Sisters of Sasipihkeyihtamowin - wise women of the Cree, Denesuline, Inuit and Métis: understandings of storywork, traditional knowledges and eco-justice among Indigenous women leaders
Kress, Margaret M.
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Environmental racism has recently entered the realm of academic inquiry and although it currently sits in a marginalized category, Indigenous and environmental communities and scholars have acknowledged it as an important subject of critical inquiry. With roots in southern Americana history, environmental racism has had a limited scope of study within Canadian universities. Few Canadian scholars have presented the rippling effects of this critical phenomenon to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and the challenge to bring this discourse to the universities of Canada remains significant. Mainstream educators and environmentalists dismiss discourses of environmental racism, ecological destruction and the correlating demise of Indigenous peoples’ knowledges, cultures and wellness as an insignificant and sometimes radical propaganda. In opposition, Indigenous peoples globally are countering this dismissal by telling their stories to ensure all have access to the discourses of environmental racism found within the ecological destructions of traditional lands and the cultural genocides of their peoples. The stories of their histories and the subsequent activism define the resistances found within Indigenous communities. These same stories show the resiliencies of Aboriginal peoples in their quest for self-determination. Using an Indigenous research methodological framework, this study seeks to provide an understanding of the complexities associated with incidences of environmental racism found within Canadian Aboriginal communities. It further seeks to find, analyze and report the depth of resistance and resilience found within the storywork of Aboriginal women. The researcher attempts to gain perspective from eight Aboriginal women of four distinct Nations by focusing on the context of their lives in relationship to their leadership decisions and actions from a worldview of Indigenous knowledge, eco-justice and peace. The lived experiences of Aboriginal women from the traditional lands of the Cree, the Denesuline, the Inuit and the Métis are critical to an analysis of how environmental racism is dismantled and wellness sought. The storywork of these participants provides answers as to how these Aboriginal women have come to resist environmental racism and why they currently lead others in the protection and sustainability of traditional lands, Aboriginal knowledge, culture and kinship wellness. Framed within Indigenous research methodology, all researcher actions within the study, including the collection, analysis and reporting of multiple data sources, followed the ceremonial tradition and protocols of respect and reciprocity found among Aboriginal peoples. Data from semi-structured qualitative interviews and written questionnaires was analyzed from the supportive western method of grounded theory. Findings revealed the strength of Storywork through the primary themes of Woman as Land and Woman as Healer. These are discussed through the Sisters’ embodiment of resistance, reflection, re-emergence and re-vitalization. The ways in which these Indigenous women have redeemed their knowledges and resurged as leaders is integral to the findings. The study concludes with an emphasis on the criticality of collective witnessing as transformation.
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