Category: Research and Funding

Critical relationality key to international collaboration

Fatima Pirbhai-Illich and Fran Martin in 2013 at the beginning of their collaboration
Fran Martin and Fatima Pirbhai-Iliich in Fatima’s home in April, 2019.

Dr. Fatima Pirbhai-Illich (University of Regina) and Dr. Fran Martin (University of Exeter) speak candidly about how working collaboratively across multiple differences, including interculturality, spirituality, disciplinary, and personality differences, though difficult at times, has informed their research into decolonizing approaches to pedagogy, extended their network of research collaborators, and broadened their vision and impact as well as establishing a lifelong friendship.

Shuana: How would each of you describe yourself personally, academically, and professionally?

Fatima: At a personal level, I describe myself as a human being in relation with the world, and with people around me and nature and so forth. But more so, a very spiritual being; I’m very connected spiritually to both esoteric and to the materiality that we have around us. Academically I categorize myself as being transnational, and professionally as an educator, and a learner. I’m a learner at each stage of everything I do. As a researcher, my focus is to work with marginalized and minoritized communities, to understand what harms and injustices have been done and that continue to be done, and I try to figure out a way to ameliorate the harms and injustices. …to do something that is going to be more sustainable, but also to try to understand issues of power around those injustices and to address the power imbalance so that it’s not just about fixing something, it’s more structural change, systemic. How can we work within an ethical framework that includes my spiritual ways of being and to work ethically with and across difference.

Fran: When I describe myself personally, I start with my family; I’m very connected to my family. I’m a twin. I come from a farming background. I’m gay. Academically and professionally, there is a blending between my personal self and my professional self in terms of who I am: one blends into the other. So, why do I say that? My professional self is an educator even from when I first trained to become a teacher and went into early years education, and then from there went into being a teacher advisor, and then from there into higher education working with preservice teachers and so on. I always have had a desire to make a difference and focused more on student voice, and trying to support those whom I perceived to have less of a voice in their education to have more of a voice in their education. In those early days, I was far less aware of how I acted systematically and institutionally; it was more on an individual basis. I’ve come to know more, far more, about that working with Fatima. …My brothers and sisters and myself are all boarding school survivors. I think it was hugely damaging to us in some ways. It gave us lots of advantages from the type of education we received. But emotionally it was probably quite damaging. So we have all grown up to be people who care about fairness, and obviously a particular view of what fairness means, and justice in different ways. I’m sure that’s from where, partly, the need to support student voice came, because in the boarding school I didn’t have any voice at all.

I went into geography education initially, and that has to do with the farming background and living on and in the land. All of our family ways of being, our family funds of knowledge, revolved around the seasonal and daily patterns of farm life, my dad being a farmer. A lot of that has moved into my interests in being a educator as well.

Fatima: And just as your life revolved around farming, our life was determined by the spiritual aspect. Even while you’re here, Fran, I have to look at a calendar and see what special prayers we have today before I can make a decision about what we can do. The spiritual dimension comes first before anything else.

Shuana: Is it because you’ve had to move a lot, that spirituality is more important than place? Fatima: I come from Tanzania, East Africa, a country that was colonized by the Portuguese, the Germans, the Omanis, and the last ones were the British, and so we’ve had to learn how to adapt with each colonizer. During the time leading to independence and soon after there was a lot of civil unrest, people that could afford it, or even if they couldn’t, would borrow money to send their kids abroad to study. That was the start for me. I went to Kenya to study, and then to Canada to do my bachelor’s degree, and Surrey, UK to do my master’s degree, but I couldn’t get a job. I think in those days (1985-88) Canadians were pretty racist, overtly racist. That’s when the moving from here to there started: life circumstances that forced me to move or to leave and try something different.

Shuana: How, where, and when did the two of you meet?

Fatima: We met in Australia. I was on sabbatical in 2013, and Fran was, too. We met through a mutual friend I was staying with while teaching at the Australian Catholic University at that time.

Fran: And, I was in Newcastle, doing some work with a teacher educator there, and I let our mutual friend know that I was in the area because Newcastle is only a train ride away from Sydney. She said, ‘You must come down. I’ve got this other friend staying at the moment and you’d get on.’ So I went.

Fatima: The interesting thing was, we were having a drink, enjoying olive tapenade with pita bread, and we were sitting at the table and as we started to talk, we realized how similar our work was, although in different areas, but so similar and yet here we were, I was from Canada, Fran from the UK, and we were working in silos. And we thought, you know, we should pool our knowledges together and see what we can do with our combined knowledge. Literally that is when we started collaborating.

Shuana: What was the similarity you recognized?

Fatima: The intercultural part was the similarity. Learning to understand difference, it’s an intercultural exchange and Fran’s work also does that. Fran: At that point I was just coming to the end of a research project that looked at the intercultural dimension of study visits for teachers and preservice teachers from the UK to West Africa, in one instance, and southern India in the other instance. The research took a postcolonial lens on the nature of the relationship between the countries and the context that provided for the ways in which individuals interacted with each other and learned from each other, and the ways in which people positioned each other because of that colonial history. We got talking about interculturality and criticality and that’s where it started.

Fatima: I had incorporated critical service learning with the ERDG 425 course where students learn how to work with difference and still having issues around the colonial mentality and colonial educational paradigm that we’re engaged in and Fran was looking at it from the international perspective—Fran: global north, global south—Fatima: The whole point was that if we’re going to try to dismantle colonial ways of thinking, being, viewing, and doing, then doing it in Regina alone is not going to take it far. But if you can do it at a global level, and take it to the seat of colonialism, England, then that would possibly make it more effective, not even effective, more consciousness raising, and— Fran: far-reaching.

Shuana: How did you develop and grow this collaboration? What were your next steps?

Fran: Two things really: first was that we were invited by the academic who I had been staying with in Newcastle to consider putting a chapter together as part of a book that she was editing. We agreed to do that. Fatima was involved in a project in Sydney that presented some possibilities for working together, as well. We also thought if there were opportunities for us to act as visiting scholars at each other’s universities that maybe some other opportunities might present themselves. So we did that. We both sought ways in which we could spend some time in each other’s contexts. Fatima: We sought funding from the University of Exeter, SIDRU [a research unit in the Faculty of Education], and the University of Regina President’s SSHRC grant. Fran: At Exeter, as part of the internationalization of the University, we have two associated visiting academic funding schemes: One for inviting an academic to come and work with you and the other to support you to go and work in another university.

Shuana: What were your initial expectations of this relationship? Did you see how this would unfold?

Fatima: We jointly worked out what we would need to do in order to get to where we are now. That included working with people at the University of Exeter, and working with other partners outside of the Faculty of Education. …Exeter provided that environment to be able to engage in discussions with other colleagues, to build our own thinking, and to move to a different space and place theoretically and at a practical level. I had support from the University of Exeter and the continued support is that I’m considered an important part of their research group, an associate member of the new—Fran: It’s now called the Creativity and Emergent Education Network. This collaboration has developed into a network— we have contacts in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, other members in Canada, some in Brazil, and Europe—which was partly facilitated by our both being invited by Vanessa to—Fatima: the Ethical Internationalization in Higher Education research project. Vanessa Andreotti from UBC had a massive grant. We were about 30-40 collaborators in about 20 universities worldwide. We became part of a fabulous network and we still have this network.

Shuana: The network is a really important aspect, then? Fatima: I think so. I think we have to move out of our comfort zone and be able to reach out to others. But we have to be comfortable in our own skin, and in who we are. Because I think when you are working with other educators from around the world—we all have different talents and strengths and weaknesses—we’ve got to be able to learn how to complement each other rather than compete with each other. The whole concept of competition, which is what the academy, the neo-liberal agenda is pushing, we’ve got to disrupt it… If we understand that we can be successful,…we can be cooperative, but ethically cooperative. We have to let go of a lot of pride and arrogance. It’s all about being humble, about having humility. Fran: Our professional relationship, however, is the core of what we do. Most of the empirical research takes place here. That’s, for us, the focal point of a much larger network.

Shuana: You are both researchers in difference and intercultural relationships, and you also have this dynamic in your relationship. How are differences resolved in your working relationship, and how has this relationship informed your work?

Fatima: Just to foreground, I have spent 55 years of my life learning about the other and learning to live with the other and I still don’t make it. It’s taken me 55 years to be where I am today, to be able to somewhat integrate and to be able to play the game, to navigate who I am outside of my home and who I am inside my home.

Fran: It’s been both the most rewarding and the most uncomfortable of relationships because to be true to the work that we are interested in, we have to really be prepared to look—I had to be prepared to look deep inside myself and become much more aware of the background I come from: the fact that I am British, White, middle to upper class, I’ve had loads of privileges in life. I was completely unaware of how many doors those opened to me that would have been closed to people like Fatima. At the beginning, and not wanting to own some of that stuff, it’s been uncomfortable. It’s been a really, really steep learning curve. But I would say that the way that we learn from our dynamic and theorize around our dynamic—and there have been times that I thought I don’t want to theorize around Fatima’s dynamic anymore; it has felt a bit like that, but obviously that is just in the moment—but if we can’t do it as researchers ourselves, then how can we possibly do it as part of the research we are focussing on or the hope that teachers work with students in particular ways… We have to do the work ourselves, as well, is what I’m saying.

One of the things I’ve learned that is hardest about the critical interculturality is to focus or stick with the differences and try to really start to understand what is behind those differences rather than just staying at the superficial level—it’s not about resolving them, it’s about understanding them as deeply as you possibly can, how differences relate to a whole set of socio-cultural historical complexities. Even in the most apparently innocuous type of conversation, a misunderstanding can arise because of those differences. It’s enriched, I feel, what we’ve done together and what’s been possible and been uncomfortable and—Fatima: difficult.

Fatima: What Fran has been working on over the past 6 years, I’ve had to do since I was five or six. It’s difficult for somebody who hasn’t had that lens before, to start looking from a different lens. I’ve seen Fran struggle and I’ve seen her get frustrated…but I know she’s got to figure it out. I won’t say anything and then she’ll come back, and she’ll say, ‘Oh, I understand.’ At times, I find it frustrating as well, but what I end up doing is I say, ‘Let’s just carry on.’ So it’s a personality difference, but it’s also that the spiritual part of my way is to let it go.

Fran: I sometimes think that if I was not gay, if I had not in the 1970s and 80s struggled with my sexuality, and then subsequently had a lot of counselling and support to be comfortable in my own skin, I’m not sure that we could have worked together in this way. So, although I haven’t had the 50 – 60 years of learning the game and all the rest of it that Fatima has had to learn, there have been elements of difference in me that I’ve had to learn about and be comfortable with. Fatima: She was positioned or categorized as being different, and also as not being acceptable, really. And that understanding of her own identity has kept her open to learn about difference and trying to work with difference.

Shuana: Do you have an intentional strategy for your friendship when differences arise?

Fran: Personally it’s a strategy I’ve developed through counselling: When something feels most uncomfortable, that is the very thing you should look at. Go away and think about, then come back when the heat has died down a little bit.

Fatima: It’s one of my conditions that truthfulness and honesty is in the relationship: honesty has to be on the table all the time or I would walk away.

Shuana: Would you say your working relationship has translated into a lifelong friendship?

Fatima: (laughing) Oh dear! I’m going to have a party on Monday [when Fran leaves for the UK]. I think yes, we’re very close. Fran: You’re one of my best friends. Fatima: I feel very safe with Fran. I feel very safe to tell her what I’m thinking, how I’m thinking. And, trust—it isn’t just about feeling safe, it’s also about trust. Trust has developed over time, over the 6 years that we’ve been working together.

Shuana: What does that future vision look like?

Fatima: This part of the research is complete now. We are moving onto a different level of work, which is informed by the last 10 years of work. It’s not that we are finished working with each other; we are finished with what we’ve been working on. Fran: We are moving into the impact and influence phase. Fatima: We have developed an imaginary of what a decolonial relationship in education would look like, so we’re writing a book for preservice teachers and for educators to see the possibilities of working with difference. And our next phase, now, is to move into professional development for educators in higher education, at the university level. How does someone work in a decolonial way to educate students?… we want to look at it from a decolonial lens, from more pluralistic and more cosmopolitan ways of being and doing.

Fran: A few years ago, at a joint U of Regina/U of Exeter event, we made some contacts with some people in the UK. One contact in particular runs a community interest company, which is working with both in-service teachers and teacher educators. He calls it cooperative values-based education and he has become very interested in what we are doing, and likewise we are interested in what he is doing. He’s trying to work in ways that bring values and ethics back into what counts as education because in the UK we are so driven by the neo-liberal commodified version of education where everything is about assessment, targets, pupils are clients, input/output, everything is value for money…He’s trying to work with teachers who want to work otherwise than colonial. But there is also a decolonizing movement that has started in England, and we’re in at ground zero. Universities are coming to understand that they are not going to be able to do what they have been doing. All the others are focusing on the curriculum. Our focus is on the relationship and then the curriculum will follow.

Shuana: What would you say was the most significant, most exciting moment in your work thus far?

Fatima: When we discovered that we’d actually developed this imaginary that was working, that we could see how this could work in education. We weren’t even sure if it was going to be a heuristic, a framework, or an approach, and then we decided it had to be called an imaginary, because its so many possibilities. Fran: The work is all about trying to re-imagine what educational relationships are all about. Fatima: Within that educational relationship, it’s about relationship to people, to the space, so we’re taking in posthumanism—I don’t like to use the word posthumanism because this concept has existed for thousands of years in other communities…, —Fran: Human and more than human? Fatima: Yes, [the imaginary] encapsulates all that. I’m enthralled with it. We’ve seen how what we’ve been doing each year, how we’ve grown from our own understanding for how we can do it, and we can see the possibilities for our others to take this on.

Fran: I would say that equally my own personal shifts and growth, as a result of this relationship, opening my eyes and understanding to things that I was completely ignorant or unconscious of before. Ignorant in the sense of you don’t know what you don’t know. Fatima: I love working with Fran. Fran: Fatima’s generosity—as we’ve gotten to know each other, we’ve opened up our families to each other, as well, and Fatima has opened up her faith and given me insights that I would never have got otherwise, and that has been immensely rewarding.

Shuana: Key message to other researchers?

Fran: I would always recommend that researchers collaborate but in order to successfully collaborate, first of all you need to be in it for the long term, and secondly, you need to be prepared to stick through all the really, really tricky stuff.

Fatima: Critical relationality is the key to a long-term collaboration.

Faculty-Based Research Centre Funding

 

General Research Fund

Language Camps team
Dr. Pamela Osmond-Johnson
Dr. Xia Ji
Dr. Cristyne Hébert
  • Language Camps as an Indigenous language revitalization strategy: The nêhiyawak (Cree peoples) Language Learning Experience – Belinda Daniels (USask); Peter Turner (URegina); Randy Morin (USask); Bill Cook (URegina); Dorothy Thunder (UAlberta); and Andrea Sterzuk (URegina) – $4,440
  • Developing a community of practice during internship – Pamela Osmond-Johnson, and Xia Ji – $4,725
  • Fostering a maker mindset through pedagogical practices – Cristyne Hébert, Trevor Hlushko, Amy Singh, and Aaron Warner- $5,000

Community-Engagement Research Fund

Dr. Andrea Sterzuk
Dr. Anna-Leah King
Cheryl Quewezance
  • A study of a land-based and ceremonial mentor-apprentice approach to Saulteaux language revitalization – Andrea Sterzuk, Anna-Leah King, and Cheryl Quewezance – $4,500

Study of Teaching and Learning Fund

Dr. Kathryn Ricketts
  • Tent talks and hallways interventions – Kathryn Ricketts – $1,750

Knowledge Mobilization Fund

Dr. Anna-Leah King
Dr. Heather Phipps
Dr. Cristyne Hébert
Dr. Marc Spooner
Dr. Scott Thompson
  • Dreaming a beautiful world through the truth of âcimowin – Anna-Leah King – $750 and Heather Phipps $750
  • Playing at the margins: Feminist investigations of digital gameplay – Cristyne Hébert – $1,581.96
  • Panel Discussion/Book Engagement: Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education – Marc Spooner, Michelle Fine, Sandy Grande, and Joel Westheimer – $4,063.24
  • Ducks on the Moon: The Musical – Scott Thompson – $5,000

Faculty members recipients of a SSHRC Insight Development Grant

Dr. Pamela Osmond-Johnson
Dr. Michael Cappello

Dr. Pamela Osmond-Johnson and co-applicant Dr. Michael Cappello are recipients of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant of $59,498 for their research project entitled “Leading Reconciliation Education: The Strategic Advocacy of School Principals in the Prairies.”

Osmond-Johnson, Pamela – University of Regina $59,498
Cappello, Michael – University of Regina (co-applicant)
Dwyer, Kyran – Canadian Association of Principals (collaborator)
Lamoureux, Kevin – University of Manitoba (collaborator)
Lindeman, Carlana – No primary affiliation (collaborator)
Leading Reconciliation Education: The Strategic Advocacy of School Principals in the Prairies

Faculty member co-investigator in SSHRC Insight Development Grant

Dr. Barbara McNeil

Dr. Barbara McNeil is a co-investigator for a research study entitled “Experiences of Racialized Students in Education, Nursing, and Social Work University Programs in Saskatchewan.The investigators are recipients of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant of $56,161.

 

Novotna, Gabriela – University of Regina $56,161
Funke, Oba – University of Regina (co-applicant)
Gebhard, Amanda – University of Regina (co-applicant)
Hogarth, Kathy – University of Waterloo (co-applicant)
Luhanga, Florence – University of Regina (co-applicant)
McNeil, Barbara – University of Regina (co-applicant)
Experiences of Racialized Students in Education, Nursing, and Social Work University Programs in Saskatchewan

Doctoral candidate is recipient of SSHRC award

PhD candidate, Conor Barker. Photo courtesy of Conor Barker https://www.barkerpsychology.com/

Conor Barker, a school psychologist from Swift Current who is currently pursuing a PhD in Education (Education Psychology) from the University of Regina, is the recipient of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowships Program Award of $40,000 for his research study entitled  “Using communities of practice to develop clinical competency with rural school psychologists.”

Abstract: The practice of a rural school psychologist is challenging, and can be fraught with aspects of isolation, role confusion, and burn out. In many rural communities the only qualified mental health professional may be a school psychologist, and as such, these psychologists require a great number of skills in order to meet the diverse needs of their community, as a referral to a specialist outside the community may not be feasible. To determine the competencies required of rural school psychologists, Conor is conducting a collective case study of rural school psychologists from across Saskatchewan using a Communities of Practice (Wenger, 1998) conceptual framework. Preliminary results have focused on the Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes, and Behaviours (KSABs) required of rural school psychologists, the ways in which rural psychologists gather in communities to maintain their competency, and their ability to use creativity when faced with difficult situations so that they can support students, schools, families, and communities. This study acknowledges the general-practitioner role that rural school psychologists play within the field of psychology, when present discourses tend towards a more specialized practice and discussion of clinical competency. It further describes the ways that rural psychologists can gather within communities of practice in order to sustain competent and ethical practices in psychology.

Conor says, “I would like to acknowledge the support from my committee, supervisors Dr. Laurie Carlson Berg and Dr. Joel Thibeault, and committee members Dr. Kristi Wright (Psychology), Dr. Jenn de Lugt, and Dr. Scott Thompson who assisted with the development of the SSHRC application. I also must acknowledge the work of Tania Gates who made sure the application was perfect before final submission. This was truly a group effort and I am very appreciative to the staff and faculty within the Faculty of Education.”

 

Canada Research Chair for Truth and Reconciliation Education

Dr. Michelle Coupal (Bonnechere Algonquin First Nation) joined the Faculty of Education in July 2018 as a Canada Research Chair of Truth and Reconciliation Education. Since completing her PhD in English at Western in 2013, Dr. Coupal (Algonquin/French) has achieved national recognition by her peers as an emerging scholar of considerable talent in the fields of Indigenous literatures, particularly Indian residential school literature, and Indigenous pedagogies. Dr. Coupal was appointed by the Indigenous Literary Studies Association (ILSA) as President-Elect (2017-2018), and beginning in November 2018, she will serve as President of ILSA (2018-2019).

Coupal regularly accepts invitations to organize and participate in national panel presentations, including the recent panel for the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) at Congress 2018 in Regina. Coupal’s contribution, “Irreconcilable Spaces: the Canlit Survey Course in the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre Round Room,” posed a challenge to CanLit’s hegemony, and suggested that CanLit is irreconcilably settled on Indigenous literary territories. Coupal also presented at a public event (co-sponsored by ILSA, ACCUTE, and CALCLAS) at Congress 2017, where she, alongside an illustrious panel of speakers including Dr. Warren Cariou (Métis), Dr. Kim Anderson (Cree/Métis), Sarah Henzi, and renowned Mushkego storyteller, Louis Bird (Swampy Cree), presented original work on ways to incorporate Indigenous positioning protocols into the classroom as a means to foster a healthy entry point into and dialogical relationship with the stories Indigenous writers tell. Coupal ultimately considered how positioning protocols can be mobilized to encourage activism and advocacy that extends beyond the classroom setting.

This demonstrated public presence and scholarly recognition are closely tied to Coupal’s research productivity. Coupal’s book-in-progress, Teaching Trauma and Indian Residential School Literatures in Canada, was awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2016-2018), and will be published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Coupal’s ground breaking work embodies Indigenous methodological strategies that include a clear focus on both the theory and praxis of bringing difficult material into largely settler classroom settings. By combining Indigenous understandings with Western ones, Michelle makes her work accessible to the wide reading public so as to move forward the project of responding to the educative Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

Coupal is co-editor (with Deanna Reder [Cree/Métis], Joanne Arnott [Métis], and Emalene A. Manuel [Secwepemc/Ktunaxa]) of a collection of the works of Secwepemc/Ktunaxa writer Vera Manuel, which is in press with the University of Manitoba’s First Voices First Texts series edited by Warren Cariou (Métis). The book is scheduled to be released in February 2019.  Manuel’s largely unpublished work, with its focus on the history and legacies of residential schooling, marks a timely contribution to the present-day need for teachable material on the topic. Manuel was a healer committed to decolonizing theatre to purposely reveal her own therapeutic process through her family’s history of attending the schools. Coupal’s achievement in unearthing the archive of this work with Manuel’s sister, Emalene, and her coeditors is testament to her commitment to ethical editorial practices and to bringing Indian residential school literature into the hands of the Canadian reading public and the classroom.

Coupal has published and submitted articles on teaching trauma and Indian residential school literature, truth and reconciliation education, pedagogies of reconciliation, the cultural work of teaching truth and reconciliation through narrative, and Indigenous positioning protocols in the classroom. Coupal delivered the opening keynote address on truth and reconciliation education for Indigenous Research week at Laurentian University in the fall of 2017. She has shown considerable leadership in Indigenizing the academy by co-organizing an international conference in 2016: MAAMWIZING: Indigeneity in the Academy. Coupal’s research contributions not only respond to the TRC’s Calls to Action, they actively work toward decolonizing pedagogies and decolonizing truth and reconciliation itself.

Faculty member co-recipient of SHRF funding award

Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose is one of six recipients of the 2018-2019 Patient-Oriented Research Leader Awards, co-funded by Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) ($119,894) and Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR) ($129,827), for a project entitled “Muskowekwan First Nation: Regaining and Using Our Culture to Heal Generations Together.”

Dr. Sasakamoose’s research will support the development of a new Healing and Wellness Centre, at the request of the Muskowekwan Chief and Council, alongside partners Touchwood Agency Tribal Council (TATC) and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN).

“This centre is intended to support First Nation communities in the region in addressing the systemic and long-term effects of historical trauma as a direct result of the residential schooling system in Canada. First Nations’ experiences of many historical and current events have produced lasting detrimental effects on the health of Indigenous peoples, which have, in turn, spawned community healing initiatives. Such healing necessarily engages all aspects of Native Wellness, which is understood as a balance of spirit, motion, mind, and body, in right relation with family, community and the land. Mental health and wellness is, therefore, an intergenerational, communal endeavour for communities. Accordingly, patients, families and community members will be engaged as research co-participants in determining the direction of development for the Healing and Wellness Centre. …The aim is to engage community members in a process of relationship-building and participation so as to accurately understand the wellness assets and needs of the community in order to support the foundation and development of a new Healing and Wellness Centre.” (www.shrf.ca )

Opening a doorway to culture through equine assisted learning

Mishkwiingwese (She Blushes), Kelsey Moore, Zhiishigwan (Shaker/Rattle), and Angela McGinnis stand at the entrance sign, which commemorates the four grandmother mares from which the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies at The Red Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary descend. The seven ponies who reside at the Sanctuary, which is located near the Qu’Appelle valley, contain the two original bloodlines, the Keokuk and Nimkii lines. Their lineages date back to the four Original Mares from Lac La Croix First Nation and Bois Forte Band of Chippewa that were the last remaining in the world (Lilian, Biizhiki, Diamond, and Dark Face) who were strategically bred to a Spanish Mustang Stallion (Smokey) in 1977 in order to save the breed from extinction. (Source: www.theredponystands.com) Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

What is the connection between horses, educational psychology, and Indigenous youth and culture?

Reconnecting with cultural and traditional ways of knowing and being is increasingly seen as a significant part of the healing and learning process for First Nations peoples, whose culture has been historically and systemically oppressed by the colonization process. Language revitalization has been a key focus of cultural preservation and reclamation, but Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is a relatively new and less understood approach to learning and healing, at least among the scientific community. For Indigenous peoples, however, horses have long been viewed as carriers of knowledge and healers. The preservation of the critically endangered Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies, then, is part of the process of cultural reclamation and preservation, and thereby healing and learning, as relations between Indigenous horses and peoples are (re)established.

Dr. Angela McGinnis, an Assistant Professor of educational psychology in the Faculty of Education and an Indigenous Health Researcher, and her graduate student, Kelsey Moore, are conducting SIDRU-funded research to better understand how and why Indigenous youth benefit from working with Indigenous horses, specifically the seven Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies being cared for by Angela and her partner Cullan McGinnis at The Red Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary. Founded by Angela and Cullan, the Sanctuary “is an Indigenous owned and operated not-for-profit.” The Sanctuary receives some financial support by private and corporate sponsors and donors; however, these supports do not cover all of the costs: Angela says, “The majority of the work and expenses fall on my partner (Cullan) and I to keep the ponies happy and healthy, both physically and spiritually. Our mission is to protect, promote, and preserve the critically endangered Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony breed.”

Angela, Cullan, and the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies all originate from Treaty 3 territory in Northwestern Ontario. Horses have been part of Angela’s life from her earliest memories at her home in Fort Frances. “I have a picture of me on a horse before I could even walk,” says Angela. Her parents were caretakers of Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies and Nez Perce horses. Angela credits her father as a mentor who has taught her a great deal from his knowledge of working with horses.

Reconnecting with her Métis/Ojibwe cultural identities has been a focus of Angela’s education and healing. Cultural connectedness was a central concept in her research at Western University, where she received a PhD in clinical psychology in 2015. As part of her doctoral research, Angela developed a measure to assist in determining the extent to which cultural connectedness is associated with health and well-being, specifically among First Nations youth. Angela’s findings indicate that cultural connectedness is a positive predictor of mental health. This is critical knowledge because, as Angela says, “the mental health and well-being of youth is one of the most urgent concerns affecting many First Nations communities across Canada.” Angela views her work in educational psychology as “a perfect fit” for the research in which she is engaged. She says healing and learning are inseparable: “You can’t have healing without learning, or learning without healing.”

Doodem (Clan), who is standing, is a 5-year-old sorrel stallion from Kichi Noodin off Ishkote. His genetically matched breeding partner, seen in the foreground, is Aazadi (Cottonwood Tree). Because the ponies are critically endangered, careful DNA testing must be done before the ponies can be bred to ensure their preservation. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

Since completing her doctoral research, Angela has been seeking to understand how cultural connectedness can be developed through, what she calls, “real-world experiences,” which include strengthened relationships with the land and all its “more-than-human” creatures, particularly the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony. Broadening health research to include the more-than-human world is important to Angela because, she says, “We need to situate well-being within a larger network of social relations, with both the human and more-than-human worlds. We need to focus beyond the individual and extend our understandings about health and well-being to living in relation to all else, not just for the present but for future generations as well.”

With her expertise in psychology and her passion for the preservation of the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony breed, Angela is perfectly situated to bridge, in her words, “often seemingly conflicting world views… I understand Western mental health perspectives, but this work requires an understanding of Indigenous perspectives of holistic wellness to fully understand the role of the ponies in the resilience process.” Angela likens the loss of contact with Indigenous horses experienced by Indigenous communities to the loss of family members: “Part of their family has been ripped away,” she says. Reconnecting Indigenous youth and adults with Indigenous horses brings about “indescribable moments,” says Angela. These moments spark the ‘I remember when…’ stories told by Elders about the ponies and traditional ways of life and are, Angela believes, charged with healing potential. “These are moments that could potentially change someone’s life. To see that happening in front of you, it’s a privilege.” Angela felt especially privileged to hear of the repatriation of the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony to Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, from which her partner, Cullan, originates. She says, “I was completely moved by the return of three black geldings to this community.” During a recent visit to see the community’s ponies, Cullan had opportunity to meet the geldings for the first time. Angela says, “The reunion of these family members was so powerful—an emotional reuniting. The bond between the geldings and Cullan was instant. It’s a culturally specific relationship that dates back to pre-Colonial contact. This type of relationship can’t be replicated with any other breed of horse.”

Family Reunion. The three Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies from Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation gather around Cullan (Waabinaanikwad) McGinnis at first meeting. Photo credit: Angela McGinnis

Reunions such as these lead to the beginning of relationships with the more-than-human world, and are what Angela calls a “doorway to the culture,” which can help youth make other cultural connections, such as ceremony. For instance, Angela and Cullan’s relationship with the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies at the Sanctuary has meant that they have sought guidance from local traditional Elders and engaged in horse-specific traditional ceremonies held in communities, such as the Horse Dance. Angela would like to share the doorway experience with her Educational Psychology students: “I want to help students step through that doorway. That’s how we understand how to help others, by experiencing it ourselves. And in return we help the ponies. That’s the whole mutual helping process, helping the horses in their fight against extinction. We need the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies as much as they need us,” says Angela. She plans to start bringing her students out to the Sanctuary for classes in Spring. A 20-foot tipi will be raised as Angela prepares to bring her students in contact with the ponies and the land.

Master’s student Kelsey Moore, who received a B.Ed. in Indigenous Education from First Nations University of Canada, is now undertaking her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Regina under the supervision of Dr. McGinnis and the mentorship of Life Speaker Noel Starblanket. Kelsey is Métis and grew up in Yorkton. Her lifelong passion for horses began with several summers spent working with youth at horse camps and riding stables and continued with her experience of getting to know the Curly Horse breed at her inlaws’ farm. Her thesis research question perfectly intersects with Angela’s interest in understanding and offering evidence-based research to explain how and why Indigenous youth benefit in both educational outcomes and mental health, through establishing relationships with horses and how Equine Assisted Learning programs can be successfully culturally adapted.

Angela, Mishkwiingwese (She Blushes), and Kelsey demonstrate a teamwork exercise, learned at the EAL certification course. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

Kelsey and Angela are amazed to have found each other. Angela says, “What are the chances of me finding a student who wants to work with Indigenous horses?” The two researchers are working toward the same ends as those involved in language revitalization: “We are all tackling a shared goal: Cultural preservation,” Angela says. The actual preservation of the critically endangered Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony extends as a metaphor for cultural and identity preservation: “Their mere presence is a counternarrative to the colonial narrative of the extinction of Indigenous horses to the Americas,” says Angela. Indeed, the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony’s survival itself inspires hope. But beyond that, Angela feels that interaction with Indigenous horses gives “Indigenous youth opportunities to connect with horses who have resilience and strength, like their own, that they can identify with, a culturally specific story,” she says.

What exactly is Equine Assisted Learning (EAL)?

Snowshoe and Starblanket (2016) state that EAL “is a relatively new approach to knowledge acquisition that draws primarily on the tenets of experiential learning, that is, learning through hands-on experience with the horse (Dell, Chalmers, Dell, Sauve, & MacKinnon, 2008).”

To deepen her understanding of EAL, Kelsey received EAL certification in August at Cartier Farms, near Prince Albert. Cartier Farms teaches that establishing an experiential hands-on working relationship with horses, with their sensitivity, non-verbal communications, resilience, and forgiving ways, can be an effective approach to learning, to self-knowledge, and to self-evaluation.

Angela, who has been guided by the traditional Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and communities with whom she has worked, sees the potential for healing and learning in culturally adapted EAL. Angela views horses as “more-than-human co-constructors of knowledge.” Horses have much to teach us about the land and living on the land, she says. Elders and Knowledge Keepers have taught Angela that, with their four feet always on the ground, horses have a greater connection with Mother Earth, and through this connection, the Creator. Thus, traditionally, horses have been considered a source of maintaining and recovering holistic wellness.

Upon the arrival of Angela’s first Pony at the Sanctuary, a beautiful stallion, affectionately named Sagineshkawa (Pleasure with my Arrival), she says, “I realized that I should not rush things. I needed to slow down and have humility, especially around a powerful being like a horse…This was the horse that I had to pay attention to and listen to spiritually.” Angela is grateful to all her ponies for their patience in teaching her. Kelsey’s experiences with horses have similarly given her the understanding that she must “slow down and be present in the moment,” she says. “Helping humans slow down is a way that the horses care for us,” says Angela. She views the horse-human relationship as one of mutual caring: “We are caretakers of them and the land, but the ponies also take care of us.”

Yet, there is an urgency that requires speed in this research due to the need for Indigenous youth to be able to access culturally adapted healing and learning programs. As a mother of a toddler, Kelsey had intended to move a bit slower with her research, but she says everything is moving much quicker than she planned or expected. Kelsey’s research, using what Angela describes as “a pure Indigenous research method,” seeks to understand the spiritual and cultural connections between Indigenous youth and Indigenous horses. Incorporating ceremony as research, Kelsey is documenting her interactions and deep listening experiences with the ponies, along with the conversations she has with Elders and Knowledge Keepers to make sense of what she observes.

The two researchers are already envisioning and talking about future plans. Angela says, “We hope to apply for an operating grant to help Kelsey set up her own Indigenous-centered Equine-Assisted Learning and healing program in the community, following the completion of her academic work.”

The Sanctuary has recently gained international attention. It will be featured in a short documentary film currently being produced by National Geographic as part of the Natural Connections Project. The film will document how EAL contributes to the well-being of First Nations youth. Through the film, Angela hopes to showcase “how Indigenous communities are using horses to connect with culture, strengthen positive relationships, and learn through activities with horses and nature.”

By Shuana Niessen

Credits for photos below: Shuana Niessen 2018

 

Faculty member recipient of McDowell Foundation Funding

Dr. Christine Massing

Dr. Christine Massing is a successful applicant for McDowell Foundation funding  for her study that explores the pre- and post-migration educational experiences of refugee children. The study received $10,000. Co-investigators are Daniel Kikulwe from the Faculty of Social Work and Katerina Nakutnyy—University of Regina Alumna and English as an Additional Language teacher at O’Neill High School, Regina Catholic Schools.

The McDowell Foundation, in funding the project, recognizes the importance of Dr. Massing’s work and the expressed desire to support this research and the contribution it will make to teaching and learning in the province.