Ashley Cordes, Spring 2021 DM Faculty Grant

Indigenous cryptocurrency: Finance, capital, and the digital ghost of empire

Ashley Cordes (Coquille) is an assistant professor of Indigenous communication at the University of Utah. Her research lies at the intersections of digital media, critical/cultural studies, and Indigenous studies. Some of her research can be found in journals such as Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, Feminist Media Studies, Television & New Media, an Athabaskan language book, and an Indigenous Protocols and Artificial Intelligence policy paper. She also pairs her academic work with community decolonial participatory action projects as Chair of the Culture and Education Committee of the Coquille Nation.

Briefly describe your project and the challenges, lessons learned, and obstacles overcome in the execution of it. What were the professional, academic, and personal motivations underlying your project?

I’m currently working on a book that exposes the colonial dynamics of US currency systems and offers resistant counter-stories of Indigenous currencies and payment systems. The specific research I pursued with my Digital Matters Faculty Grant is inspired by the roots of my book project but represents original research in a newer direction. In my DM project, I am attentive to how Indigenous peoples often subvert capitalism in the digital age by engaging with past technologies and innovating with goals of achieving sovereign futures. Specifically, I discuss ‘hidden’ digital histories and technological innovations by Indigenous peoples that are involved in the lineage of the production of contemporary cryptocurrency (digital peer-to-peer currency). I used Indigenous digital listening circles and Indigenous futurisms methods and engaged in a new theoretical terrain that connects cryptocurrency with ideas of Indigenous technological afterlife and ethereality.

Some of the challenges or obstacles that I faced in the execution of my project were related to the pandemic. Contact points of some Tribal Nations that were impacted were less responsive and, in some cases, unable to fulfill their prior commitments until a later date. I completely understand and deeply respect their priorities. My research typically has a strong community focus and typically requires travel, archival documentary work, and interviews. While this pandemic has reduced my ability to do this type of research, I have adapted my project accordingly and thoroughly enjoyed virtual opportunities to interview and utilize other means of communication. I learned lessons in being adaptive and allowing myself to pursue fruitful directions to advance my work in creative ways.


How did the Digital Matters Faculty Grant dovetail with your academic pursuits? What interested you in applying for this grant?

My research lies at the intersections of Indigenous communication, digital media, and critical/cultural studies. This Digital Matters Faculty grant allowed me to fortify the digital focus of my academic trajectory. I was able to attend several Digital Matters talks throughout the semester and was inspired, in particular, by the diverse array of methods employed by digital humanities scholars. These talks helped me to refine my methods and learn new applications thereof. Typically, I’m the only one in a writing group or fellowship cohort that studies Indigeneity at the confluence of technology but I’m particularly grateful that Digital Matters supports other faculty and graduate students in this area and has shown this sustained interest in Indigenous digitality over many years. This has created connections across campus and a community of support.

In my first year as faculty at the University of Utah, I attended a talk from Digital Matters on 3D printing and had the opportunity to tour the facilities with Dr. David Roh. My interest in this grant began then. The grant has come along with a supportive community of digital scholars that have a wealth of ideas and suggestions that have not just helped me with the project that I was funded for, but also future research. For example, Rebekah Cummings and others have provided resources on digitizing a Tribal database that would track interviews, culturally relevant information about plants, animals, and important places.


What insights have you gained in regard to your specific field as a result of your project and grant experience?

I’ve gained the insight that media studies scholars often rely on colonial ideas of technological progress, which discursively reproduce Indigenous technologies as old and romanticized while propping up ‘hot’ technology as modern and capable of defining financial futurity. My project allowed me to think more deeply about Indigenous digitality, innovation, and epistemologies that I knew could challenge some of the settler epistemologies that are sometimes centered in my field.

Sociotechnical innovation is always a tangled web and some of the strings of that web that were involved in my research topic include settler colonialism, futurism, digital finance, apocalypse, haunting. With this project, I tried to gain insights by turning to Indigenous digital theories. The grant also allowed me to work with my R.A. Micah Huff and to gain resources through dialogue and some collaboration.


What would you tell potential faculty grant applicants to help them shape their own digital scholarship project?

I suggest that potential faculty grant applicants tap into the creative freedom and intellectual resources that this fellowship affords. This is a unique opportunity to step outside of any constraints that you might feel and really ‘go for it.’ I would tell them to consider interdisciplinary engagement with more radical possibilities that digital methods and theories can potentially allow for in advancing their research, while also warning them not to be too naively techno-optimistic.


What do you see as the upcoming important issues surrounding digital scholarship in your field? What areas/issues could students and scholars investigate to extend the knowledge in this area?

In my field of communication and media studies, important issues that are worth researching and supporting include those about how marginalized groups bend, improve, or challenge the affordances of digital media. Currently, I am teaching a graduate seminar in my department, “Indigeneity, Technology, & Culture” that introduces students to the ways Indigenous scholars contemplate relationships of technologies in shaping cultural and social understandings of Indigeneity and settler colonialism. A new wave of scholars, including these graduate students, are extending this area through projects on historical and contemporary issues of digital technology, politics, activism, artistic production, and participatory action. Scholars in my field have spent decades researching the role of media in constructing and spreading stereotypes about Indigenous life, which is important, but I’m hoping that the field moves beyond this in substantively new directions.


In my field of communication and media studies, important issues that are worth researching and supporting include those about how marginalized groups bend, improve, or challenge the affordances of digital media.

–Ashley Cordes, Spring 2021 DM Faculty Grantee