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What is Debwewin (Heart Knowledge)? Lynn Gehl’s Claiming Anishinaabe

What is Debwewin (Heart Knowledge)? Lynn Gehl’s Claiming Anishinaabe

This video with Lynn Gehl was filmed around the summer solstice, on Victoria Island at the sacred Chaudière Falls site (Akikpautik / Akikodjiwan) on the Ottawa River (Kichi Sibi) between Ottawa and Hull a kilometre upstream of Parliament Hill.

It was part of a series of interviews: the topic here is Heart Knowledge – or Debwewin in Anishinaabemowin, the Anishinaabe language. The heart is a central topic of her new book Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing The Human Spirit, published through University of Regina Press.

“This, I have come to know, is the nature of heart knowledge; it has the extraordinary capacity to collapse time into one single moment, even intergenerationally passed time. Indeed I know it to be true that the heart is intelligent.

Within the knowledge tradition of the Anishinaabeg, a wholistic understanding of knowledge and personal truth is appreciated and valued. The word “debwewin” translates to “a personal truth that is rooted in one’s heart,” and “Gdebwe na?” is a truth question that translates to “Are you speaking from the heart?,” inferring a broader understanding of knowledge that involves the heart. Said another way, the question “Gdebwe na?” is a cultural mechanism that ensures that knowledge spoken is not merely mind, or intellectual, knowledge; it is a question that ensures that knowledge is also heartfelt.

Although this truth question stresses the importance of the heart, it must be appreciated that one’s truth is inclusive of both mind knowledge and heart knowledge. We need to remember that, generally, a person could not verbally articulate their truth and place it in the discursive if they did not have mind knowledge.” Lynn Gehl

Claiming Anishinaabe is Lynn’s second professionally-published book; the first, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, is based upon her PhD dissertation on the Algonquin land claim, a now-close-to-finalized agreement that aims to cede Indigenous title for most of Eastern Ontario including Ottawa, in exchange for 1.3% of the land and a one-time payment of $300 million less tens of millions in legal and administrative fees debt accumulated during the negotiations.

Just as her new book was in the final stages of preparation, Lynn won a 32-year court fight for Indian status registration, where she challenged Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s unstated paternity policy – something she says will help affected Indigenous mothers and their children.

From the author, Lynn Gehl:
Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit is rooted in my need to understand Indigenous knowledge (IK) in an intellectual sense as well as in a heartfull way.  Foremost it offers my journey deeper into IK and the articulation of the location of the human spirit. It is hoped that this work inspires people to appreciate their IK as it is our ancient traditions that make us the humans Creator intended us to be.  We are all Indigenous to the Earth and we all need to ask ourselves, “What is my Indigenous knowledge?” because nation state knowledge will not sustain us in terms of Mother Earth and the gifts She provides.

Lynn’s  book is available through and to contact her for speaking engagements, etc, visit:

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About The Author

Greg Macdougall

Greg Macdougall does media-making/organizing activism with particular focus on Indigenous and media topics, and as non-native living in Ottawa, unceded Algonquin territory, has supported Algonquin Anishinaabeg land (aki) defence efforts with respect to the Chaudiere Falls sacred site (Akikpautik/Akikodjiwan), the Algonquins of Barriere Lake (Mitchikanibikok Inik)'s fight for environmental protection, and the Eastern Ontario land claim process.

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