“The beautiful intersectionalities”: Shy-Anne’s Narrative
By: Shy-Anne Bartlett
Shy-Anne is an educator, musician, environmentalist and humanitarian. She lives off the land as much as she can for her and her family. Shy-Anne worked in education as a teacher for 18 years prior to taking on the role of Manager of Indigenous Education for SGGDB. She is working towards social justice through her work daily work and through her music. When she is not working, she is a mother, gardener and lover of all life, and does her best to live life in a good way while walking the dual path of Anishinaabe way of life and colonial life.
It is against my nature to silo anything, thus when attempting to focus on just one principle of the Guiding Principles for Learning Inspired by Etuaptmumk that our team developed, I couldn’t, as they lead into each other. From my standpoint as someone who identifies as Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe women) and who has been brought up in this way, my thinking tends to be circular in nature, and I cannot separate one thing from another when I can clearly see a connection between the principles and how thing link and support each other. Thus, as you read through my narrative below, you will find that the principles merge together, without a clear line where one starts and when ends. This is something that in my experience is the way we think as Anishinaabe – everything is related and interconnected, and to fully honour and understand one thing, you must learn and understand what it is connected to. In doing so, we truly honour, respect and learn the beautiful intersectionalities of the learning to be done.
What does Two-Eyed Seeing mean? This main encompassing principle, accredited to Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall, for Etuaptmumk (translated as Two-Eyed Seeing), “…refers to learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing … and learning to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all.” (Institute for Integrative Science and Health). In this document, we will explore many of the Guiding Principles of Etuaptmumk, or Two-Eyed Seeing.
One principle is the ability to be able to understand that our actions today will have an impact on the future. The ability to be able to see things and act upon both ways of seeing will directly impact how we move forward in the future. Should we decide to see things from other perspectives, we will have a positive impact on Mother Earth and future generations of all relations. Many Indigenous cultures of Turtle Island (North America) have a strong connection to Mother Earth. I, as an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe for Ojibwe Women), truly believe and feel a strong connection to Mother Earth. Our actions of today and yesterday will shape the future of both Mother Earth and of future generations. When considering the future, we must also reflect on how the past can and does shape the future. When considering the past, we often associate that past with residential schools, colonialism and the colonization of Canada, the various histories that settlers and Indigenous peoples created over the past 500 years.
However, there is other history that needs to be considered. We as Indigenous cultures and civilizations have been here thousands of years and have a diverse knowledge set that extends and is unique to many Indigenous groups across Turtle Island. We established our own ways of knowing and being. (I will refrain from using Western terms such as “epistemology” as those are not our terms and do not truly encompass our ways.) We bring a brilliance as well that shapes who we are through our complex knowledge systems, contributions to technology (including but not limited to things such as canoes and snowshoes), understanding of land and connection to land which lends its brilliance to things such as medicine, contributions to art in all capacities — music, dance, visual art, story telling, and countless other contributions that often go unnoticed as contributions by Indigenous peoples.
I want to share a teaching shared by Biigtigong Nishnaabeg Elder, Cindy Fisher, who spoke in a conference to a small group of educators. We were discussing how one would walk between two worlds and honour both. The Elder said, “You have two canoes, and you will keep one foot in each canoe.” A participant replied, “If you have your feet in two different canoes, you will for sure fall into the water, and the canoes will drift away from you in different directions, and you will be wet and stuck in the water.” The Elder smiled softly and replied with a twinkle in her eyes, “Maybe, but not if you are not smart enough to tie your canoes together first.” The room certainly reacted with a chuckle.
This metaphor is powerful and truly makes one stop and think. What does it mean to have both your feet in different canoes, or to walk in two worlds at the same time? To see both with a Western and an Indigenous eye? A seemingly simple concept but not a simple task.
There are many guiding principles, or things to consider to walk the path of Two-Eyed Seeing, especially as Western and Indigenous ways of seeing, knowing and being are so vastly different. In reading Braiding Sweetgrass (Wall Kimmerer, 2013), one can start to gain this perspective of viewing the world in two ways simultaneously and allowing the strengths of both to compliment each other. Indigenous perspective of relation to land is holistic and relational – we are the equals to the other plant, animal and insect beings of the planets; we learn with and from them as brothers and sisters. When considering land from the Western perspective, we view it more as a resource to give us what we need. This understanding of thinking of land in relationship as opposed to a resource is also a key principle in understanding Etuaptmunk. This is so closely linked to the principle that Indigenous knowledges are grounded in reciprocity with all living beings: plant, animal, reptile, rock, air, water… all life and aspects of life. All life and aspects of what makes Mother Earth what she is plays a part in the community in which it belongs. This includes life that we may discount such as sand or a mosquito, and our personal and community relationships to these other beings.
Relationship is key to embedding Indigenous perspective into Etuaptmumk, and giving Mother Earth and all her creations the respect and dignity they all deserve. The Indigenous perspective of relationships is often very different from Western perspective. In Western pedagogy, we think of things in terms of science, chemicals, consider symbiotic relationships, parts and systems (circulatory, respiratory, stem, leaf, root…etc), however, Indigenous pedagogy/thinking, we think more in terms of everything that is part of the whole. Looking at the Medicine Wheel as a whole, the whole is viewed as 4 main parts to make the whole – spiritual, emotional, physical, intellectual – and all equal parts and importance to each other. There is the relationship between the four quadrants too, and when one is out of balance or neglected, it affects the entire being.
If we were to think of all beings (or life if you will) in both Western and Indigenous terms, how would you view a flower? Let’s consider a dandelion. Western approach, it’s a wild flower that is often considered a weed. The roots can be used in teas and medicines, the leaves also for teas or salads. The flower head becomes food for bees and butterflies, and so on. Thinking of it from a Two-Eyed approach, we would consider how that dandelion is one of the first beings to push itself through the soil in the spring and offer itself to the bear as a first food and antioxidant to clean out his system after an extended amount of time without the intake of food, she pushes her roots deeper into the ground drawing food, water, and nutrients up her stem as she reaches her head up to the sky calling bees, ants, butterflies and a plethora of other beings to nurse off of her and drink her sweet nectar and begin spring again. The various insects fly or crawl back to their homes to bring their fresh harvest to their growing families, and undoubtedly, their own babies. In both approaches, the dandelion has functions and is needed by the environment, but it is the thinking about the how and the actual relationship between the dandelion and other beings that she welcomes to her leaves, flowers and roots.
Another example I will use is a rock. During the Summer Writing Project with Defining Moments Canada, a select few teachers had the opportunity to create ideas on how to bring Indigenous perspectives into the classroom. One of the teachers, Renee Allen, created a learning opportunity with Two-Eyed Seeing using rocks. In a typical Western classroom, if the teacher asked students to examine the rocks, you would likely hear conversations that revolved around minerals, deposits, composition, maybe geographical location. This is all great knowledge. But now let’s add to thinking. Rocks have been here since the start of time on Earth in the same form. Perhaps once lava, carried miles by giant glaciers, broken apart in ancient oceans, and potentially so much more. The rocks carry the history of the Earth in themselves, and have remained strong and resilient through the millenia, even though their shapes and forms may have altered. This thinking brings a sense of life and love to this significant piece of history. Renee then extended this concept into a more emotional/spiritual thinking. Rocks carry history and weight. If rocks were used as a physical metaphor to understand carrying trauma, fear, sadness or other heavy experiences, it can get heavy quickly. Every person has their own “rocks” to carry, but certainly some have more than others. What if as a collective we shared the weight by distributing the rocks so everyone just had a bit of weight to carry? A rock that literally could fit in your pocket and barely be noticed? If 40 people took a little piece of rock from someone who carries a heavy load, how much more manageable would that be? And how would that affect the well-being of the whole group of people?
Thinking in terms of Truth and Reconciliation, if every Canadian was to do a small part, just one thing, we would be able to work our way through the heavy history that has formed the country we live in today. This of course means being able to remove blindfolds and truly see things for what they are, or to consider a way of being and knowing from another perspective, even if it is not a way of being or knowing that you would participate in. Choosing not to be open to this would be promoting the “perfect stranger” (Dion, 2007) stance — this is when one chooses not to learn or see a different stance in order to remain ignorant to another perspective.
This brings me to the principle of having a holistic empowering journey, embracing the co-construction, rather than the transmission, of knowledge in ways that honour and respect individual differences and strengths. When you do choose to learn, gain perspective, and seek to understand, how is this being accomplished? I will say this bluntly- NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US. You must not “Google” or just read something about Indigenous culture and become an expert. Much of who we are as a people is something that must be learned and experienced in authentic situations in order to fully understand the full extent of a given perspective, way of life, tradition, or or or…
This relates to another principle that considers how balance is needed in the Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical needs of whoever is doing the learning. This type of learning and understanding can only truly be encompassed by learning from someone who carries the generations of knowledge that has been passed down. When wanting to engage in learning about another that belongs to the Indigenous culture, it is imperative to engage the expertise of those who hold the specific knowledge of what you are seeking to learn. This also means understanding that not all Indigenous cultures have the same belief structures, and even within a community, not all members of a community will have the same belief system, or all carry the same knowledge. It is of high importance to reach out to a local community you are sharing land with in order to ask for specific knowledge that will be unique to the area in which you reside. Also, it is important to remember that not only do all Indigenous peoples have different beliefs and knowledge systems, but not all Indigenous peoples carry the same knowledge. One person cannot know everything there is to know, just as it is with every culture. We allow the community in which you wish to engage with to identify the people in their community who may be able to help you, and accept that sometimes, you will not find what you are looking for. In this case, it is best to respect this, and consider changing your path of what you wish to learn.
If and when you do connect with an individual or group who will help you on your journey of learning, how are you working with them in order to learn and move forward in your learning? It is important to ask if you can share what you have learned, or if it is better to have the person who shared with you help you share or share for you to someone else. Sharing information, knowledge or teaching without consent can be seen as misappropriation. Always ensure that there is clear direction in how knowledge given to you is allowed to be disseminated to avoid appropriation and/or using knowledge in a harmful way.
I personally am a 60s Scoop survivor. I am often asked to share my story, or work with educators to share with students. Many people who have been through other assimilation practices such as residential schools have also been asked to share. This leads me to the principle that we/you must have a personalized structure of safety that is conducive to the people you are sharing with or asking to share. If you are asking someone who has a story or knowledge to share what may be difficult for them, it is important to have no expectations about that sharing, and also allow the person space and permission to leave an uncomfortable situation safely. Also consider that group you are sharing with: if you are sharing with a classroom of students, will this be triggering information for the listeners? Do they know what to do and how they can seek help or safety if they have been upset by the information being shared? Have you clearly let everyone know what will be covered ahead of time so they have the option to not participate if it is too difficult for them? How do you know this? Know your audience, and make no assumptions of what you may or may not know without actually finding out.
In this narrative, we have explored some of the Guiding Principles of Etuaptmunk (Two-Eyed Seeing) as I feel comfortable sharing. Like anyone with anything, I am not an expert on all principles and have only spoken about the ones I feel comfortable discussing in this context. Please also know that other people will have more to add regarding the principles and different perspectives due to their location, positionality, and what they have been taught through life, experience and teachings. This may send a message of confusion and cause a reaction to avoid the learning. I implore you to continue on this journey of learning and understanding as you carry that confusion with you. Learning anything takes time, patience and research — this is no different. Good learning requires access to many resources about the same thing, time, implementation, errors in learning, and the ability to ask questions. I thank you for taking this learning on in order to bring the next generation into a new place of understanding.
How do we connect this all to the world around us? How do you as an individual do this work? Allow yourself time, patience and love to guide this learning. Know that you may get it wrong, and you need to be able to say sorry and forgive yourself. This journey of learning will take time and space and relationship. Relationship with Land, people and yourself. I will leave you with this song that I wrote this summer to ponder and guide your journey.
(Shy-Anne Hovorka/Bartlett 2022)
Where the land takes me, Where my feet go,
Where my heart wonders, Where waters flow
The wind it keeps calling, Reaching my soul
Whispering softly, Watch where your feet go
So I’ll walk slowly by the river,
And I’ll feel what the wind has to say
And I’ll get down on my knees and pray
And hear what the trees need to say
….walk carefully (x3)
Life in the water, Life in the mountains,
Life in the flowers, Life in the air,
They all tell the story, Of life on this land,
So listen carefully, With heart and with hand
So I’ll walk slowly by the river,
And I’ll feel what the wind has to say
And I’ll get down on my knees and pray
And hear what the trees need to say
….walk carefully (x3)
Dion, Susan D (2007). “Disrupting molded images: Identities, responsibilities and relationships—teachers and indigenous subject material.” Teaching Education 18.4 (2007): 329-342.
Institute for Integrative Science and Health: Retrieved from http://www.integrativescience.ca/Principles/TwoEyedSeeing
Wall Kimmerer, R. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Milkweed editions.