. I think, as we see these generations get brought back into the fold, language is just the thing that I think really emphatically stamps this revitalization. I don’t see robust paths forward to cultural resurgence without language revitalization.

  1. What emerging topics or trends and Indigenous studies are you most excited about and how do you plan to engage with them in your work at Yale?

Professor Andrews:  

I am most excited about the fact that we are starting to think about Indigenous Studies, not just as a siloed discipline or discipline that sits in ethnic studies or discipline that sits in American Studies, but as a discipline that exists everywhere. I’m particularly inspired, even though I’m not a STEM person with your work, Madeline, with the Yale American Indian Science and Engineering Society and thinking about the fact that Indigenous data science is Indigenous Studies, right? We should be hiring people who are brought into the fold of Indigenous communities on campus, but whose tenure line is in data science, you know what I mean? We should be hiring Native people in all of these different areas. 

I think now we’re seeing a proliferation of the field that is really encouraging this expansion. When you see cluster hires coming in from other institutions, they’re hiring someone in environmental science and someone in psychology and someone in English. They’re really trying to understand Indigenous studies not as a siloed discipline, but as a methodology, as a field that belongs in every discipline. I find that really encouraging. Of course, that’s coming with some growing pains, right? The field expanding also asks us to rethink, to be very careful and very thoughtful about the relationships that we’re trying to make with one another, and with these departments that we’re finding ourselves in. 

I’m most excited by the fact that Indigenous Studies is not one discipline anymore, and that it’s being seen as integral to all kinds of disciplines. I think that’s where we always needed to head and I’m excited to see that that’s where we’re going. That being said, I think there’s a reason that Indigenous Studies started in the humanities, specifically, in literature and history departments, because there is something so unique about Indigenous storytelling traditions as an ideological and an epistemological engine for whatever happens next. We need a core center of storytelling. I worry a little bit that the proliferation hasn’t also come with a kind of intense focus on maintaining a core storytelling tradition. I am cautious about what it means to keep stories at the center of all of this. 

  1. What challenges have you faced in bringing Indigenous perspectives into mainstream academic discourse? How have you navigated these challenges?

Professor Andrews:  

I think medieval studies as a discipline, which is the place that I am bringing Indigenous Studies to, in a way that’s maybe unexpected from some, has been for me a generally welcoming space. But,  I’m not always legible. I’m not always legible as a medievalist, to some people. I’m not always legible as an Indigenous Studies scholar, either, by virtue of the medieval subjects of my work. But in general, Medieval Studies has been really welcoming. I think that the concern that I’ve had is [that] medieval studies has perhaps been too quick to embrace Indigenous thought and theory because there’s not many medieval or there’s not many Indigenous people in medieval studies. Myself, Wallace Cleaves, Adam Mayashiro, Sarah LaVoy-Brunette. There’s four of us, and so I do worry about, in a discipline that is so predominantly non-Native, how do you make sure that we’re not being appropriated? How do you make sure that we’re not just lenses? How do you make sure that people who are trained in a kind of humanitarian discourse or a humanities discourse that is used to appropriating theories like psychoanalysis or Marxism or whatever know that Indigenous Studies is not that. It’s not a theory to be appropriative. How do you make sure that we’re doing the work that feels impactful, and true to the scholarship, and welcoming? I think we do want it to be welcoming to everyone, while also balancing it being kind of run away with by non-Native people in a field that just doesn’t have Native representation yet. I’ve been thinking about that. How do we make sure that the engagement is on our terms, while also being welcoming to everyone? Who wants to think with us?

  1. What advice would you offer to students at Yale, both Native and non-Native who are interested in exploring Native American and Indigenous Studies?

Professor Andrews:  

Read a lot. Read a lot of Native authors.  I don’t just mean academic authors, I mean poets and fiction writers. Read and engage in the stories that are being told. I think that’s a nice way for people who don’t have community connections yet to do the work to be thinking about epistemology and storytelling in a way that’s accessible and intentional on behalf of Native storytellers. This community here at Yale is so welcoming and so careful and so bright and so brilliant. You couldn’t ask for a better group of people to come in and learn from here. My advice is very Nike-ish, in the sense of, just do it. My second piece of advice beyond that is to really engage. I don’t care what disciplinary angle you’re coming at Indigenous Studies from, but you should really engage in the literature of Indigenous writers. 

  1. In your research, you seek to imagine anti-colonial futures. Can you share your vision for what these futures might look like?

Professor Andrews:  

I think they look really collaborative. I think they look really intersectional. I think they look very local. I will say that as I’ve really thought about this question, I’ve imagined that only in the spheres that I  operate in. I have imagined thinking of it back home, where I would love for relationships between the tribe and the county to be so much better than they are. I have thought about it here where I would like to see maybe 12 more faculty, to be quite honest. And, two more houses or something. I’ve been thinking about it in those ways. I think more broadly what I want my work to do, in terms of this question of anti colonial futures, is to open up avenues for other people to feel like they can imagine in the directions that I’ve been imagining. There’s not going to be one imagination, there’s not going to be one future, there’s going to be many, many different futures. I think all of them are collaborative. I think that they’re each going to be really specific to the place and the imaginator.