“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 forthcoming 2022 book Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys (which I edited), and I wanted to start my introduction with them as a reminder of the true roots from which my work arises. Where we are born on this river of life is important, and my life and scholarship is often rooted to my home waters where I was born along the St. Lawrence River. For two decades I have been re-learning with Indigenous knowledge holders about my responsibilities as someone whose mother is French Canadien and father carries French Canadien relations to Haudenosaunee and Wendat mission communities along this river. Central to what I have learned is that as a French Canadien I need to renew relations with water and land to do the work of decolonizing our ways of living in times of significant climatic changes.
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, I teach land-based approaches to Relational Accountability and Truth & Reconciliation in settler BSW and MSW programs, and deliver workshops in the Decolonizing Certificate of the Centre for Indigegogy.
The primary focus of my work is creative and wholistic writing (research) about these issues, 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 Norma Jacobs called Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys (McGill-Queens University Press, 2022), and I have begun a book that revisions the Huron Carol as a song for opening up various dimensions of decolonizing Canadian land relations.
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 Settler-Indigenous relations in Canada. Much of the book is grounded in dialogues I had with the Mohawk teacher William Woodworth who was taught by Chief Jacob Thomas of Six Nations along the Grand River west of Lake Ontario. My research is centered around particular lands along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River corridor and what their historically changing relations tell us about truth and reconciliation. Over the past five 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 settlers (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.