June 04, 2023

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Indigenous knowledge, which is carried in drums, songs, and pipes are community gifts that carry both cultural and political responsibility and they require stewardship at both cultural and political levels.

In the Indigenous knowledge (IK) tradition learning new knowledge is always a personal and political journey. In the IK tradition it is valued that knowledge is subjective. While some people come to knowledge quickly through particular ways, other people move at what I have come to call turtle speed through particular ways. My process of learning is always couched in observation, listening, experience, feeling, and critical thinking.

In the IK tradition learning is also relational. I learn through significant relationships such as family and friends. It was from family members that I learned about traditional Algonquin Anishinaabeg territory, as well as about the traditional subsistence strategies of fishing and hunting. Further, it was through listening to my kokomis (grandmother) that I learned about many of my ancestors such as Anne Jane Meness and Angeline Jocko. Elder Shirley Williams has told me that these family stories are known in Anishinaabemowin, the language of the Anishinaabeg, as Gi-nwendaagininaanig Dbaajimowinan which translates to kinship stories.

My process of learning, though, also included formal education and all that it entails such as reading and writing. Although I studied chemical technology at community college and worked in the environmental field for many years, eventually I realized the limits of western science in terms of shaping and changing human behaviour, and therefore in terms of resolving the very environmental pollution I was measuring. In search for more knowledge, I turned to studying IK at the university level.

While at university I spent a lot of time observing, listening, reading, thinking, and talking about IK. I learned orally from traditional teachers – both men and women, young and old. I also read many articles and books by traditional peoples and Indigenous academics. A lot of my time was spent thinking about and discussing IK with like-minded and respected thinkers. During this time I was exposed to both local and international practitioners, ceremonialists, language speakers, philosophers, and scholars.

Still today, existing within the Algonquin of Ontario land claims process and doing my part to create a larger place for Algonquin Anishinaabeg knowledge, I continue to spend a lot of time thinking about IK. I ask myself questions such as; Where is IK? Is IK seen? Is IK heard? Is IK felt? And, is IK talked about?

Algonquins_0I have also spent a lot of time thinking about the process of silencing IK through forceful and oppressive power as this is what Canada did (does) to Indigenous Nations. As many know, from the 1880’s to 1951 Indigenous culture/s was criminalized. I reflect on this Canadian history as well as reflect on my own moments of being silenced through oppressive forces. I have found myself asking, “Does silencing people and the knowledge they hold really mean the absence of knowledge?” Through drawing on my experiences and through critical thinking I have come to realize that silencing does not make the knowledge go away. Rather, I have come to learn that knowledge is not always overtly and explicitly stated and while sometimes knowledge is silent, it does not mean the knowledge does not exist.

Through my formal education process I also had realized that within the IK tradition, culture and politics are inseparable, meaning they are not delineated from one another. For example, the Anishinaabeg clan system of governance is neither just cultural nor just political. Rather, the clan system is both cultural and political at the same time. A person cannot live the culture of their clan responsibilities without being political. In this way our culture is political. Many people understand this theoretically, yet not in practice.

Having offered this story of some of what I learned about the IK tradition, I offer the following scenario to make a point about the location of IK and the relatedness between culture and politics.

Consider this Algonquin Scenario

The Algonquin of Ontario have been forced to negotiate a land claims and self-government settlement through the following colonial policies and frameworks: The Comprehensive Land Claims and Inherent Rights Policies. While some Algonquin acknowledge that these colonial policies exist, I believe many do not recognize they are limited frameworks and policies which set the guidelines of the final settlement. These colonial policies and frameworks will determine how much land and resources the Algonquin will gain or not. Canada has been successful at ensuring that most people (settlers and Algonquin) do not understand how colonization is perpetuated through these two policies.

In the work I do, countering the Algonquin of Ontario settlement offer of 1.3% of our traditional territory and a $300 million one-time buy-out, I observe Canadian government employees, outside consultants, and some Algonquin further push the colonial policies and frameworks through Algonquin Unity Gatherings. Attendees do not appear to talk, or are prevented from talking about the land claims and self-government policies that have given rise to the Gatherings themselves. I have also encountered Algonquin who offer to bring their drums, pipes, and songs to the Unity Gatherings for cultural reasons, not political reasons. I question: does the silencing of the impacts of colonial policies and frameworks really mean the Unity Gatherings are only cultural events? My response is and always has been that culture and politics are synonymous. Indigenous knowledge, which is carried in drums, songs, and pipes are community gifts that carry both cultural and political responsibility and they require stewardship at both cultural and political levels. Silencing traditional Indigenous knowledge about politics and self-governance does not make the knowledge go away.

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About The Author

Lynn Gehl

Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. Her book The Truth that wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process was published in 2014 with Fernwood. She has a new book with University of Regina Press coming out in the fall of 2017 called, Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit.

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