The Artist's rendition of a tree, flower and leaf

noticing, Sila, hearing, consent and community

It’s the weekend. Five days of classroom school done, five more to go. Two days of rest in between.

Noticing

On Saturday, shelley and david took strider, melanie and me* to the mountains: canmore, alberta. Before we left, shelley and david discussed where to take us, somewhere david could bike and we could walk, taking into careful consideration strider’s needs. They discussed some options, but continued to circle back to The Meadow. “OK, we’ll go to The Meadow.”

We walked up to The Meadow, a wide open space surrounded by the Rockies, huge peaks surrounding us. We are so small, I thought. Then I remembered to look down, the way my grandmother taught me to do in the early summer before the showy Meadow flowers have bloomed. And there they were, the tiny flowers, intricate and beautiful. Quietly being. #smallstories

In this tremendous and big landscape, I remembered to look down and The Meadow rewarded my noticing with tiny gifts and Sila (Qitsualik, 1998). I didn’t bring my camera with me. I have learned I notice better when not constrained through a specific lens, so instead I breathed in The Meadow’s fragile gifts. After thanking my friends for the gifts of space and time together, I went home and read. More on that later…

This morning I slept in late enough that I missed the birds morning symphony and woke up in silence. I packed a few things and set off.

I returned my bike and headed to the university on foot, knowing only the general direction. Suddenly, I saw an outcropping of art on the corner of this car-friendly street. I stopped, spoke with The Artist and bought a painting. I then asked if I was still headed in the right direction. “Yes,” he said, “Up the hill and turn right. The further you walk, the closer there will be.” Possibly the best directions I’ve ever received. #smallstories

I walked farther and thought about these smallstories, and about the simple wisdom that surrounds me, that I too often drive past in a rush. I am suddenly thankful that there was no bus to take me from the bike shop to the university. This is my our pedagogy of small. Ours, because on my own I miss so much. The Meadow, The Artist, my friends and grandmother these are who help me notice and remember and learn. Together, they enrich me, offer gifts that I’m not sure I ever fully reciprocate. This is also related to the pedagogy of harmony as described by Laura Ritchie.

“When we interact, we are disturbances on the surface of one another’s waters, whether geometric or otherwise intersectional, and the way we make waves and receive the waves has to do with our allowances for a harmonious existence…”

Sila

I have also done a lot of reading the past five days, much of it the work of “serious academics” confidently explaining the nature of power and politics and telling us “how the world works.” And often, I find myself thinking either, “well of course, dummy” or no, dummy have you never seen The Meadow or listened to The Artist?”

In The Pedagogies of Reading and Not Reading, Jesse Stommel (2018), describes this reading approach with far more class: Reading for me has always been more akin to a series of willful cursory glances. And my not reading has been intensely active. It has included talking, researching, writing, making, teaching, wondering, holding, glancing, flipping, filming, watching, etc.

But yesterday was different. Yesterday, in my readings it seemed that the “serious academics” were replaced with “wise intellectuals”. I read Rachel Qitsualik’s (1998) description of Sila that:

“…became associated with incorporeal power, quite understandable, since not only does Sila — through breath — convey energy that drives life, but sila also manifests itself as tangible weather phenomena, such as the slightest touch of breeze, or as the flesh-stripping power of a storm. Sila, for Inuit, became a raw life force that lay over the entire Land; that could be felt as air, seen as the sky, and lived as breath.”

“Of course, dummy,” I thought again, this time the dummy was me. How have I managed to live for over 40 years, visiting meadows and deltas and experiencing Sila, but never before have I seen it written as black letters on a  white background? I suddenly recognized that like Zoe Todd (2016), I have for too long “waited to hear a whisper of the lively and deep intellectual traditions borne out in Indigenous Studies departments, community halls, fish camps, classrooms, band offices and Friendship Centres… citing and quoting Indigenous thinkers directly, unambiguously and generously.”

Todd goes on to describe how this wisdom has too often been appropriated. I will not try to summarize or in any way appropriate her thoughts, except to excitedly say, “Yes! (Go read her work and the wise intellectuals she points to).”

Hearing

Next, Pat Ahluwalia (2010) patiently describes the links so many of the influential post-structuralists have to Algeria and I ponder Young’s words as cited by Ahluwalia,

“If ‘so-called post-structuralism’ is the product of a single historical moment, then that moment is probably not May 1968 but rather the Algerian War of Independence.”

And I begin to wonder, if academia has been so influenced by the French-Algerian connection, how much more wisdom and insight is waiting to be noticed among the Algerian-Algerian voices? I wonder what the Algerian equivalent of a fish camp or Friendship Centre might look and sound like, the wisdom dwelling there. “Of course, dummy,” I hear someone I don’t know, or perhaps someone I do know but haven’t been hearing, say to me.

Consent

I also read Tara Robertson’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Open Research and Education, also suddenly recognizing that I should also take the opportunity to listen to them, sharing the story of a model who posed for a limited print (queer porn – what role do these two words play in this description, what happens if we take them out?) magazine that was digitized without their consent.

“People can cut up my body and make a collage. My professional and personal life can be highjacked. These are uses I never intended and still don’t want.”

Wise intellectual thought from an anonymous model. (Well of course, dummy – This time it’s a reminder to myself.) Words that stick, words that I will not try to summarize but instead sigh and say, “Yes! Thank you for sharing Truths I that have learned, but never before seen written in black and white.”

This is not the first time ideas of consent have come up this week… I read the word earlier and (literally) printed it and pasted it in my river map collage. Could this possibly be the first time I have seen consent spoken about within the context of education? How could that be? This time the wise words coming from Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2014):

Coming to know also requires complex, committed, consensual engagement. Relationships within Nishnaabewin are based upon the consent — the informed (honest) consent — of all beings involved. The word consensual here is key because if children learn to normalize dominance and non-consent within the context of education, then non-consent becomes a normalized part of the ‘tool kit’ of those who have and wield power… True engagement requires consent.

Community

All of these voices, their wisdom swirl as I consider the task ahead of me. To write a doctoral dissertation. Alone. It is that last part that worries me. I have no interest in telling my story. I have no interest in privileging my thoughts. I often say, “I am not a person who has good ideas, my talent is instead to know a good idea when I hear it and to look for ways to knit those good ideas together.” And I have found tremendous value in that space, being the non-expert, asking dumb questions, accepting my ignorance. Speaking of Coyote, Gerald Vizenor as cited by Jo-ann Archibald (2008) described:

“The trickster is in a comic world, surviving by his wits, prevailing in good humor. He’s in a collective, hardly ever in isolation. When he is in isolation, he’s almost always in trouble, in a life-threatening situation he has to get out of… ” (p.23)

Oh, how I relate with this description. The importance of the collective is certainly a lesson I have learned the hard way and one I dare not forget. In contrast to that isolation, I remember recent work considering the pedagogy of small, an iterative and collaborative project where the roles of “researcher” and “participant” blurred, and could have disappeared completely had the word “research” not been brought along. I think about our collaborative writing process in which new writing emerged as I slept (perhaps similar to the puhpowee described by Robin Kimmerer that “translates as ‘the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight'”). I do not know if this Anishinaabe word can be correctly used to describe collective writing, but for now it is the closest description of my experience of global collaborative writing I have heard.(I always appreciate being corrected.)

When did I consent to a solo project? How can I proceed in a way that does not “cut up and make a collage” of others? How do we I build research methodologies that embody (ugh, I dislike that word) respect, reverence, responsibility and reciprocity (Archibald, 2008). How do we I ensure we I give credit to the long history of these concepts without appropriating or misinterpreting them? Why did I consent (did I consent? when did I consent?) to working in a way that feels wrong?

I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, but today I have more confidence than I did on Thursday that there are other options out there and many wise intellectuals who have already figured these things out. I just need to look harder to find them, and then get back to the work I enjoy, knitting those good ideas together.

*Note: I am thinking about and experimenting with what happens when I privilege the questions of “how” and “why” above the question of “who” privileging the words of wise intellectuals regardless of their identities. I recognize that this is an experiment that might end badly. I also recognize that we live in a world where the “who” matters, so for clarity I am a white woman and while I value the indigenous, queer and other intellectuals cited here, I do not identify as a member of their communities.

References

Ahluwalia, P. (2010). Introduction. In Out of Africa: Post-structuralism’s colonial roots (pp. 1-20).  New York, NY: Routledge. AND pp. 61-66

Archibald, J. A. (2008). Indigenous storywork: Educating the heart, mind, body, and spirit. UBC press.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Milkweed Editions.

Qitsualik, Rachel. (1998). Word and Will—Part Two: Words and the Substance of Life. Nunatsiaq News November 12, 1998. Accessed 27 September 2015: http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/archives/nunavut981130/nvt81113_09.html

Robertson, Tara. (November 12, 2017.) Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Open Research and Education. http://tararobertson.ca/2017/opencon/

Ritchie, Laura. (December 16, 2017). Pedagogy of Harmony. https://www.lauraritchie.com/2017/12/16/pedagogy-of-harmony/

Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. (2014). Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society (3: 3)

Stommel, Jessie. (March 7, 2014). The pedagogies of reading and not reading. Hybrid pedagogy. http://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogies-reading-reading/

Todd, Zoe. (2016). An Indigenous feminist’s take on the ontological turn: ‘Ontology’ is just another word for colonialism. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1111/johs.12124

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