Meet the Faculty: Jaquetta Shade-Johnson

Dr. Jaquetta Shade-Johnson, a new Assistant Professor in English, has been busy in her first few months at Mizzou with teaching, research, and, above all, making connections across the university. Shade-Johnson is a scholar and teacher of rhetoric and composition, Indigenous studies, food studies, and environmental humanities. Her academic work engages with cultural rhetorics, meaning that she investigates the production of knowledge within cultural communities and the rhetorical practices through which such communities make meaning for themselves. Conditioned by this interest, her scholarly methodology revolves around embodied, relational, and material ways of knowing, as they exist, for example, in story-telling, foodways, relationships to the land, and other everyday practices. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Shade-Johnson is particularly interested in how Indigenous communities use such practices to challenge dominant Western culture. Naturally, then, all of her projects take her deep into her own family and clan histories but also serve as a way to demonstrate the strategies of resistance, survival, and continuance of Indigenous communities.

One current project, for example, is sending Shade-Johnson in search of her clan membership and clan identity. Cherokee culture is a formerly matriarchal culture, in which clan identity was passed down matrilineally, but it shifted to a patrilineal, patriarchal culture under Western influence. Living within a mixed culture, many Cherokee people nowadays do not know their clan identity because the matrilineal line of tracking this information has been disrupted. While Shade-Johnson happens to be in a unique position of knowing her matrilineage clearly, the stories and family histories she has are incomplete. In addition to looking at federal records, Shade-Johnson is able to consult local and tribal archives, family records, maps, and storied connections to the land in her search for clues of her clan identity. One branch of this investigation has recently taken her to Arizona. As part of the Dustbowl diaspora, her mother’s side of the family left Oklahoma for the Southwest, where she is now tracking her family history by listening to relatives tell their stories and share their documents, visiting burial sites of maternal ancestors, and looking for “the women’s stories that were erased.”

Shade-Johnson is also working on transitioning her dissertation from a written work to an integrative multi-media digital storytelling project that will eventually be accessible as a website and include not only text but sound files and audio-visual pieces. For her dissertation, Shade-Johnson explains, “I gathered stories from my family around our stewardship, gathering, and cooking practices of a particular type of mushroom, which are hen-of-the-woods mushrooms in everyday American culture, but we call them wishi.” Drawing on oral history, archival sources, and land-based knowledge, the stories and cultural practices around the mushrooms are examples of the narratives of survival, resistance, and continuance that Shade-Johnson aims to discover in all of her work. In this case, she documents how these practices impact her family and tribal history as well as “how we can carry these teachings forward for future generations so we don’t lose that knowledge.” Importantly, Shade-Johnson says, the digital story-telling format “offers me the opportunity to lift up those voices and to make the voices of the people who held those stories visible . . . I’m allowing them to share those teachings.” Presenting the stories in a digital format will make them accessible for her own community and the interested public. It is especially important for the tribal youth of her nation living in a digital age to have access to materials relevant to their own culture, and the digital storytelling project transfers that knowledge in a way that simply looks different than it has in the past.

In her teaching, Shade-Johnson is availing herself of the diverse resources MU has to offer. For example, she recently reached out to the Baskett Research Center, part of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources. The Center’s maple syrup camp provides unique experiential learning opportunities for both of her classes this term (“Introduction to Indigenous Literatures” and “Food Writing”) with visits to the Center. Better yet, Shade-Johnson’s somewhat unusual (for an English professor) collaborations with this extension unit is making an impact in turn, as members of the Center are considering including indigenous methods “in thinking about how they could teach maple syrup production as a class.”

Another way in which she has connected to students on campus is through working with Four Directions, an organization for Indigenous students. “Those students are doing such important work, and it’s so invigorating to see the things that they are doing and to be able to help them in any way that I can.”

Asked about her first few months at Mizzou, Shade-Johnson says she has felt very welcomed on campus: “Everyone has been so kind to me . . . My first semester went as well as it possibly could have. I don’t think I could have asked for more, so I’m so grateful for that.” When settling in, it helps to find personal relationships on campus: “I’ve also been welcomed through interacting with students and through being involved with the Indigenous community here. A couple of folks from my tribal nation are also at the University of Missouri, so that’s nice to have some folks from home and to make those connections.”

Welcome to Tate Hall, Dr. Shade-Johnson!