Maamaawisiiwin Education Research Centre is an independent, non-aligned centre of inquiry working in the diverse fields of Indigenous education and research. Maamaawisiiwin establishes communities of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and teachers with specific expertise and/or skills to support the education, research and evaluative needs of our partners.
The culturally responsive and relational education of Indigenous peoples in all its diverse conceptions is a key component to the ongoing project of Indigenous healing and self-determination. Culturally responsive relational research has the potential to gather reliable evidence of these experiences that both informs and shapes those collective healing journeys to self-determination. The Maamaawisiiwin vision is to facilitate the normalization of both of these realities in the experience of Indigenous peoples.
The Focus of the Maamaawisiiwin Education Research Centre:
There is an old story that relates that when the Creator created the fours colours of humanity He gave each a primary gift that would become the foundation of their nations – the yellow-skinned peoples received the gift of relationships, the red-skinned peoples received the gift of holism, the dark-skinned peoples received the gift of knowledge, and the white-skinned peoples received the gift of movement. The story relates that while the four nations where close to the Creator those gifts complimented the existence of each and there was no discord between them.
After a time, one-by-one, each nation moved away from the Creator and the gifts became the centre of dis-harmony and dis-cord between the four. The story ends with this promise.
The Creator will only let the four colours of humanity move away from Him for so long before He gathers us back to Him and once again we will know peace.
The beaded logo of Maamaawisiiwin Education Research Centre is a visual reminder to that story and that promise. We can all come together and work to a common end – unity and peaceful coexistence – while maintaining our epistemic heritage that is a gift from the Creator. The Anishinabe word, Maamaawisiiwin, literally means, “moving together as one.”
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (Indigenous) peoples have a fundamental moral right to be self-determining within their epistemic heritage. To that end, Indigenous peoples have worked tirelessly to express and exercise that right. The adoption in September of 2007 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly has defined that moral right within Article 3 stating that: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.
The contemporary global Indigenous movement to secure and exercise Indigenous self-determination is a process of inquiry that begins with the revelation, the rebirth, the reinsertion, and a resulting reinvigoration of an Indigenous epistemic tradition into our contemporary lives. (Figure 1). Every time the cycle is repeated we reach a new level of understanding.
To be self-determining in one’s life depends on the existence and maintenance of social/cultural institutions that reflect and encourage a particular way of being. Such institutions – spirituality, language, governance, law, marriage, clan, the control of intellectual/cultural property, and education, to name a few – reflect the epistemic heritage, the values and beliefs, of a culture around which an individual, a community, and a nation align their existence. These institutions do not exist in isolation from us. Instead, these institutions become and are created as we decide to take them up. They form us as we form them.
Indigenous peoples have been systematically and purposefully stripped of these institutions; as a consequence, contemporary peoples have inherited and live within an imposed and unconscious form of determination that reflects the goals and aspirations of a colonial epistemology. Taiaiake Alfred suggests that this imposition situates us in a state of perpetual crisis where “we wander a forest of frustration living inauthentic lives that make us easy prey for those who would enslave us”. Extracting ourselves from “inauthentic lives” is no easy task as the passage of time has dimmed our collective memory of how our contemporary lives are connected to the disruption of our pre-contact institutions.
As an example, the family – the fundamental building block of any society – was effectively disrupted through residential schooling, established and developed by the federal government of Canada and administered by the various Christian denominations that ran the schools. That disruption is most obvious in the effective loss of the clan system in many communities in which familial responsibilities were passed from generation to generation. In this space each new generation was schooled in the traditional values of cooperation and sharing, and learned about their responsibilities to the greater community, to family, to self, to the spirit world, and to the land. These values and beliefs are not just relevant to a remote pre-contact past but are essential to the reclamation of our authentic selves and we are in the process of revealing the multiplicity of that truth to ourselves and to the newcomers.
For over thirty years much of the energy of Indigenous peoples has been directed to discovering the constituent elements of the unconscious legacy that we have inherited through the experience of colonialism. That process has been conceptualized within a pan-healing movement. This healing movement is incremental, dynamic, organic, and dialogic – occurring at multiple levels and multiple speeds simultaneously. A seemingly chaotic process, this healing movement is essentially research that is both disruptive and constructive and reveals a shared colonial narrative that is sung among and across the descendants of the colonized and the colonizer alike. As Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples grapple with transforming the unconscious into the conscious and attempt to come to terms with the sense of dislocation which results from shattered mythologies and imposed cultural norms, they realign their epistemic selves and their way of being to coincide with the new understanding and begin to sing a new song that builds a harmonic, socially just Canada.