Student Voices

Individually and in small groups, students in multiple ICAS courses prepared these short reflective journal entries identifying their worldviews, attitudes and biases and analyzing how these remained the same or changed throughout the course.

Biases and privileges

I am a 20 year-old woman who grew up in Kenora, Ontario, where the First Nations population is quite large. There is a lot of racism against First Nations in my home community. My mother is a Crown Attorney and my father was with the Ontario Provincial Police for 30 years. I am extremely privileged to have been born into a middle-class family. I am also white and have not often been the victim of racism. Both of my parents are passionate about Indigenous peoples rights. Because of my upbringing, I grew up with the worldview that equality is necessary, by racism is inevitable. I went to a Catholic high school, where each student was respected for their religious views - Catholic or not. My school also stressed the importance of understanding First Nations traditions and cultures. I am generally biased when it comes to feminism of any kind, including Indigenous feminism, because I am a woman and tend to lean more toward the side of another woman. I am also generally biased in terms of religion. Having gone to a Catholic high school, I tend to take the point of view of a Catholic person quite often. – Anonymous

My worldview is based on growing up in Southern Ontario with a foundation laid in the idea of North American superiority. Both my parents being immigrants, I often see the world as a hierarchical structure where we are nowhere near the top. I have seen the failures of the health care system and am hesitant to trust medical professionals when in comes to mental health support. I feel myself biased towards heterosexual, white males when it pertains to their legitimacy of authority. I see their relatively fewer barriers in life as an unfair advantage when it comes to the positions they hold. Writing this assignment and the numerous other educational opportunities I have been granted are all privileges. Especially since millions of my fellow women will never receive an education. My socio-economic standing which allows me to not work fulltime in order to go to school is an entitlement. I expect my government to support me financially in my decision to attend post-secondary school.  My bias and privileges stem from the different boxes the world puts me in for identifying as a young, mix-raced, cis-gendered female living in Ottawa, Canada. – Danielle  Kydd

When reflecting upon my own biases, I realize this is a lot more difficult to accomplish than I originally thought, as I believe many of our personal biases remain embedded in our personality and are often times hard to uncover and locate on our own. To start, I am biased against Western culture. I do not assume, or ever have assumed that Western culture is “normal” or “better” than others around the globe, in fact, I think the opposite. I am privileged to have been raised in a financially comfortable household, and therefore, I am able to write from an academic as well as a traveler standpoint. My degree in International Development, as well as traveling to Kenya and other developing regions, has impacted my perspective on the notion of development and prosperity, and ultimately my interpretation of the world. Previous interpretations of development defined synonymously with modernization, imply that there is a one-size fits all approach to development and disregards the diversity of cultures and what they qualify as success and an acceptable way of life. Therefore, I am also biased against traditional notions of development. I believe that all cultures and people have something different to offer and express that can enrich other people’s lives. My experience in Kenya has influenced the way I interpret the world and has taught me that there is more than one way of living a fulfilled life, and everyone’s definition will vary. – Erin Mitchell

Coming into this course a bring privileges associated with being a white, middle-class, Christian in today’s society. These privileges give me opportunities that are not available to all other individuals. For example, I have the privilege to travel the country thanks to my economic and religious privileges. I was raised in a liberal conservative home, meaning I was free to develop my own positions, but was not always encouraged to voice them. I have some biases based on the amount of knowledge on Canadian Indigenous communities I think that I have coming into this space. I often like to think that I am a fairly educated individual and try to help educate others, but there is still much for me to learn and I’m sure a kind of ignorance I still need to lose. I often feel confused and conflicted on how to respectfully learn and celebrate the history and cultures of indigenous communities, as well as work on the path of reconciliation as a settler. – Anonymous

I am a fourth year, criminology and law student.  I identify as a white female, raised in a middle-class, Christian family. My middle-class upbringing and the fact that I have had an opportunity to pursue an education is definitely a privilege I acknowledge.  My Christian background was certainly a bias I held growing up, especially having attended Catholic school, however, since starting university I think by world-view has broadened a lot.  I identify as a feminist, which is another bias I hold in some ways, I see situations through a very gendered lens and am critical of the patriarchal system. I am also able-bodied and not a visible minority. This is a privilege because I am able to blend-in rather easily; I look (for lack of a better word) normal in a Canadian context. I am able to easily pass-through airport security; my motives are never questioned when I wear my backpack into stores or am walking in a sketchy area at night. I have never been the target of an unfair stop-and-frisk.  I believe everyone should be treated as an equal, but I realize there are biases I hold which I myself am not even aware of. – Mikayla Margaret Ozorio

I was brought up in a catholic background as both my parents were Catholics. I have followed in their footsteps and am a practising catholic as well. Because of this, I view the world in a one frame mind. I think of things in the Catholic sense without any thought of other perspectives. This is a major bias in my life and I accept that. I also possess biases in the sense that I tend to believe stereotypes. My family is well off and I acknowledge that I am very spoiled and have everything I could ever need. I am also privileged in regards to a healthy support network of people. I have a great family and great friends and I received a great education and I am very blessed for this as I know for some this is not the case. These biases and privileges have an effect on my daily life for the most part because sometimes I will use these biases and judge people and I know that this is a fault of mine. The privileges I have sometimes impede me to empathize with people who are less fortunate and I would like to remedy this. – Matthew Sauriol

I was born and raised as a white, Catholic, female in North American culture. Being raised as such, I have privileges, developed biases, and constructed worldviews. Education and lack of discrimination are two privileges I have.  As a little kid being educated in western schools, I learned the white man’s perception of history but, it was not as true and complete as I had thought. My view of North American education is that it teaches the ideologies of superiority and conformity. One of my bias I have, as I am a female, is that I believe men have better opportunities and a sense of safety more than females do. As a second-year university student taking indigenous courses, I have developed biases and attitudes towards my own culture. In many ways, North America still uses colonialism and assimilation and I despise this. These views, attitudes and biases sometimes impact how I perceive situations. – Anonymous

Course journey

In my first reflective journal, I described my worldview as narrow because I do not believe that my experiences so far have given me a broad understanding of other cultures, realities, and perspectives. I have found that the readings and class discussions, such as the Green Party debate, have greatly impacted my worldview. I had never before considered the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory to be settler colonialism, so this debate shone a whole new light on the issue for me. The blanket exercise was in my opinion, one of the most educational aspects of the class so far, and I found that it really caused me to consider my privileges. As I mentioned in my first reflective journal, I find myself to be extremely privileged because I was raised by very stable parents and have never experienced severe mental illness. It was the blanket exercise that really allowed me to identify these privileges because it forced me to consider the continuing impacts of colonization on young Indigenous peoples in Canada. Finally, the book for the course, Sisters in Spirit, relates to my bias of preferring female perspectives, and so I have greatly enjoyed reading a history focused on women. – Anonymous

Throughout this course, my mind has been opened up on the perceptions of colonialism. I came into this class with an good understanding of indigenous issues in Canada, but from the perspective of a settler. So far in this class my knowledge on these issues has grown exponentially. The most impactful part of this class so far for me has been the Blanket Exercise. The readings and class material have coincided with some of the knowledge I have previously gained but, the Blanket Exercise was a very moving experience which allowed me to visually understand the history of colonialism. This in particular was captivating because of the role us students were put into and it is something I will never forget. Overall this course has so far been a great class to participate in and I am excited to learn more about indigenous issues while opening my mind to new ways of thinking. Wagner's Sisters in Spirit was a reading in which embodies this desire. Learning about issues that lay beyond my privileges as a white male and that challenges my view of history is the core concept of this course. My world view has changed and I am eager to continue to challenge the concept of colonialism. – Steven Grandin

While reading King’s The Inconvenient Indian, I realized how much loss many First Nations have suffered, either personally or through the suffering of their ancestors. Whether this loss be in the form of friends and family, or in the form of culture and land. As I mentioned in my journal, I have been privileged insofar that I have not suffered any true loss in my life, at least not in the way many First Nation peoples have. Learning of the cultural genocide, as well as just the sheer violence and traumatic loss of life suffered by First Nations people throughout their history, it made me realize that I will never be able to truly sympathize with what they’ve been through. This feeling is similar to how I feel when people close to me lose loved ones, or I hear of the losses suffered by people I know; I often have trouble being sensitive because it’s a feeling I’m not familiar with. I also found myself inspired by the strength First Nations people have shown and can find in themselves regardless of the hostile environments they are in. I someday hope that I can face my trauma and loss with as much dignity and strength. – Chelsea Houlahan

In my first journal, I spoke about how many of opinions have been influenced by catholicism from my schooling. In a way, I have learned that there are some similarities between Indigenous spirituality and Catholicism. For instance, in our Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being lecture, we talked about the Indigenous Creation Story, which is very similar to that in Catholicism. In another way, I’ve been learning to separate my faith from religion. I have learned that it’s okay that I don’t believe in all Catholic teachings, but can still maintain a relationship with my higher power. I have come to recognize the goal of Catholicism in the past as being the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples, something made very prominent in Neu’s reading This is Our Land (2003). In this reading, Neu doesn’t speak specifically to Catholic imposition as being the hand at cultural genocide, but s/he lays out the definitions of genocide and the means by which it is achieved. Using these criteria paired with what I’ve learned in this class, I’ve truly come to recognize that the imposition of Catholicism was a direct attempt at cultural genocide. Prior to this class, this is something I was utterly ignorant to. – Anonymous

At this point we are approximately half way through the course, give or take. Reflecting on all I have learned and how I have changed is sometimes hard to organize when attempting to type it out. However, what has struck me clearly during our recent readings and lectures was the topic of internal colonization in Britain explained by guest lecturer by Kathlean Fitzpatrick. She helped me to understand the roots of many terrible things that have happened to the indigenous people of Canada through the hands of white settlers – my ancestors. And with my white settler heritage, she helped me come to terms with the violent and racist history they built. She tied the knot between confused guilt and defensiveness. One half of me that said, “why were/are white people like this?” and the other half that said “but I’m not like that, and that’s not fair”. A reading that also highlighted the white European histories and misguidance was Utopian Legacies by John C. Mohawk. Overall throughout both of these teachings I have deeply reconsidered the roots of our society and how it came to be. Since then I have been trying to better myself and how I see the world as a person with so much privilege to this day. – Claire Rochon

In The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King explains, “according to the western orthodoxy—you had Europeans who were enlightened and Indians who were not (79).” My initial thoughts regarding the relationship between settlers and Indigenous societies always steered toward the hostile interactions and lasting impression on Indigenous societies and cultures by European influence. However, as I continue to develop my interpretation of everything that happened between settlers and Indigenous societies, I realize that non-Indigenous people really missed out on what could have been total enlightenment if they had embraced Indigenous teachings and not turned to assimilation as a resolution to their differences. I believe Indigenous cultures hold a vast amount of sacred knowledge about relationships with the earth, animals, people and oneself that are vital to incorporate into one’s life in order to live a fully conscious and meaningful life. I have always found that Western society is very fast-paced, consumer-based and our values are placed on individuality and not so much on collectivity. – Erin Mitchell

Prior to my experience in this course my bias was of shame and embarrassment of my culture and heritage, not only because I had been taught by society to never admit that I was “Indigenous” but because of “white passing”. Additionally, my family believed that I was always at risk of being seized by social services, not because I wasn’t being raised impeccably, but because so many of our friends and relatives had the social services involved in their lives for generations; always living with that fear that they could lose me to the foster system. When in high school, I did learn about my heritage and begin to embrace it, making friends at culture night, however it was within school that experienced “white passing”. First Nations and non, would insist that I wasn’t aboriginal and treat me as a fraud as they shunned me from the school’s Aboriginal club. I felt confused and humiliated. During one of the final lectures, we had the opportunity in class to smudge as a group. I was given the opportunity to hold the smudge bowl whilst my friends smudged and I was able to perform a traditional spiritual practice in front of my peers, thus sharing my love of my culture and heritage openly in front of others. For the first time I felt like I belonged and that I was accepted. I didn’t feel judged or shame or the need to defend who I am. The memory of that class will stay with me for a very long time and that feeling of pride is enough to push me forward in my search of a comfortable identity that I can embrace. – Emily Prieur

The material we have covered in class thus far has certainly shifted my frame of mind concerning my heritage. Reading Thomas King's breakdown of the removal and relocation of the "Indians" has led me to recognize the privileges I was given for living off reserve and attending a Catholic school. I was playing into the script of the "civilized savage" and therefore did not experience the poverty, illness, and fear that many Aboriginals are forced to live with today. I also recognize that the system of assimilation used by the government that still goes on today, the Indian Status, was not what I once thought it to be. When I was younger, I felt great sadness at not being able to obtain a status card because my grandmother had married a white man. When legislation changed in 2010 (bill C-3) I was so happy to finally be a recognized Native American. In my younger mind, that was synonymous to being a "real" native. Learning about the true origins and purposes of the Indian Status system has greatly transformed my view on the matter. The government is not, and never should be, considered the final authority of what is and isn't Native. – Anonymous

To this date, my historical perceptions of the Canadian legal system have changed especially after watching William’s movie on the Pass System. So often, I think of the legal system as a way to uphold the rights of all people in Canada and I naively assumed it always has functioned in this way. The pass system however was illegally used by parliament to restrict Indigenous peoples’ movement. This has taught me the importance of being well informed and to be involved in the legislative process to protect civil rights. Our class discussions have also changed my biases considerably; I have seen how little knowledge most settlers in Canada have about indigenous history. My classmates seemed shocked about the involvements of agencies such as the RCMP in destroying buffalo herds to starve Indigenous peoples. I would imagine that most people would question why the buffalo have gone extinct and draw parallels to this. I guess that one should never assume that people are so well informed. Lastly, more than ever I am reminded of how important it is to act as a strong ally with Indigenous people and to use your own privileges as a settler person. – Luke Preston Maybury

Moving forward

In my first journal, I brought your attention to the sheer lack of education I’d had on Canada’s true history, our involvement in the colonization of the land we now call Canada and the indigenous peoples that inhabited it before us. Through what I’ve learned in the course, I’ve come to realize why it may have seemed convenient not to know anything about it. A lot of the information led me to feel quite uncomfortable with my ancestor’s involvement in such a painful part of our history and it made me feel even more uncomfortable that there is nothing being done about it today. Tuck’s Decolonization is not a metaphor made an amazing point that settler Canadians misuse the term decolonization to refer to a lot of tactics that are essentially only to relieve guilt in themselves and in their own history. The reading really made me realize that no matter how hard it may be on us, the only way to truly decolonize is to return the land to the indigenous and stop the use of land as currency. The common attitude seems to be that “we’re very sorry” but there’s no other choice but to move on from where we are now; I’ve learned that that attitude is flawed and decolonization needs to start being taken more seriously. – Chelsea Houlahan

I wanted to take this journal to talk about the most valuable thing I’ve gotten out of this course: colonialism is ongoing, and I am a guilty party in keeping it alive. “Indigenousness is an identity constructed, shaped and lived in the politicized context of contemporary colonialism.” I like this quote from Alfred and Corntassel (2005) because it shows readers that even the term “Indigenous” is itself an act of colonialism, as it aims to chunk Indigenous peoples from all over the globe into one category, without allowing distinction. Before taking this class, I wasn’t really sure where my place was in decolonization. As a non-Indigenous woman, how could I speak for Indigenous peoples? As a non-Indigenous woman with a passion for Indigenous activism, how could I stand with ignorant non-Indigenous peoples? Slowly, I am learning my place, and this class has been a really important part of that for me. I can form allyship through friendship, be an active ally, and educate other non-Indigenous peoples in areas where my knowledge is relevant. In sum, I’ve learned that acts of colonialism are evidently still happening today, and it is not just Indigenous peoples’ responsibility, but everyone’s responsibility to decolonize.  – Anonymous

The completion of this course has made me question what it means for the future of a relationship between Indigenous peoples and settlers. The class has made me address the uncomfortable truth that much of my academic life was premised on dishonesty. As the “decolonization is not a metaphor” reading suggests “the answers will not emerge from friendly understanding, and indeed require a dangerous understanding of uncommonality.” The mainstream dialogue regarding reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, especially from the current government is that reconciliation is in someway easy and will happen in the span of a government’s mandate. Examining my previous biases, I recognized there is a common thread of personal discomfort with the position of privilege I am in. The unfiltered account of the current Indigenous person’s experience as brought forth in this class reveals the uncomfortable truths that must be recognized then dismantled. Decolonization requires intersectionality and this critical analysis has largely been avoided. The privileges enjoyed by settlers who claim rights to land, capitalistic regimes, and the established methods of governing all are weapons for the sublimation of Indigenous peoples. In this class we often talked about how our elementary and secondary schools often kept this part of Canada hidden to us. Taking this class has been a privilege. Moving forward, we need to take the experiences and critical lens of the world that this class provides to educate the general population. No one instance including the closing of residential schools in the 90s marks a complete transition for settler / Indigenous person’s relationship. As students who have been exposed to the reality of colonialism thus far, we must use our place of privilege to become active in the dismantling of this harsh reality. – Danielle Kydd

Over this semester, I have grown in the ways in which I wrap my head around Indigenous issues and even Indigenous peoples themselves. It has been easy, thanks to media and Western society’s portrayal of Native peoples to be something of the past, or not as prevalent anymore, to categorize Indigenous peoples and issues separately in my mind from everyday life. After reading about Indigenous peoples around the world and the systematic colonization of them for capitalism and imperialism and other selfish means, I have had to really acknowledge that Indigenous peoples are still hurting but are still real. While my history of colonization has left me feeling very guilty, I am now aware that I need to take responsibility for how I treat and value Indigenous peoples in my life. I have had to deal with some cognitive dissonance, that even though I am fairly educated about Indigenous issues in Canada and have always felt a connection to Indigenous culture and history, I have been benefiting from a society that is built on other people’s land. I am part of the colonial story if I do not continue to educate myself and make steps towards reconciliation with people who are still actively colonized today. I was deeply moved by Elder Verna in class today and the stories of loss of status. I know that I have some Indigenous blood in me through my grandfather, but his family history is unclear. I have always felt a calling to study Indigenous issues and learn as much as I can about different people and their cultures, but during the conversation about the Indian Act and how people have been actively assimilated into Canadian society- at what point did my family become simply of European decent. I feel like I have a duty and a desire to look into that vague area of my life. I have discovered over this semester that Indigenous people are contemporary, with their own unique cultures and languages and not simply the “pan-Aboriginal” that is portrayed to me. I deeply value this class as it has been eye opening to the deliberate process of colonization and how it is ongoing today and I get little tastes of Indigenous thought and way of living as well as an unbiased approach to the history of the land I live on. I still have a lot to learn, and maybe I do not have any Indigenous family lines, but I believe that as an ally and a white settler in Canada, I have a duty to try and spread awareness about ongoing colonization and issues resulting from my governments mistreatment of hundreds of Nations. – Emma Wagenman

In Alfred's and Corntassel's writings "Being Indigenous: Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism," I was newly introduced to the term 'Indigenous warrior'. Indigenous warriors reconstructed, reshaped and actively lived against the demeaning processes that are inherent in colonialism; the idea that, if I chose to, I could actively live against the societal majority, for a common goal of the Indigenous peoples, is very empowering. It's empowering not only as a Native individual but also as a woman. During my time in the Catholic school system I learned conformity is for the greater good and non-compliance will result in consequences. This class has taught me that it is much more complicated than that. The greater good is subjective at best and what happened during colonization was not the best. But through my actions as an individual, I could join the movement to reconnect my people with their lands, languages, and freedom. – Anonymous

Throughout this course I have learned much about the intersectional approaches to colonialism. What I find to be the biggest question is “what does it mean to be developed”? Edward Goldsmith looks at this question in correlation to imperialism and nationalism in his article Development as Colonialism (1997). Development seems to ultimately be about power. It seems to be that the overarching theme in the definition of “development” is monetary power. As long as you have the resources to maintain your own country, the needs of other countries are irrelevant. I say “country” as a broad scope as this ideology seems to be apparent within countries as well, as we have seen with the indigenous population. As Winston Churchill writes “History is written by the winners”. Well it seems as though these “winners” have bullied their way to the top by extracting resources that aren’t theirs, corrupting government entities which they should have left alone and destroyed millions of lives. So as we finish this course, I can no longer claim ignorance about indigenous colonialism and realize if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. – Kevin Picard

Being in criminology and having an interest in Aboriginal Criminal Justice I could not help but notice the strong correlation between the over-representation of Indigenous Canadians in prison and the notion of forced labour involved with settler colonialism. With the introduction of the prison industrial complex, exploiting the extremely low-wage labour of inmates is a neo-colonial form of slavery and state-domination.  Preventing Aboriginal people from accessing post-secondary education until the 1960’s is also a method through which the government prevented most Aboriginal peoples from obtaining well paying jobs, thus continuing the colonial project of low-wage labour recruitment. This caused me to reflect on my family history and how all but one of my grandparents is university educated.  This is a privilege I have inherited though the trickle down effect of my grandparents’ wealth.  This is before adding additional barriers, which many Indigenous people must overcome such as intergenerational trauma. What will resonate the most with me from this course is how incredibly resilient Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples are. – Mikayla Margaret Ozorio

My worldview and Biases have been altered to a point where I accept other ideologies and customs but also embrace them. There are many things in which I accept of other ways of life such as those of First Nations peoples. In one of our classes we sat down in a circle and discussed various cultural practises of some First Nations. This was a very nice class as we did not discuss the effects of colonialism but we looked at an Aboriginal perspective on life. We read stories and smudged with different trees/plants and this allowed me to see how they really live their lives. It helped me understand their culture better and this is what allowed me to more or less accept their worldviews. Alfred and Corntassel (2005) speak much about how Aboriginal peoples must try to surmount the effects of colonialism. They discuss that Indigenous communities must resist the effects of colonialism. I truly believe that this could be done if everyone in Canada, either settler descendants or otherwise, could visualize Aboriginal culture and traditions. This would open their eyes that these people do have a different way of life and it should be embraced rather than destroyed. – Matthew Sauriol

I am studying development, and while I have come to a clear understanding of why the concept of ‘development’ is bad, I have never equated it to colonialism as Goldsmith does in Development as Colonialism (Goldsmith 1997). The idea that ‘development’ is simply a continuation of colonization is a harsh reality that I’ve been naïve to (Goldsmith 1997). I have realized the extent of biases, in the sense that since I personally do not face these realities and discrimination on a daily basis, I have developed this sense of naivety and ignorance that I am not proud of. I need to check my biases frequently, my knowledge gained throughout this course has morphed my worldviews and understanding of my biases. I came into this course believing I had a decent grasp on the story of Indigenous peoples and a good conceptualization of my biases, and I am leaving this course feeling ignorant and angry. Because I am in a place of privilege, I now feel a sense of responsibility to not sit back and ignore these realities despite the fact that I personally am not forced to face them every day. I want to continue to learn and to encourage my family and friends to do the same. I cannot undo history or remove my privileges; but I can educate myself and keep my biases in check. – Anonymous

In Journal 3, I wrote about my feelings of guilt regarding my past ignorance to the current Indigenous plight and sense of hopelessness in sensitizing others to the “genocide” affecting Indigenous peoples today. In the weeks since, I feel a little more hopeful in my quest to be an ally and work towards reconciliation. Both the class material and readings have worked to help with this realization however it was the reading of Alfred and Corntassel (2005) that made me feel most filled with hope. This article, which discusses contemporary colonialism, mentions the larger process of regeneration begins with the self, and the original relationship between Indigenous peoples and settlers was corrupted. However, if everyone shifts their thinking/actions which emanate from recommitments/reorientations at the level of the self, over time this will ripple into broad social and political movements. Although I can’t ensure successful decolonization in others, I can in myself. This idea gives me hope for a future of harmony. EAS2101’s required journals forced me on a welcome albeit bumpy ride of reflection. Journal One forced me to acknowledge biases/privileges based on my worldview of “descended settler”, while Journal 2 helped me to place value on oral tradition.  Journal 3 made me realize colonialism experienced by the Indigenous peoples in Canada is an ongoing genocide which I have unknowingly contributed and finally Journal 4 made me realize to best help in decolonization I must start with myself. – Anonymous

Class discussion on contemporary colonialism has impacted my worldview, specifically how first world countries treat third world countries. Through the discussion, it has made me aware that colonization still occurs in present day society and how it is hidden from people living in the first world. In the reading, they state that the colonial powers were committed to destroying the domestic economy of the countries that they colonized and that the mother country benefited from the destruction of the third world countries (Goldsmith, 76). This relates to my first journal article because I spoke about how privileged I was to have grown up in a middle class neighbourhood in Canada. However, growing up in a privileged society has made me biased to thinking that I do not have to focus on issues happening around the world since it is not affecting me directly. This course has made me aware of the contemporary colonialism happening around the world that most people are oblivious to, including myself prior to our in class discussion, and I am now motivated to help stop and change the contemporary colonialism taking place in society. – Karianne Vaikla

My biases have once again changed especially after reading Goldsmith’s essay on Development as Colonialism. One thing that really resonated with my educational background and experiences is the notion that Indigenous land practises were inferior to western systems and that “development” is a western construct. Indigenous land use practises have been seen as inferior as they were “not permanent” or “agricultural” and to this day this thinking prevails. This western system was self-serving to settlers and as Goldsmith argues it was widely practised in all former colonies or occupied areas. The dispossession of land from Indigenous peoples was the main way that settler people accumulated wealth post contact and this approach was very lucrative, although at the expense of Indigenous peoples. Moving forward, I must once again decolonize my thinking and challenge the thinking of others. The Indigenous land ethic has always contained a large ecological component which is now being rediscovered despite significant resistance from the scientific community.  Lastly, the separation of Indigenous peoples and their traditional lands has had greater ramifications than I ever realized and the phrase ontological genocide really resonated with me and is now a future learning topic to reflect on. – Luke Preston Maybury

One final reflection about what I’ve learned from this course, with the help of the Alfred reading, is how Indigenous people suffer still to this day. I suppose it wasn’t until early high school that I realized that people still identified themselves as Indigenous; it just never clicked before. I had learned about First Nations in history class but I just assumed that they kind of all died off; that’s kind of how it was taught anyway. After reading the Alfred reading, and coming to class, I understand a little bit of the struggle that the Indigenous community faces everyday. I have no idea what it’s like to live with the knowledge that people once wanted your entire culture to be killed off but I don’t think it would be particularly pleasant. And I feel that the idea is reinforced today because of things like the Dakota pipeline where Indigenous culture and heritage is not being respected. I would like to help things get better for the Indigenous community and I think taking this course has reinforced that more than ever. – Roslin Sinclair

One a personal level, this semester has been very challenging for me. My life has been very hectic over the past few months, and I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to greater than I have had the capacity to be. As I am sure many of my peers have, I’ve been questioning “What am I doing with my life?”, “Am I making the right choices?”, “Am I doing enough?”. I feel that these are probably questions that follow most of us throughout the entirety of our lives. Throughout this semester, this course has been crucial in encouraging me to continue to examine my privilege in life. In reading Horn’s “The Genocide of A Generation’s Identity”, I was struck by the way that Settler society has forced Indigenous peoples (along with many marginalized communities) to feel the need to justify their heritage, identity and experience. This is not a pressure that I face, and one that no one should. Not only are people of my ethnic identity overrepresented within our culture, but we are also made to feel that our identities are the norm, and therefore alienating anyone who does not fit into an arbitrary ideal. – Anonymous

This last quarter of the class has been my favourite so far. The class in Simard, where the class participated in smudging and learning about Indigenous ways of learning, was the best class this semester. Learning about culture that challenges the French-British society I have been subjected to throughout my life, has been an eye opening experience. While I came into this class with somewhat of an understanding of indigenous Canadian societies and histories, getting to physically participate and learn about these cultures has elevated my perception on the future of Canada. This reflects the 24 November, Alfred reading which discusses resistance to further settler encroachment on indigenous lands and their ways of being. It projects a notion of indigenous self-determination away from colonial dependency. This connects what we have been discussing in class to my own cultural upbringing. Canada is a multicultural state; not a melting pot of culture. This means that Canada, with a European cultural predominance, should propel its multicultural identity to include its first peoples in society more. Growing up with the notion of a multicultural Canada was a source of pride, but just because we say that we are, does not mean it to be true. If I take away anything from this class, it is that indigenous ways of knowing and being are just as, if not more important to the future of Canada than anything else. – Steven William Grandin

My perception of my biases and the world has remained the same since I first identified them at the beginning of the semester. While watching the Williams film on the “Pass System”, I got to see how the white settlers were able to manipulate treaties and laws in order to assimilate, eliminate and colonize Indigenous communities. Seeing the process play out and understanding the impacts of reserves and the pass system further strengthens my bias towards western culture and the perception of a greedy world. The fact that white men could make up false treaty terms and then manipulate the wording so they could round Indigenous people into small reserves and then ‘cage’ them up is crazy, in my opinion. Greed towards resources and lack of compassion the settlers showed towards many people is disgusting. The more knowledge I have acquired over my university career and from taking this class, opens my eyes to so many issues and problems we need to address and fix. Our governments are not doing anything to stop them and this continues to reinforce my biases. Until all the issues are addressed I think I’ll always have my biases. – Anonymous

This semester has been a journey of acknowledging and accepting my privileges as a white settler, and coming to terms with the ways in which I have passively contributed to the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples. This semester has included feelings of sorrow and anger about assimilative Canadian policies, feelings of guilt about my privilege and the actions of my ancestors, and feelings of being overwhelmed and hesitant about how I can be an ally to Indigenous Peoples. In this course I have learned to appreciate Indigenous knowledge and alternative methods of learning, and to be attentive to, and critical of modern forms of colonialism. The biggest takeaway from this course for me has been the recognition that my position of privilege gives me a responsibility to be an ally to those who are not in a place of privilege. My primary interest lies in forest management, and I leave this course with the intention of being an Indigenous ally within that field. In Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassels’ article Being Indigenous: Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism, they write that a key aspect of the resurgent Indigenous movement is the reconnection of Indigenous individuals with the land of their traditional territory. They call this mantra “Land is Life”. In my opinion, for this to be possible, Indigenous Peoples must have complete control over resource extraction and development on their territories. In An Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King expresses the belief that resource development of reserve land is one of the most important issues that Indigenous Peoples in North America are currently facing. I focused on the Haida Nation for my storytelling map projects this semester, and had such a great experience doing so. Through researching the Haida Nation I learned quite a bit about non-consensual resource development and successful resistance efforts. Learning about the Haida Nation’s success in protecting the ecosystems of their territory and regaining the authority to make decisions about the management and development of their land has been inspiring and uplifting.  As a commitment to being an ally to Indigenous Peoples, today I will attend the rally outside of the Supreme Court to support the land rights of the Chippewas of the Thames and the Clyde River Inuit. – Anonymous

 

Sources:

Goldsmith, E. (1997). Development as Colonialism. The Ecologist. Retrieved from: http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/751/development-as-colonialism/

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2016, Fall). Decolonization is not a metaphor. EAS 2101 Course pack: Tracy Coates. Abstract obtained from Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2012 1(1), pg. 6

Prologue

Grüß Gott. Mein name ist Sophia.  Hello my name is Sophia and I am a first generation Canadian. My mother’s side of the family is Austrian and I believe my father’s family originated from England.  

I was born downtown Toronto and as result attended the most ethnically diverse school board in the world. It may sound unrealistic but as a result of the mosaic of cultures in my class, I grew up “colour” blind. Not to say that my school was perfect however, an acceptance for cultural difference wasn’t one of the issues. It was only as I matured that I came to the realization that the rest of Canada didn’t necessarily share in my school’s perspective.

As this relates to Indigenous peoples, I knew of their existence, and recognized that there had been Indigenous-Settler issues in the past. It was only after Harper’s apology in 2008 regarding residential schools I felt the first tinge that these past wrongs done by settlers may be much nearer than first imagined.

I am currently in my 3rd year of a B.Sc in Psychology with a minor in Aboriginal Studies.  For as long as I can recall I have wanted to be a physician, and after working closely with a group of Indigenous peoples at my local homeless shelter for the last few years, I know that I want to concentrate in Indigenous health.

My hope as an ally and future medical professional is to help bridge the disconnect between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canadian society, particularly when it comes to sharing in the benefits of each others health models and medical practices.

To do this I believe it is important that I learn as much as I can about my future patient base. Instead of imposing my beliefs on them, I want to learn their ways and build their trust so as to help them best. This involves broadening my knowledge of the Indigenous paradigm with its unique ontology, epistemology, axiology and methodologies. I look forward to applying what I learn through the completion of this Community Well-Being Index to the lifelong journey ahead.  – Sophia

 

Group Journals

Group Journal #1 – Entry one (beginning of the course)

The composition of the group was quite diverse, including two Indigenous students, an international student, and two members from Southern Ontario. As expected, this meant that views from within the group were not homogenous, though they shared some similar attitudes.

To start, the group chose to share information about themselves, talking about where they came from, their attitudes and worldviews. This was accomplished by taking turns speaking rather than having a debate about some of the issues they were instructed to discuss. This format would change later on in the meeting as members of the group became more familiar with one another.

The first to share was Janik, who started the conversation off with her attitude towards life in general. She described being open-minded when trying new things. Erin also related to this, saying she actively seeks out new experiences to learn from; particularly learning experiences with other cultures. Erin recognized that she is privileged to be able to travel and encounter these cultures. Darren admitted that he can be stubborn to try new things, often requiring some coaxing from his friends. Maggie expressed a similar sentiment, though she requires less convincing if it is done within a small group; she feels much more comfortable when she is around familiar people. This conversation about attitudes shifted towards worldviews.

Worldview and Attitudes:

When the group discussed worldviews, Janik spoke about a belief “that everything happens for a reason and karma plays big part in our daily lives”. Instead of dwelling on the negative, she believes it is best to learn, and to grow from these experiences. Erin agreed with this notion. She talked about practising yoga, and a mindfulness of the world around her. She focuses on acceptance in all aspects of life. Similar to Janik, Erin believes that everything that happens is meant to be. With this worldview, she is able to avoid getting caught up in life, and can live with a more carefree manor.

Maggie spent time in a number of different homes growing up, and she shared that this influenced her worldview, but not in a negative way. Ultimately, things worked out for her. Maggie described her worldview as “chill” (cool, calm). Without saying it, Maggie seemed to have similar beliefs as Erin and Janik; she took difficult experiences and used them to shape a positive worldview. Maggie furthers her positive outlook by always reaching out to help others. She is empathetic and non-judgemental. An important part of her attitude is keeping herself surrounded by positive people who do not bring negativity into her daily routine.

Darren had difficulty vocalizing his thoughts on his worldview. He talked about wanting to have a positive influence on people. Generally, he sees problems and wants to help create solutions. He would like to apply this to Indigenous issues, and spoke about wanting to see Indigenous people heal and move forward. He fears that his advice for moving forward in the era of reconciliation might be unpopular, so he did not explore this idea much further.

Being away from home, Chris described experiencing a situation much different from the rest of the group. Although most of the members are not from Ottawa, they are still from surrounding regions which reflect the cultural lifestyle. Studying in Ottawa for Chris has been an opportunity to learn about different cultures and experience a “Canadian life”. Although he is here to focus on a culture different from his own, he finds himself missing home and reaching out for aspects of it which he wouldn’t normally turn to. An example he refers to is Dutch music. Back home he would not consider listening to it, but here it comes naturally, connecting him to his homeland. Being abroad has widened his worldview about Canadians and Indigenous people alike, but has also given him a greater appreciation of where he is from.

Biases:

In relation to the topic of this course, the issue of cultural knowledge came up when discussing biases in the group. Darren and Maggie both spoke about a bias related to issues of culture in a university environment. They are wary of who is talking about Indigenous issues, and non-Indigenous speakers are often looked on with a degree of doubt. Darren spoke specifically about feeling uncomfortable when religion and cultural teachings are used together. They bring up thoughts of residential school, and the influence of the church on the beliefs of residential school survivors and their children. Darren said he is interested in preserving cultural knowledge and worries that much of it has been adulterated by these schools.

Maggie developed on this idea of biases towards her culture, and extends it to authoritative positions in academic settings. Maggie believes that Indigenous people are constantly fighting for their culture and voice to be recognized, and she fears that her own views will not be respected. Although she described herself as a laid back individual, she admits that she is slightly more critical of non-Indigenous people speaking about Indigenous issues.

Having travelled and experienced various cultures, Erin has noticed the generalizations that Western culture is better. A wide range of people believe that it is the idealised way of living and what people should strive to achieve. Although Western culture has a strong economic standing, and is modernised and advanced compared to many other countries in the world, it does not mean that adopting Westernised culture should be seen as conventional.

Living in a world that Chris described as “white, Westernised, [and] male dominated”, he described subconsciously accepting the belief that men and women should have roles based on their gender. He did not does not favour a patriarchal society, but has become aware of the influence that these beliefs have had on him, and is attempting to adjust this way of thinking.

Janik raised the issue of gender. With the acknowledgement of LGBTQ society and the introduction of awareness towards gender fluidity, there is a distribution of information and opinions being constantly shared. Without having personal ties to that society and not having been given any information, she finds the concept of gender fluidity and not associating with a gender rather confusing. She acknowledged that this may be because the concept of gender has always been concrete in her mind, and she always identified as a woman. The group discussed the issue for several minutes, with each member sharing their own thoughts about gender and sex.

Privilege and How it Affects our Interpretation of the World Around us:

A common privilege identified from within the group was the fact that all members are currently enrolled at the University of Ottawa. Canada may be one of the most educated countries in the world, but there are still many without the means to attend university, and all members of the group acknowledged this privilege when they initially took turns speaking.

Chris and Darren both acknowledged the privilege of being men.

Despite being Cree, Darren still benefits from having a lighter skin tone compared to the rest of his family and acknowledges that he may benefit from this. In particular, he confessed that his experiences differed from those of his brother who has a darker skin tone. They had similar upbringings and opportunities, but have lived dissimilar lives. Darren wondered what would have happened if their skin colours had been reversed. Would they have turned out the same way? Darren believes that these different trajectories are influenced by social norms and their effects on people. As a white-passing Indigenous person, he has not had to deal with the same amount, or even type, of racism that his brother has.

With the unique situation of being Indigenous but growing up with a non-Indigenous family, Maggie had the privilege of living with a bridge between both worlds. Although at times she felt excluded from the non-Indigenous children at her school, she recognised her opportunity in learning about both cultures which had such a strong importance in her life.

Due to her travels, Erin has been privileged to observe other cultures which have taught her much about different worldviews. Although she is accustomed to a certain way of living, there is no reason why others can’t live oppositely to her and be as happy and as fulfilled.

Like Erin, Janik grew up in a financially stable home. She did not want for anything and was always able to satisfy her needs while growing up. Going through personal hardships for a number of years, she was exposed to a world that isn’t always perfect. These experiences seemed nothing but unpleasant at the time, but with growth she was able to turn that negative part of her life into an insight of people who have shared similar difficulties. Through these positive and negative sides of growing up, she had the privilege of understanding and relating to an even wider group of individuals.

Having a discussion about privilege, and how it influences worldviews, attitudes, and biases can be a difficult topic to navigate. Especially the first time having that conversation, which was the case for most members of the group. Though the initial exchanges were guarded, the conversation eventually turned into a productive exchange that allowed each member to discuss their own privilege, and in some cases, even identify specific behaviours that they plan to address moving forward. The discussion group was a positive experience and left group members with a broadened worldview.

 

Group Journal #1 – Entry two (end of the course)

This semester required members of our group to step outside of their comfort zone on more than one occasion. Whether it was participating in meditation, in sharing circles, or in ceremony, we left behind many of the conventional approaches to learning while in EAS4103A. This group in particular was comprised of a diverse mix of people with dissimilar backgrounds and worldviews and we spent much time discussing these differences at the beginning of the course. We learned much from one another. Each member took away something unique from this class, and each of us has a distinct idea of how we plan to proceed with these newly acquired knowledges.

Janik expressed a fondness for the sharing circles, saying they were nonlinear and the conversations could segue in many ways. It was far different from her past learning experiences, which include a certificate in Aboriginal Studies from Algonquin College, and her current minor in at the University of Ottawa. She hopes to continue learning in the same or similar manner in the future. She plans on sharing this knowledge not only by telling stories and histories with her loved ones, but also incorporating it into her career as well. She has her sights set on working in a communications role in an Indigenous workplace such as The Wabano for Aboriginal Health or the Mamidosewin Centre, with the intention of supporting reconciliation efforts as well as raising awareness about some of the things she learned with non-Indigenous people.

Maggie believes that the knowledge she acquired this semester has helped broaden her perspectives on a variety of Indigenous topics in the academic and non-academic world. Like Janik, she also enjoyed the sharing circles. Maggie says that she has always enjoyed listening to what others around her have to say, learning more about their experiences and what shapes their worldviews and how they apply it to their daily lives. This made the discussion components of particular interest to Maggie, as they encouraged others to share their opinions, which allowed Maggie to be exposed to alternative perspectives on issues we discussed in our classes together. She hopes to apply what she has learned with others that she connects with in the future - by interacting on a deeper and more meaningful level, there is potential to strengthen bonds which may facilitate the process of reconciliation and bridge gaps.

Having come from the Netherlands and had little education about Indigenous issues in Canada, Chris learned much from his exchange here. Back home, the information he received about the Indigenous peoples here was very limited. He realized that Indigenous issues are not something of the past, but are still very real. He learned much about the history here via the blanket exercise, and Indigenous epistemologies. Chris hopes to share what he has learned with his friends and family back home. He spoke about all the wonderful people he met, and hopes that one day some of his new friends might visit him to share their knowledges and histories with his countrymen. He believes that there is still much to learn, but he looks forward to continuing his journey.

Erin feels more knowledgeable about the interactions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, particularly in regards to the impact that settlers had and continue to have Indigenous societies. What she enjoyed the most was hearing other perspectives and trying to find common ground with others, which she thinks is very important. Erin had mentioned that she appreciates learning about other cultures at the beginning of the semester, so she pleased to learn about ceremony (smudging, sacred fire teachings, songs) and worldviews of Indigenous peoples. Moving forward, she hopes to work with the Indigenous population in Ottawa, as well as providing support for other Indigenous societies within Canada by attending rallies and staying informed about issues that affect them. She has already started, and now volunteers at the Native Women’s Association of Canada where she aspires to one day work. Lastly, she plans to incorporate the teachings she has learned into her everyday life.

Darren has learned to be a better listener in group discussions, and to be more welcoming of other people and their opinions. Compared to the beginning of this semester to now, he has become much more comfortable voicing his thoughts and opinions. He is thankful for being given the opportunity to speak about Indigenous language revitalization with his peers. It is a subject that is very close to his heart, and the comments he received were very positive. His presentation asked some difficult questions about the future of Indigenous language and what role it plays in indigeneity, and he feared what might happen during the discussion. Thankfully the class was very receptive, and this has helped teach him that he does not have to be afraid to express himself as long as he takes the time to do it properly. Moving forward, he would like to continue sharing his knowledge with others and to continue learning from others as well. Also, he thanks the Creator for not letting him mess up when he was tasked with lighting a sacred fire. Mingwetc!

 

Group Journal #2 – Entry one (beginning of the course)

During our group’s discussion we shared our backgrounds and childhood experiences in order to provide insight into how our worldviews, biases and attitudes were formed. Growing up in different contexts meant that it was difficult to create a uniform summary of our views. Commonalities existed among our group in recognition of the factors that shaped our worldviews and related biases and attitudes, however we each had a unique perspective when it came to interpreting the information and people around us. There was a common consensus on how there were degrees of privilege and that it shifted in different contexts. It was necessary to focus on the individual and their experiences when analyzing what determined privilege. Due to the difference in the contexts in which each group member grew up, it is difficult to create a summary of our worldviews, biases, and attitudes without focusing directly on the individual. Commonalities exist among our group in our recognition of the factors, events, environments, or relationships that shape our worldviews and related attitudes, including such things as family and education.

Demi expressed how her worldview is largely a product of growing up in a family of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry, providing two lenses with which to view the world. Her Aboriginal relatives have been, and continue to be, influential in the formation of her attitudes, beliefs, and cultural heritage, as well in part to her biases: many of her biases are based on the effects of colonization and assimilation. Kristen expressed how growing up in poverty in a small, predominantly white town and as the child of a white mother and Jamaican father has impacted the way she views the world: those who have not experienced poverty are unable to grasp the emotional reality of it, and those who fail to acknowledge the realities of racism and discrimination do so because they inherently benefit from a system that favours the elevation of one  group of people (white, western) over others. Martha and Krista identified ways in which their families have shaped their worldview, but also expressed the importance of how the pursuit of post-secondary education has been formative; for Martha this included the questioning of her religion and subsequent deviation from traditional practice of Catholicism, and for Krista the exposure to non-western worldviews has pushed her to be critical, and to try to avoid thinking in a static, linear way. Likewise, Hannah’s worldview is production based on the combination of relationships and education, her critical view of systems and societal relationships stemming from growing up as the child of two university educated parents who both encouraged the pursuit of knowledge and critical thought, but also encouraged compassion, respect, and value of others and other points of view.

The term privilege is one of ambiguous meaning and in most cases is a state that creates uncertainty and lack of clarity. In today’s times, a privilege is having an advantage or something that is available to a particular person or group. Thus, privilege divides people within a society or community depending on their social status and economic standing. People obtain different opportunities throughout their lives but are also born into these particular rights or privileges. The term privilege entails more than just how someone lives their life or is given opportunity, and sometimes these “privileges” are taken for granted. In the context of our group, Keewaydin and Northwaters Langskib, traditional canoe camps that Demi and Hannah have the opportunity and privilege to guide at, create an attachment with the territory and environment travelled on. Furthermore, it generates another reality or worldview to adopt an absolute reality of how privileged society is. With that being said, not all people have this outdoor experience. However, other people in society have grown up with a lack of exposure to rich culture and knowledge. Moreover, privilege and the meaning behind such a distinctive word can sometimes be understood or grasped as the privilege of having an educational opportunity, or still having the connection with your traditional territory/ where you were raised as a child. The term privilege should not revolve around the special rights or advantages people have, but understanding privilege as being able to live another day on earth, share your experiences with friends, connect and be loved by family members, and enjoy the experiences that occur to expand your understanding of culture, literature, heritage, the environment and many others on a day-to-day basis.

Cultural, religious, and economic environments influence how individuals move through time and space and how they fit into societal networks. These limit an individual and often propose guidelines and limitations for people. Each of these variables provides different experiences but it is what you choose to do with these experiences that define your reflection of the world around you. Although we have all experienced different barriers in life, there is overlap in our understanding of the aspects of the world around us. One overlapping theme is the empathy and use of the past in order to understand how we arrived at our modern day ideologies. We each provide a unique point of view, explaining how this shaped our thoughts. The diverse context each group member grew up in differs from that of our parents, but being able to acknowledge this shows the examination of our individual experiences even with those closest to us. However, there is a common understanding that you can never experience another person’s life without having lived in the situation yourself. Understanding and respecting the different ways of life is something we all have achieved at different points in our lives. For some of us, we have been taught from a young age to be mindful and open to other worldviews. For the rest of us, we discovered this through personal growth and experience. Our experiences, whether they be an international venture or something as simple as self-reflection, has expanded our comprehension of the world around us. We have all had the opportunity to examine ourselves and the world around us from quite different perspectives. We understand that privilege has fed into the opportunities that have presented themselves. We are able to understand that an individual’s journey is never static and growth is always possible.

While no two worldviews discussed were identical, commonalities and curiosity about differing worldviews has afforded us an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and respect of alternative perspectives. Each individual has expressed the origin of their worldview and the various elements which have shaped the ways in which they view the world and interpret and process information. Some significant factors discussed include: socio-cultural and socio-economic background, physical environment, education, religion, familial relationships and ancestry, as well as an array of individual personal experiences. We have each reflected on how these factors have played a role in influencing personal biases and creating certain barriers or privileges. The ambiguity of the term ‘privilege’ allows for a plethora of ways in which we experience (or do not experience) it, and reflecting on those privileges as a group has given us the opportunity to reflect on the role that privilege plays in each of our lives.

 

Group Journal #3– Entry one (beginning of the course)

Our discussion group consisted of two students from the EAS 4103 class (Fall 2016), Luke Maybury and Marissa Mills. Both group members come from different backgrounds but had agreed on many topics and observations on and off-campus. The goal was to identify our worldviews, biases and attitudes and how they apply to our everyday lives.

After our group discussion, we identified our own worldviews: Luke’s were predominantly settler-based Canadian with an appreciation for Indigenous cultures, although he is not Indigenous. These worldviews and biases due stem from a privileged upbringing and my position in society as an educated white male. It is also important to note that when I entered university, I did not have a great appreciation or understanding of Indigenous cultures and issues. In fact, I was raised in a community that was very hostile towards those living on the reserve next to my hometown. After this less than constructive upbringing, I decided that I needed to learn about Indigenous peoples and change my outlook. After 4 years away from those negative attitudes, I have learned to appreciate the great diversity and richness of Indigenous languages and cultures in Canada. Marissa’s worldviews growing up were almost completely opposite to Luke’s, in terms of Indigenous and non-Indigenous worldviews. They were based on a connection to the land, language, culture and history of my people, the Southern Tutchone nation, or Lù’àn Män Ku Dän, Kluane Lake People. Later on in life, I began realizing how my family and I were affected by colonization, from residential schools to the building of the Alaska highway. My move to Whitehorse, the Yukon’s capital, gave me the opportunity to create friendships with non-Indigenous people, which was easy at a young age. However, high school opened my eyes to the visible “differences” between the Yukon First Nations and non-Indigenous people. Fast forward to 2010, after graduating high school, I became the Youth Councillor for Kluane First Nation and sat alongside the Chief and other councilors in office for three years. This allowed my pride as an Indigenous person to be highly restored, as I was actively involved in the leadership of our youth and my people. As well, it allowed my education in Self-Government to expand in many ways.

A big topic which we discussed was privilege, as well as the double standards that exist for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. For instance, we discussed how so often white people are allowed to play the “I didn’t know” card when they may say or do something offensive to Indigenous people. One particular example is wearing Indigenous appropriated costumes, which predominantly represent Plains Indigenous people. We hypothesized that if an Indigenous person were to confront and educate an individual wearing such a costume, they would be considered the bitter or angry Indigenous person. Another example is the university colonizing a Plains teepee for use during the winter challenge/winter festival. This example of Indigenous knowledge has a large UOttawa logo on the side and is not a part of traditional Algonquin society. This exemplifies the double standard present on campus; if a Franco Ontarian cultural symbol was improperly used it would be swiftly rectified.

We also discussed the Indigenous presence on campus and the space that Indigenous people occupy. In many cases, a number of cultures are represented on campus such as African, Chinese, French Canadian, as well as others. The Aboriginal Resource Centre (ARC), for example, is located on the far edge of uOttawa campus. We drew the comparison between the geographical location of the ARC and the action of moving Indigenous people to reservations in an inconvenient location. A number of prominent services are located in the University Centre, which is very visible for members of the university community. Locating a key service such as the Aboriginal Resource Centre in a less visible area is a disservice to Indigenous students on campus who are less likely to find this safe space.

In addition, we discussed visibility of Indigenous peoples off campus. We compared cities such as Ottawa, Winnipeg, Whitehorse, and Edmonton. In some cities, the Indigenous population’s visibility is very high, with bigger roles being filled by Indigenous people themselves. While other cities tend to have limited visibility. Then, if the public’s eye is only seeing the homeless Indigenous community, this can create a negative stereotype. Nonetheless, as an observer, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, it is important to be aware of why some Indigenous people are living and breathing the repercussions of colonization more than others.

It seemed that our overall theme was sensitivity. When discussing current issues, class topics, and the ugly side of history that relate directly to Indigenous peoples, we all need to take into consideration a sensitivity to the discussion. For many Indigenous people, the process of healing is ongoing, so individuals can react in many different ways. On the other hand, non-Indigenous people can have feelings of guilt or sadness when first learning about the injustices of the past. So, it is important to create a safe space for such discussions and protect these individuals and their emotions. For example, in a classroom that has an Indigenous focus, professors should be aware of the possibility of strong reactions and know how to deal with a student who is feeling high in emotion. We have seen many ways to accomplish this in this class and others. Our hope is that professors and all teachers will take sensitive caution when speaking about Indigenous peoples and create a safe space for their students.

The flow of this conversation was very honest and direct. We were able to share with each other a little piece of ourselves with an open mind. Even though we both came from different backgrounds, we found appreciation in each other’s journeys. Moving forward, we will be able to understand more of what our classmates share in sharing circles.

 

Group Journal #3 – Entry two (end of the course)

After the course and working together, we are ready to apply our knowledge and move forward in a positive manner. We are both driven to work together as Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to create solutions for issues facing Indigenous peoples, as well as environmental challenges. With our two worldviews, we have been able to achieve a widening of our knowledge on both topics (Indigenous peoples and environmental challenges) which have been complimentary to one another.

We discussed how easy it is to be hopeless in the face of so many challenges facing the environment and Indigenous peoples. We discussed the enormity of challenges facing young people like us and how easy it is to give up or give in to these feelings of despair. We did decide that we do need to move forward past these feelings and towards acting. Our solution is to not get overwhelmed and to work on small steps along the way by choosing what you are passionate about and what you are capable of contributing to (i.e. focusing on a smaller geographical area rather than the entire world). Taking this approach will also avoid burning yourself out since it is so easy to be discouraged. We also determined that our priorities do change over time and that just because you are currently engaged with one cause does not mean that you always will. Often movements or projects come to a natural end and as such, it is important to take time and reflect upon your next endeavor.

We also discussed the importance of non-Indigenous allies and their role in driving change. We identified the importance of forming bonds between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students as it may have effects when one day, these students may hold change making positions. We hypothesized that it is much more difficult to ignore the needs of your Indigenous classmates after you have formed meaningful bonds with them. By extension, the university does need more courses similar to this to build capacity and networks outside of our usual groups and classes. Lastly, we figured that the non-Indigenous person should bear this responsibility as part of their own personal reconciliation journey.

We also discussed how to move forward on campus in a positive way to challenge and indigenize the institution. We discussed the politicized nature of the uOttawa campus at all levels and that Indigeneity and Indigenous rights are not near the top of the priority list. Within the university community, other groups are prioritized; such as, French language speakers and other racialized minorities, although Indigenous issues are completely left out of this discourse. Moving forward, we decided that our voices need to be heard, from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to incorporate some much needed decolonization on campus. While difficult, it is necessary to push these concerns to the forefront of the university community, especially given the difficulties Indigenous students face on campus.

Luke’s individual component: I think that this class has also pushed me to re-enter the social services/environmental line of work. I have been previously very active in the university advocating for students and improved services although I did get disillusioned and now I am ready for another challenge. This semester, I was really inspired and made to think critically by Marissa. This semester, she attended a number of protests and other social movements while I have attended none. I reflected on why I have not attended and I think it is because I prefer more anonymity and behind the scenes work.   After a long hiatus from my former social service jobs, I want to contribute as a front line grassroots worker. I think this is my calling as it is difficult to work at the higher administrative level without becoming frustrated by the system. I think there are also much more effective people that “play the game” and can work with the higher ups and senior officials. I learned at the very start of my working life that that is not for me and instead I like working with individuals at a more operational vs policy level.

As for Marissa: Thanks to this opportunity to work closely with Luke, I have been able to recognize and respect a non-Indigenous, Canadian’s approach and transforming appreciation to Indigenous communities. This has given me hope that Canadians are becoming more receptive to creating those bonds which will be needed to accomplish true reconciliation. From this course and working with Luke, I have able to expand my knowledge, and find my passion, in our connection to the environment. I have also been able to become more vocal and have meaningful discussions on tangible tasks that we, as individuals, can do to help create a safer space for Indigenous students on campus. This goes back to the need to focus on changing smaller areas of colonial practices, rather than feeling hopeless about creating a massive change. With the recent uOttawa Senate meeting, I feel empowered to speak up about how I feel as an Indigenous student studying here and work toward demanding action from the decision makers. However, we as Indigenous students and peoples cannot do it alone. We will need the help and support of non-Indigenous people, in order to be heard and not seen as the “angry Indian” (as mentioned in a previous Group Reflection). Following these interactions with fellow classmates, there is hope that change and unity are in effect.

To conclude, we have truly accomplished a small act of reconciliation throughout the semester. We have been able to apply our knowledge and experiences during our group discussions, and in class, to support the process of connecting worldviews to bridge the gap between the two. We can only hope that other students of all backgrounds will do the same.

Shäwnithän - Niawen’kó:wa – Mengwec – Thank you

 

Group Journal #4 – Entry one (beginning of the course)

Our group is made up of Canadian settlers from European and Persian/Indian descent, with two members being first generation Canadians. As a function of our physical appearances, two members are considered Caucasian and assumed to belong to colonial society. The remaining member has been viewed, at times, as a visible minority; resulting in her being racialized in social situations and perhaps even subjected to institutionalized racism.

Class levels between members are not linear. One member experienced homelessness and poverty in her formative years, while others were privileged to belong to the middle class surrounded by feelings of safety and security.  The early insecurity experienced by said member has sensitized her to the varied life circumstances possible and the challenges each can pose.  One member is grateful for the travel experience they have had thus far - because travel is a means to broaden understanding of other cultures and our own - yet extensive travel is a costly endeavour and therefore a class privilege.

One member immigrated to Canada at a very young age and recognizes the dedication and hard work of her parents in providing her the privilege of experiencing numerous opportunities in a new country.  Their choices have enabled her to become who she is today and continue to influence her worldviews, biases, and attitudes. It formed her perception that everyone has a unique set of biases and background but that does not diminish who they are or what they can contribute.

Our group has diverse educational backgrounds: Aboriginal and religious studies, psychology, communication, and biomedical and health sciences.  This diversity enables us to incorporate various perspectives and knowledge into this course.  We have generational diversity, which created dialogue surrounding when and how we were able to gain access to societal issues through digital technologies.  Today, we each have access to the Internet. Originally the information on the Internet paralleled the discourse of the white, patriarchal society, but as access and input expands diversified content increases.

Each member has been raised under the umbrella of Catholicism and as such individual member moral codes have a strong distinction between good and evil - right and wrong - and our judgements can often be clouded by the necessity to categorize people or behaviours under this lens.

Collectively we hold ourselves removed from wrong doings done onto Indigenous peoples given that they were committed well before we were born. It was our understanding that the government and Indigenous peoples had reconciled and bridged past differences.  Additionally, growing up in a settler community, absent of Indigenous people’s presence, it was understood that Canada harboured colonial baggage, but that these colonial ideals were rooted in the past.

Like every human, we are born into a context that we have not chosen and are indoctrinated into a society based on the choices of those who came before us. As such, we realize that our immature/imposed attitudes are far different than our more mature attitudes of today.  Through exposure to our studies, public information, and shared experiences, we have gained the ability to understand our world with a more critical eye. We are attempting to become aware of hidden oppressions, but also realize that we have difficulties recognizing them.

All members are English speaking and therefore are at an advantage when attending schools, joining institutions, and consuming widely accessible text/digital media. In fact we deem it our right to have all information available to us in our mother tongue. This pointed to our misconception that the written word was the most appropriate form of preserving knowledge and as such societies based in oral tradition were primitive.  This mistaken belief - that written knowledge was objective and oral knowledge was subjective - had been reinforced by our educational system.

Each of us is angered by the misogynistic and paternalistic society in which we live and thus remain infuriated by the gender bias in employment and income. We feel that we have to work harder to prove ourselves and be accepted.  Through this discussion we realized that while we were feeling marginalized because of our gender, it elevated our awareness that Indigenous women have been violently oppressed because of a society that is still attempting erasure (i.e. murdered and missing women and girls). While we fight for parity in the workplace, these women are fighting for their lives. Therefore, we now see we are in possession of the easier route - to address gender gaps in the workplace - because we are privileged to be already participating. As novice students in Aboriginal Studies, we are now cognizant that while we struggle within a society that is paternal and misogynistic, in the very same instance we are also privileged because we are born and deemed accepted by the dominant systems and structures. We are aware that we have been privileged to attend this colonial institution.  The paradox is that while we are gaining knowledge and future potentials through our studies, there are Indigenous peoples who are unable to access this same education.

We all have all conformed to colonialist social norms, but through knowledge gathering we have awakened and realize that Indigenous peoples are facing unique challenges we are not.  Each member aspires to be an Indigenous ally.  The decisions to partake in Aboriginal studies is a reflection of our awareness that Canadian society has not been a just society and those injustices are still reflected in political, judicial, institutional, and private industry, and more than likely racism in pockets of public consciousness. We see it as our responsibility to mobilize our government for the betterment of Indigenous peoples too.

Group Journal #4 – Entry two (end of the course)

 

“Spirituality cannot be defined, but can be described as a journey to the center of the soul.”

― Peter Kemmsies

 

The semester has come and gone, and despite it only having been 4 months, our reflection group has been on an impressive journey. The mandatory reflective questions and subsequent journaling, while not always easy, have helped to drive a lot of our individual learning. Nowhere is this truer, than when asked in this journal to define “spiritual” and to explore our collective spiritual journeys. The three of us were stumped, and it was only after careful thought and discussion, that we could agree on a definition.

To us, spirituality refers to past, present and future relationships with the natural world, others, and ourselves. It is about connection and awareness to the environment, other beings such as plants or animals, and our inner most layers/depths. It is as though there is a network of invisible threads linking us to everything present in the world, and through life’ s experiences we are able to realize these connections and relationships. Strengthening and exploring, conditioning the host in emotional intelligence.  

Collectively, our  spiritual journeys have led us to a mutual understanding of relationality and connection. Each having worked on a Community Service Learning (CSL) project, and having been involved in the Community Wellbeing Index (CWI), we are more keenly aware that the actions we undertake are all intertwined, and have the potential to result in large ripples felt far into the network of threads as described above. It may have appeared a task-based class, and yet upon completion, there are deeper relationships between classmates, Community Advisory Council (CAC) members, the professor, and the Indigenous student body.

A group member shared one such example in discussion. The individual recounted her feelings of joy and excitement after learning of a CAC member’s acceptance to the Graduate Program at Trent University.  Demi Mathias, was not a direct member of our class, but has played an active role in our CWI research team, both in terms of her involvement in CAC Meetings and as a consultant.  Because of her presence, assistance, and mutually held desire for a final product - which would benefit Indigenous students - she became relational. This relationality served to both emotionally, and spiritually tether Demi to said group member, whether she is aware or not.

Another group member has had a similar experience. The relationships she has built through the journey of this class has shaped her understandings of spiritual connection. She was impacted by the stories which were shared in focus groups, in CAC meetings,  break-out sessions, and in class open discussions. For example, she is aware that although she may not work with every single CAC or ISA member again,  her lived experiences from this journey is one she will carry throughout her life and she will never forget the relationships formed through this class.

 Similarly, despite the fact that none of our group members are Indigenous, by dissecting the Indigenous student experience through the CWI and arriving at the education indicators, we were able to narrow the relational gap between these students and ourselves. In learning about their struggles and being actively involved in trying to diminish them, we have enhanced our compassion/ability to understand other perspectives at the spiritual level. For example, in attending the signing of the Truth and Reconciliation documents at a formal University Ceremony, one group member relayed the dismay she felt on behalf of Indigenous students, for the lack of gravity owed to the situation as displayed by the University’s president. However, another acknowledged that this was a historical event which has the potential to change the university trajectory and become a turning point for all parties.

 Going forward, the knowledge we have gained in this course will be a tool we can use in future experiences. One group member acknowledged Dr. Coates’ ability to recognize micro level cultural insensitivities and how this brought a new sense of awareness to her understandings of minority group suppression (i.e. storybook titles, representations of stereotypical tropes in public forums). This group member hopes that this knowledge will eventually develop into a skill in which she can more intuitively identify these types of suppression and work towards a resolution.

Another group member learned various forms of knowledge through her CSL (Community Service Learning) placement experience while conducting a literature review for the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association (CINA). The purpose of this review was to inform a synthesis paper, which would provide a foundational document for improving orientation or onboarding processes with nurses serving Indigenous communities, specifically in rural, remote and isolated settings. In so doing she learned vast amounts of information regarding cultural humility, safety, and appropriateness in Indigenous health. As she aspires to be a family care physician who specializes in Indigenous health, this knowledge will prove very useful in ensuring she serves her future patients in a respectful manner.  

            The skills that each group member has gained through this course have benefited us greatly, and can also be used to benefit others in our future experiences. One group member learned to have more patience when working alongside others, and being accepting of the fact that even though the research may not always go as planned, teamwork is a crucial step in ensuring a more complete final product.

Another group member shared that group dynamics have played out in similar patterns throughout her life. She consistently becomes an emergent leader and as such, upon returning to school, she has made an effort not to always lead and instead to allow others to learn and develop this skill. The beauty of this course was that the individual skills of each person were called upon, regardless of individual personality types or skill set. The course structure required that everyone contribute in a meaningful way without a central leader (other than the professor). Therefore, while this was a project for a community, it was also a community which came together, with various backgrounds, to create a valuable deliverable. Professor Coates’ ability to guide our group along - with patience, faith and a calming abilities - was remarkable - a true leader.  

            One group member has never been a part of a research opportunity such as this one. This group member is in her second year of university and many of the experiences in this course have been altogether new for her. She learned that the skills she developed in this class, such as working with others, developing relationships, and completing task deadlines, have become very enriching to her skillset.

            Each group member has found the relationships formed through this course to be valuable and significant to each of our individual experiences, in addition to the process taken to foster them. In particular, the traditional Indigenous research practice of slowly building a meaningful relationship with the individual, to demonstrate respect for the knowledge they will share, resonated with each group member. One group member even shared her initial scepticism over the effectiveness and value in assigning one research member to one Focus Group or CAC member, as opposed to having one dedicated point of contact for all individuals. She now admits that a more meaningful, and personal relationship with members, as a result of this process, translated into greater sharing, more meaningful knowledge, and a more enjoyable experience, both for the researcher and the individual. This experience taught us how we would want to build our relationships going forward (future projects, clients, etc.).  

“Individually, every grain of sand brushing against my hands represents a story, an experience, and a block for me to build upon for the next generation.”

― Raquel Cepeda

 

 

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