The following guest blog entry comes from Diane Obed. Diane is an Inuk graduate student, originally from Hopedale, Nunatsiavut. She is a researcher on the ArcticNet-funded and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami-partnered project, “Foundations for Student Persistence and Success in Inuit Nunangat”. In this entry, she writes about the crucial role of Inuit as leaders in research that will impact education across the North. She responds to the question, “Why are you becoming a researcher?”
Choosing to engage in research is a form of self-empowerment allowing me to demonstrate that Indigenous people can and have engaged and theorized about the world around us for centuries. Our particular ecological knowledge systems have sustained our existence and persistence in the planet’s most unforgiving climate conditions. There is a common misconception that research is reserved for experts who work only in the academy. Research, typically associated with a mysteriously complex process (research often can be and many settlers prefer to preserve this notion), often alienates and deters students from entering into research and higher education. While institutional barriers like colonialism and racism persist in post-secondary education, my hope is that the research I focus on, Indigenous education, helps to open doors and encourage my peers and fellow community members to see themselves as embodying knowledge that they can draw on for their health and well-being. Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999) states that “when Indigenous peoples become the researcher and not merely the researched, the activity of research is transformed” (p. 93). I stated in an interview, after completing my Bachelor of Social Work degree, that education had saved my life. What I meant was that learning about the particular ways in which inter-generational trauma manifested in my life changed how I identify, name and respond to my own and my community’s issues.
My professional experiences as a youth worker with Indigenous students in Atlantic Canada meant that I witnessed first-hand how Indigenous youth are marginalized within public schools. The public education system’s failure to address Indigenous youth’s challenges is, in part, due to the widespread lack of awareness of Indigenous people, our history and the ways in which colonization is reproduced every day. The structural dismissal and willful ignorance of colonialism’s existence continues to eliminate Indigenous realities and undermine Indigenous student success and retention. My ability to work with youth in the context of public education, while valuable and needed, was severely hindered by the institutional disregard for Indigenous people. Working within public education as an Indigenous youth worker in an urban centre felt like bandaging individual wounds without addressing the deeper source of the injuries. These experiences have led me to question and think about what can be done to enhance Indigenous student learning, health and well-being. This has led me to further examine what the ethical and responsible centring of Indigenous specific pedagogical approaches to teaching, learning and understanding would look like for my own home territory of Nunatsiavut.
Many of us continue to resist and survive the on-going reproduction of colonialism in the best ways we know how. For me, it has been to deeply understand and examine the socio-historical context affecting our ability to succeed in many areas of life. I’ve learned and continue to learn to release old limiting beliefs and narratives and replace them with the recognition that we are still coping and recovering from colonial violence. Now enlivened with a deep commitment to return to my ancestral teachings – to decolonize – means acting on my experiences to build on my current knowledge. Remembering who I am, what my ancestors, grandparents, family would instruct me to do on my journey, I feel, is to continually deepen my cultural connection with them and the land. With help from Elders and community members, I have gathered knowledge that facilitates connection and healing through the land and envisioning a healthier future that includes their presence and wisdom. My hope is that the research I conduct re-builds and resurges our capacities, strengths and abilities while also reflecting Inuit values.
My hope is that future generations no longer have to equate their Indigenous identity with shame, brokenness, pain and grief. Justice Murray Sinclair says that to restore balance back into our communities, our youth can take their rightful place back in our communities by remembering where they have come from, who they are, and what their purpose is in this lifetime. Meaningfully exploring these questions and restoring purpose can provide a solid foundation from which their futures will grow. I hope to cultivate hope and purpose amongst our youth and help them remember, re-imagine and weave our past generations’ knowledge into our learning going forward. Past generations have ensured our existence today. I hope Inuit-led research will shed light on our identities in ways that more accurately reflect who Inuit are – resilient, resourceful, ingenious, persistent, and strong people who thrive and make warmth and life out of ice and snow.