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Meet Caroline Fidan Tyler Doenmez, Inaugural RIGS Fellow

RIGS' first interdisciplinary doctoral fellowship will support Doenmez's research on Indigenous women’s birthing experiences
August 31, 2020

My name is Caroline Fidan Tyler Doenmez and I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology with a graduate minor in American Indian & Indigenous Studies. My pronouns are “she/her.” I am of mixed Zaza Kurdish and English settler descent, and proudly carry the names of both of my great-grandmothers. I was born in Zurich, Switzerland, and raised in Dublin, New Hampshire. Through maintaining and renewing connections with relatives in different countries and communities, my development as a person and a scholar has been largely informed by cross-cultural fluencies, bonds, and ways of knowing. As a woman of mixed ethnicity, I endeavor to act in alliance with Indigenous decolonization efforts and expressions of sovereignty in my research and my everyday life.

I received a BA from Smith College in 2009, and an MA from Columbia University in 2015. My master’s thesis focused on the question of justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people, and was based on fieldwork in Nova Scotia and Manitoba. Through interviews and visits to museums, courtrooms, community patrols, and memorial events, I analyzed how Indigenous people are often “already disappeared” by legal, political, and cultural institutions before they go missing.

My current dissertation research examines Indigenous women’s birthing experiences in Manitoba. Despite the increasing public visibility of the issue of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people in Canada, it is less widely acknowledged that violence is often also located in the realms of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. This is largely attributable to coercive, nonconsensual, and racist treatment by medical professionals, the mandatory evacuations and “confinement” of Indigenous women from northern reserves to urban hospitals to give birth, and the alarming rates of Indigenous newborn and child apprehensions by Child and Family Services (CFS). Through ethnographic fieldwork, my project investigates how the reclamation of birth by Indigenous doulas and midwives intervenes in these cycles of removal and loss. Grounded in the concept of Indigenous women as water carriers, my project looks to the Red River to explore the links between birthing care, water protection, and addressing violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. Critically, my research understands this violence to include the removal of Indigenous children from their families. I am especially interested in documenting how understanding birth as embedded in a wider set of relationships works to revitalize Indigenous ontologies that emphasize the protection of both women and water as givers and sustainers of life.

In my time as an interdisciplinary doctoral fellow in RIGS, I will collaborate with Associate Professor Christine DeLisle (American Indian studies) and Professor Kevin Murphy (history, American studies, and gender, women & sexuality studies) to begin writing my dissertation and develop visual, community-centered elements of my project. With Professor DeLisle’s expertise in Indigenous midwifery and Professor Murphy’s extensive knowledge of public history, gender studies, and environmental justice, I look forward to learning from their mentorship, as well as from other members of the RIGS Initiative. Specifically, Professor Terrion Williamson’s research on racialized gender violence and Professor Gabriela Spears-Rico’s recent work on Indigenous motherwork and decolonial feminism both offer critical comparative frameworks and content for my project to engage with. I am excited to be joining the RIGS Initiative, as it fosters intersectional scholarship that centers the theories and experiences of women of color as the basis for imagining new modes of survival, responsibility, and relationality.