Sage Innerarity is a double major in English and American studies. She is writing her thesis on Indigenous creation stories and tribal histories, utilizing the stories as a lens to discuss settler colonialism in her home community. Her thesis advisor is Henry S. Poler ’59 Presidential Teaching Professor of English and American Studies Lisa Brooks.
Q: What is your thesis about?
A: My thesis is focused on creation stories, tribal histories and family histories. I'm utilizing these stories as a way of talking about settler colonialism in California through a more personal and interpersonal lens.
Q: What sparked your interest in these creation stories and Indigenous histories?
A: My first year, I took “Native Literature” with [Henry S. Poler ’59 Presidential Teaching] Professor [of English and American Studies] Lisa Brooks, and that was the first time that I had ever taken a class where Indigenous storytelling was actually centered. It got me thinking about the creation stories that I heard growing up, and the other tribal histories and oral histories that I’ve heard. That was the first time I was like, “Wow, I could share this,” and [it] would matter to people not only within my community, but outside my community as well. Then, because of the pandemic, I was home, and being home really grounded me. The reason that I care about this so much is because I have not seen my stories in written works. And I was like, “I want to do that.” I want to write these down.
Q: How have you managed to maintain that interest throughout the thesis-writing process?
A: I think that maintaining interest has been easier for me than most people because this project is so personal to me. I was also really lucky because through the Mellon Mays [Undergraduate Fellowship] Program, I was able to be at home this past summer and be in my homeland with my community. I got to do a bunch of interviews with elders and other folks, which was so awesome. I think that another thing that pushed me was seeing how many people were so excited to share [these] stories.
Q: How have you attempted to capture the essence of oral stories and put that down in writing?
A: Before I even get to writing anything down, I practice telling the story so that it flows a little bit differently. I think that has been really helpful because after speaking it, writing it down feels easier because I know what it’s supposed to sound like. That’s helped me not sacrifice a lot of the emotion that goes into the story and a lot of the interpersonal piece. I think that can only be mitigated so much, because telling a story is not the same as writing it down. But one of the things that I've been working [on too] is learning bits and pieces of [the] language. I know a few words and a few phrases. I think that's been one of the pieces, having language integrated into the stories. It gets us one step closer to what the stories sound like.
Q: Who’s your thesis advisor, and how have they contributed to the process?
A: Professor Brooks is my advisor. I’ve learned a lot from her about the possibilities that there are. It’s really easy to kind of be in this mindset of loss, and coming here and meeting her was one of the first times that I was like, “Wow, I can recover these stories and retell these stories.” So I think first and foremost, she has done so much to instill that hope in me. And seeing that an academic space does not inherently exclude us, and that she’s created a space, has been really awesome.
Q: What kinds of resources have you found to be helpful in your research?
A: One of the big ones that I am relying on is the interviews that I did over the past summer. There are also some works from the classes that I’ve taken because I was very strategic about taking classes that focused around Native storytelling. I didn't know exactly what my thesis would be back then, but a lot of the works from those classes [have] found their way into my thesis.
Q: What are some obstacles that you've encountered that you hadn't expected?
A: I think one of the big ones [was], obviously, being at home for the pandemic. I’m from California, but I live in the rural part of Sacramento. Where I live, the internet is not great. When I envisioned myself writing my thesis, I was like, “Oh, I'm gonna be grinding in Frost. I'm gonna be working there and getting so much done.” So that was something that I was a little bit unprepared for, but managed to finish to figure out. I was like, if I gotta get old school and use a notebook, I will.
[Also,] I think I maybe naively did not expect or at least take into account the kind of emotional toll that some of the writing would take on me. I was so excited to be writing that that piece kind of slipped my mind until I was in it.
Q: Does anything you’ve encountered in your research stand out as particularly surprising?
A: My uncle and my auntie went to Sherman Indian School, which is now a school for Native kids. And I found two resources written about the Sherman Indian School, at least one of [which] is written by people who survived the school. So that was bittersweet, obviously, but I was glad to see those voices represented in a published work and was really happy that I found those. I was surprised that I found something because I had never seen any literature on it before, so being able to include that was really exciting for me.
Q: How does your thesis connect to the current experiences of Indigenous communities?
A: I think first and foremost, there are a lot of revitalization efforts happening all across Indian country. Especially in my community, I think more and more people my age and younger are really wanting to learn [about the culture], whether it be language, ceremony, song, dance, story. And so, I think that that's part of where the motivation for this is coming from, wanting to be able to contribute to that effort, so that those who come after me don't have to do as much work to have that connection and have that knowledge. I was really lucky to grow up having those stories and hearing the language, but I know that can't be said for everyone from my community.
Q: Do you see your thesis contributing to future career plans, or is it more geared towards personal and community development?
A: I do want to be able to take this back home with me and share it, [and] I do hope to be a professor, so writing a thesis was always in the cards for me. Because I want to go to grad school, I know that I’m going to have to have a writing sample, and it’s going to be expected that I know how to do research. So it does definitely serve multiple purposes. I’m hoping to continue doing research on this work [as] I move forward in my career. It has also helped me realize that I want to have a career that allows me to not only share knowledge, but [also] generate knowledge in collaboration with my community and with other Native contributors.
Q: What are some skills you’ve learned from the thesis process that you want to take with you?
A: Time management has been huge. I thought that I had very good time management skills until I started writing a thesis, and then I realized that I’m horrible at holding myself accountable to a schedule. So that’s something I’ve been working on and something that I will come away a little bit better at, which I’m thankful for.
I think I’ve [also] really seen a lot of growth [in the] researching and writing piece, and those are skills that I know are gonna stick with me as I go forward and hope to continue doing my own research.
Q: What advice would you give to someone interested in writing a thesis?
A: I would say [to] write about something that interests you — really pay attention to what sparks some type of interest or passion or excitement. I think that it’s been so important for my process that I genuinely love and care about what I’m writing. I think sometimes the thesis can feel like something that you have to do or something that feels obligatory or like a chore. But it doesn’t have to be. I'm glad I pursued things that interested me. And start early. I’m on track but I still wish I would have started a little bit earlier because I’d be a little less stressed. I think [also] just knowing that your voice and your contributions are important is huge. It can be really hard to find that voice and be comfortable and confident in sharing what you know, so just go into it knowing that it’s valid and important.