Guest Knowledge Holder
Waabishka Kakaki Zhaawshko Shkeezhgokwe (White Raven Woman with Turquoise eyes) AKA Amy Desjarlais is Ojibway/Potowotomi from Wasauksing First Nation.
Reiki | Multidisciplinary Artist | Anishinaabe Knowledge keeper. #Starblanket #GaateZaagiin #SacredWaterJourneyEP
Amy currently works at York University as knowledge keeper and intuitive/spiritual counsellor for the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services. She is the lead of the Rebirthed Teachings Working Group at Ryerson University whose primary mandate is to “Foster Understanding between Indigenous & Non-Indigenous Students, Staff, & Faculty on campus”. Amy’s community work also includes sitting as an executive board member at the Centre for World Indigenous Studies, and as a a General board member for the Regent Park Music School. Amy is founder of the EarthTALKER Anishinaabemowin Gabeshi, an annual language camp hosted at Wasauksing First Nation. She is also a singer/hand drummer, & avid beadworker.
Miigwech, Chris, and thanks Naomi. I just wanted to also acknowledge those behind the scenes too who supported and contributed to the conversations and to the event. Thanks for all of your help, for making these conversations happen.
So I’ve known Chris and Naomi for a few years now since an ethics conference that we participated in and we had conversations about how this was going to unroll and unfold. And when I think about Indigenous knowledges and leadership and the lack of leadership that has brought us to this place where we are now talking about including Indigenous voice in trying to preserve and share knowledge. One of the things that I think about is this idea of leadership and what it means to be good leaders. To me, thinking about all of the teachers that I’ve known and elders that I’ve listened to, what comes to mind when I think about leadership from an Indigenous perspective is that we see from many perspectives and none of them are above the other. We are all equal in that circle. But also what a leader does is ensure that the knowledges and the community, the health of the community, is cared for by making it possible for folks to contribute to their fullest potential towards the betterment of everybody. And something in that piece has been lacking.
When we think about what we heard about the Doctrine of Discovery, that immediately Indigenous knowledges, ways, and sciences were excluded from the building of this country we call Canada, on our space called Turtle Island, which in a number form we put 15,000 years there, but we talk about it from time immemorial, from creation we’ve had a way of communicating and working together toward the betterment of everybody. And we’re still doing that. We still have knowledge keepers and warriors that are standing up for the languages, the waters, the lands, because that is what we’ve always done. We’re doing this for the betterment of everyone and if we find leaders who are thinking in that manner: how much stronger can we be if we are only empowering people toward the betterment of the whole? We can be such a great community by doing that, by fostering that kind of energy and way of being and that means being at the table and having these kinds of discussions and being open to listening to other people on the other sides of the tables.
So that was one of the things that I was thinking about as I was listening to everybody around the table. And the other thing is: I watched a video recently by Anton Treuer--he is an Anishinaabe academic from Bemidji State University--and he talked about how we interpret symbols very differently and he had this symbol of his hand [holds index finger up] and I’m not going to go into that but I’ll share the video link here. And it was really to speak to those diverse perspectives and that everyone is right when you’re doing that. From your perspective you have these ideas and just because your perspective is different from somebody else’s doesn’t mean that anybody else is right or wrong. We’re in it to learn and grow together as society, as people, as human beings. And so the discussions that we’ve had today made me think about how we want to move forward, not just as researchers and academics but as human beings. How do we want to be respectful? How do we want to be inclusive? How do we want to bring others with us in our quest to be better and do better?
And I’ve been trying to think of a way to work in this story that Naomi wanted me to share and I’m just going to share it. So talking about being in this workshop and how it was going to roll out reminded me of this story that happened in our family around research and research relationships. So I come from Wasauksing First Nation which is on the shores of the Georgian Bay and my father and my grandfather used to build cottages and fireplaces for cottages along the Thirty Thousand Islands there and so they were quite often in the boat shuttling people to their cottages and in the 50’s we had surrendered a lot of land to have a marina and cottage country and so we had to lease them for whatever reason.
The relationships that my Dad and my Grandpa built resulted in this one academic--and I only knew her as Miss Coburn. So Miss Coburn would come and visit my grandparents quite often in the summer and they had a really good relationship and I know her as Miss Coburn because she would come and visit and we would help her get to her cottage. And then when she passed and my parents had passed I did a Google search of my grandfather’s name and her name popped up, Kathleen Coburn Fonds, and I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and my grandfather’s name was in there.
And so I clicked on it and there was this box of memos that she had collected from my family, conversations that she had had with my grandmother and my auntie. And when she passed they were donated to one of U of T’s collections and at the time I was like, “I don’t know what their relationship was and what their agreement was at the time,” but I was really thankful that these conversations happened. And that while they didn’t come to us as the family members, that they [the conversations] were preserved in this collection for somebody like me who didn’t know my grandmother to have a piece of her.
For those of you that have data, that have boxes wherever, to think about that maybe we don’t know where it’s going to go, that maybe communities don’t have the resources or the pieces to store things for numbers of years but eventually the data will get to where it needs to go. We don’t have to have everything in a neat little place and we don’t need to have it all figured out now.
And I will close off with this idea that we are inundated in community with this idea that our knowledges are dying and our languages are dying, everything is going away and it’s so urgent that we preserve it and that we digitize it. I mean we’ve been in this flurry of creating written documents and written languages and digitized stuff for about 500 years but we have told stories and we have transmitted knowledge successfully since time immemorial. And so speaking for myself, I am not worried about the stories and the stories of my life and the stories of my family and my ancestors reaching my descendants because we have the mechanisms to make that happen and to be assured that we can make that happen and continue those things that ensure those transmissions of knowledge happen.
So leaving aside the fear, this urgency that we have to document every single thing, and coming back to where we started is this intuition that the things that are meant to be preserved will be preserved and the things that come from our heart will get to where they need to go. And so we come full circle from our opening and where we started and even longer to where we started spiritually. Things that are going to unfold are going to unfold in whatever way they need to and sometimes we just need to get ourselves out of the way. And as academics I think we have so much in here [points to head] that we want to get out but we sometimes have to get out of the way and let spirit lead and just follow and trust with love and kindness. And so that’s how we want to move forward, building those trusts, rebuilding those relationships and moving forward in a mindful and loving and caring way.
And so I’ll just say that much and close with some gichi miigweches. So I’ve had this beautiful fire lit this entire time and I’m so thankful for all of the voices and all of the stories and all of the thoughts and ideas that have been shared here today. I’m so thankful for all those who have been able to make it and we think about those ones who couldn’t make it. We ask to put our minds together and to give greetings and gratitude and thanks to all of those ones that are responsible for the transmission of knowledge, for the caretaking of those messages that come and for the flow of these thoughts and ideas. May we take care respectfully to acknowledge one another in the circle and to care for the contributions of each one of us as we move forward in a kind and respectful way.
We give thanks to the ancestors that are behind us with their hands on our backs and standing behind us continue to support what we do in the community, in raising up and lifting up our ancestral voices and Indigenous knowledges and thoughts and ideas. And we give thanks to them for being there and supporting us this whole time. And we give thanks, greetings, and gratitude, and thanks again to our Mother the Earth for continuing to provide for us and to support all life so that we may continue. And let us think about how we can continue to reciprocate to her for all of the generosity that she has shown us in these years. And so we give those thanks.
And we give thanks to each other from our heart to your hearts for being here and being willing to be open and listen to one another. And so I say gichi miigwech to all of you for doing that and for the continuing work that we are starting here. And so I say gichi miigwech to you, gichi miigwech to n’shkodeh that has watched over us, gichi miigwech to all of the medicines that continue to provide, and gichi miigwech to that beautiful breath of life that we contain in all of us. May we continue to give gratitude for that beautiful life. Miigwech, chi miigwech, chi miigwech, chi miigwech, Nii'kinaaganaa, all my relations.
Amy Desjarlais | April 23, 2021