The Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report is hovering, waiting for us to read, write, and develop programs in response to their findings. I feel personally and professionally compelled to participate in necessary and long-overdue healing. Heeding the Call(s) is my attempt to further the conversation about the TRC’s Final Report, its urgency, and what we can do in response as Student Affairs professionals.
How do you know what you know?
Where did the knowledge you’ve learned come from?
How often do you consider other ways to know?
I’m asking these questions of myself more often these days following reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report and Calls to Action. And though I’m late—years, decades, behind in my involvement—with increasing awareness comes an imperative to act. As I asked in my first post in this series, and will no doubt continue to wrestle with for my lifetime: what are ways to be a deeply respectful non-aboriginal ally without recreating trauma, continuing harm, or perpetuating colonial ways of being, thinking, doing, and knowing?
Maybe to talk about knowing is to first talk about what it means to know.
Epistemology is the study of knowing; it’s a branch of philosophy that’s not so much concerned with what we know, but how. It explores theories of knowledge: how we come to know what we know, or believe what we believe, and the justification systems that undergird this knowing and believing. “Epistemology,” as a term, originates from the Greek, “episteme,” which means “knowledge”, and “logos,” which denotes “the study, or science of.” All to say, epistemology is the study of knowledge.
But even here, I bee-lined immediately to the Western tradition, to “–ologies”.
With this awareness, this meta moment, what I mean to really pose here is that we’re talking about epistemologies. There’s no one knowledge. No one way, approach, standard, or even “best practise”. And this might well be the culminating “commitment” to those that I proposed as a compliment to Student Affairs’ pillars: multiple ways of knowing. Myriad ways to believe, think, do, and know.
It’s about who’s knowledges are left out, ignored, pushed aside, put down, wrongly told. And about remembering to ask: what are additional ways of knowing…this experience, project, wondering?
Three ways that this commitment to making and holding space for myriad knowledges is manifesting, for me, are in my writing-focused learning strategy work, gratitude, and understanding of assessments.
How do you write an essay? Or, how do you advise others to approach their writing? I was taught the “hamburger” model; as a high school teacher for five years, I taught the inverted triangle-three rectangle-triangle schema; as a learning specialist supporting oftentimes complex learners, I have had to rethink approaches to writing, and the interrelated skills of reading comprehension, time management, resilience, and perseverance. None of this is wrong; students can fare just fine by following any of this. But then I encountered this: an Ojibway-rooted invitation to write based on the seasons, the rhythms of nature, and the feelings and metaphors they inspire. What if we each disrupted our patterns of writing, brainstorming, or even goal-setting—our patterns of knowing?
How do you express gratitude? I have picked up, over time, habits of expressing gratitudes with my family prior to meals, and occasional gratitude journaling. But in an appointment with my naturopath prior to returning from my second maternity leave—to attend to my re-entry and how I would balance family and work—she recommended gratitude, from a perspective I’d not yet encountered. A crafted gratitude offered in the six directions. I continue to speak mine each morning, just as for the past six months, before diving into my voicemails and email inbox, in each of the directions: to the north, east, south, west, ground below, and sky above, I say, “Thank you for this opportunity for creative, inspiring work, with an amazing team; work that is in service of others, and which allows me to support my family.” It is another way to express thankfulness. Another way to know.
In the strands of research that I’m involved in, in my work and my schooling, I have been researching, well, research (for example, FQS: Qualitative Social Research, Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Implications for Participatory Research and Community, Indigenous Approaches to Program Evaluation). These learning moments for me urge me to keep asking, on what ways of knowing are studies based upon? What knowledges are prioritized at the expense of others left devalued or silenced? Is science touted as objective, or more valued than relationality? What is the place of relationships and trust-building?
Since there are many ways to know, so too must there be myriad ways to contemplate, approach, study, understand, feel, and sense. And learn. What can we learn from our aboriginal allies and elders, for example, to broaden how learning strategies, well-being practises, career advice, and transition skills are taught and facilitated?
In asking these questions about how my knowledges have come to be, underneath is really a question about how I might be inadvertently complicit in emphasizing some ways of knowing over others, or unknowingly excluding some all together. How can multiple bodies of knowledge come into our work as student affairs professionals, particularly in our student sessions and program development, and all of the intersections students and we as staff embody? How can we expand our repertoire of strategies, and systems, all the while broadening our view, and our knowledges-base? How can epistemologies-seeking be another way we enact reconciliation in our day-to-day? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Heeding the Call(s) is a series dedicated to Student Affairs contribution to integrating the TRC’s findings into our everyday work. Join me in the coming months as I explore some principles of aboriginal education, examples of “indigenized” programming, and suggestions of how we might transition towards what some call indigagogy, all in the hopes of taking responsibility and prioritizing reconciliation.