“We need to remember our journeys, stories, and songs; and recognize we are those sacred spiritual beings who descended from the Sky World to work on this spiritual journey.”
These are the words of Cayuga Elder Norma Jacobs from her book Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys that I helped with as Editor, and I wanted to start my introduction with them as a reminder of the true roots from which my work arises. I was born along the great river that my French Canadien ancestors renamed, in that colonial way, St. Lawrence, and I currently live with my wife and two children in Toronto, the meeting place of the Mississauga, Seneca and Wendat. These lands and waters centre much of the decolonizing work I have been doing for over 25 years, ever since my first social work job in a northern Indigenous community had me work out of the Roman Catholic Mission. That experience starkly highlighted for me the ongoing position of social work in colonial missions, as well as my family’s ancestral position in these missions.
I am canadien spelled with a small “c” and pronounced in the French way. This is an identity that connects me in the fullest way to my ancestors, particularly those that begin with those French-speaking coureur de bois and habitants (peasants) who lived along the St. Lawrence River and came to be called canadien in the 1600s. From the present to at least the early 1700s, my family has straddled a Two Row Wampum relation between French canadien ancestors and Mohawk/Wendat relations from what was once Jesuit mission communities along this river. Generations of my family were connected to missionizing through various orders of Catholic Nuns, and this is where I position my social work profession’s missionizing legacy within. While we also have coureur de bois ancestors who followed the river routes that gave birth to the Metis culture and nation, my ancestors always returned to the St. Lawrence River and thus are not Metis. In the wake of the Indian Act, Residential Schools and Metis suppression over the latter half of the 1800s, some chose to hide their Indigenous relations amidst fear of the Canadian nation without and silence of the family within. That silence was learned and instilled in a way that persists into the present generation, despite having immediate Indigenous familial relations. Because of this colonial history my family is also disconnected from the French language, and so I do not see myself as Quebecois or French Canadien.
From within these colonial waters, I am trying to imagine what could have been, what it is to be small “c” canadien, to be a family and community who lives Two Row relations in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect. What if our learning of how to live here had not been silenced by colonialism? What if the matrilineal roots of my Indigenous relations had been allowed to seep into my familial sense of being canadien? This is the spiritual vision that I now understand brought me into relationship with the sacred meeting place of Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s. Somehow, the good mind generosity of Haudenosaunee teachings are teaching me the responsibilities of what it is to be “canadien”, and I am trying to live and work that the best way I can.
The primary focus of my work is creative writing (research) about these ancestral issues in relation to our present climate of change, as represented in my books Climate, Culture, Change: Inuit and Western Dialogues with a Warming North (University of Ottawa Press, short-listed for 2012 Canada Prize in the Social Sciences), and the more recent A Canadian Climate of Mind: Passages from Fur to Energy and Beyond (McGill-Queens University Press, 2016). A recent article in the Journal of Social Work Education entitled “Let Us Continue Free as the Air” was awarded the 2019 Best Conceptual Article by the Council for Social Work Education. My current publication projects include Editor of a book orientated around the Haudenosaunee teachings of Gae Ho Hwako Norma Jacobs called Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys (MQUP 2022); and I am now writing a book focused on the Huron Carole in relation to wholistic healing approaches of the colonial disease at the core of ongoing Canadian colonial missions.
After completing a MSW at the University of Toronto I worked in the area of anti-violence and then in Indigenous communities on issues related to Canadian colonialism, including youth solvent abuse, high suicide rates, and family violence. A recurring experience that intrigued me while in Innu and Inuit communities of Labrador was the positive relation of health to being on the land, away from the community where the Catholic mission was situated. There was little discussion of this in my social work education, and thus I undertook a PhD in Environmental Studies that allowed me to consider the relation of land and climate to colonial histories, justice, and wholistic healing. It was a consideration of these research interests and my social work experience that eventually brought me back to an Indigenous-informed approach to decolonizing Social Work at Laurier. Grounded in my ancestry and social position, I teach land-based approaches to Relational Accountability and Truth & Reconciliation in Canadian-based BSW and MSW programs, and deliver workshops in the Decolonizing Certificate of the Centre for Indigegogy.
From 2011 to 2015 I researched and wrote the book A Canadian Climate of Mind that brings into dialogue Haudenosaunee understandings and Western interdisciplinary research as it pertains to healing an unjust climate of Canadian-Indigenous relations. Each chapter of the book is centered around particular ancestral lands along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River corridor and what their historically changing relations tell us about truth and reconciliation. Over the past seven years, I have found my way back into a relation with the field of Social Work as understood from the view of land-based knowledge and education. My continued learning process with Indigenous understandings has marked various journal and book chapter publications over this time that consider the intersectional nature of colonial violence on Indigenous children, women, culture and land; the responsibilities of truth-work for Canadians (and social work); and the potential of land-based approaches to decolonizing education and wholistic healing. Some of these are listed below in Select Publications.
I am happy to supervise students in any of my research interest areas. I have advised and/or supervised various PhD and Master's students in the areas of environmental/social justice, land-based education/healing, and land-based approaches to truth and reconciliation. I have supported the writing and publication of both undergraduate and graduate students, including the inclusion of chapters by four former students in the current edited book Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys.
We see you are accessing our website on IE8. We recommend you view in Chrome, Safari, Firefox or IE9+ instead.Ã