Woman Warriors Newsletter

Indigenous Womxn Write: Word Therapy & Strength-Based Stories

Our writing workshop centered the perspectives of Métis and Inuit Northern (Northwest Territories) writers. I defined and discussed the following concepts so the audience had a contextual understanding of Indigenous literary concepts:

  • Deficit stories vs. strength-based stories, trauma porn, cultural appropriation, imposter syndrome, relational accountability, white-coded Métis and ethnic fraud.

Tanya and I shared, in a unscripted way, our understanding of the aforementioned concepts and why writing is a form of therapy. It was my intention to base our presentation on Keeoukaywin: The Visiting Way Methodology, an Indigenous methodology centered on relating to one another in a non-restrictive, unscripted, and responsive way (Gaudet, 2019). Visiting is an important feature of Indigenous cultures and our conversation was meant as a demonstration of sharing our writing practices and insights through Indigenous ways of knowing, relating, and doing.

My responsibility as an Indigenous writer and researcher is to be aware of how I produce and share knowledge. It is my responsibility as a Métis womxn to disrupt the hiearchy of Western knowledge and make space for Indigenous ways of knowing, relating, and doing, which also extends to online spaces. Due to the pandemic and the need to social distance, we must find news ways to create Indigenous spaces online. I adjusted my digital storytelling methodology to decolonize the online space when I co-created a digital story with Royal Roads University Masters’ student, Barb Horsefall. You can read more about her digital storytelling research in my newsletter, Digital Storytelling Presentationa & Summer Research

I attempted to decolonize this presentation by centering the Visting Way Methodology with Tanya. I shared my relational accountability to my ancestors, family, community, and land-base by doing a land acknowledgement for both Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 territory. Our presentation also incorporated photos of my family and Tanay’s family in Yellowknife. When I shared my insights about writing I incorporated my holistic experiences as a Métis womxn, mother, researcher and family member. I applied some of my digital storytelling research experience to our Indigenous womxn write workshop such as the concept of strength-based stories, and why Indigenous womxn may be reluctant to share their stories.

I encouraged the attendees to “visit” with us in an informal capacity but it was not well-recieved. I prompted the audience to share their own writing practices or join in a reciprocal conversation, but I failed. Yes, Tanya and I visited in an unscripted way but no one else joined in our visiting. My attempt to produce a decolonized and open space for Indigenous women to visit did not work as planned for several reasons:

1) Everyone needs a baseline of knowledge of Indigenous concepts and understandings before they can a conversation. I was blind as to how many people on the webinar identified as Indigenous and would understand our discussion if I did not educate them on the terms like cultural appropriation, white coded Metis, relational accountability, etc. Contextual knowledge is important to Indigenous conversations. I had to do a traditional Western-style presentation of the concepts before I could start our conversation which may have set the tone for a Western presentation. 
2) Most people had their cameras off so I could not see their faces and take cues from the audience. There was no “spirit” present between us meaning no connection and relationality. Indigenous visiting means being present in mind, body, spirit and emotions in the moment and practicing reciprocity. I find that zoom allows audience members to be passive consumers of content meaning they are not present. It is not an organic or reciprocal conversation when audience members are attempting to answer emails while listenting to a presenter.  
3) I tried to encourage everyone to “visit” but it was clear they had no interest in discussing the terms or sharing in a reciprocal way. It felt like a colonial, extractive process where Tanya and I shared our knowledge then everyone left. There was no natural bonding because we did not interact. How can we build long-term and trusting relationships online when audience members do not show their faces or interact? 
4) There is no way to recreate a “kitchen table” on zoom. Gaudet (2019) refers to Métis academic, Racette’s “kitchen table theory” methodology explained as, “a reclaiming of women’s spaces and ways of doing things” through visiting in their homes (p. 55). Perhaps I should have given instructions to the attendees to bring their tea/coffee and biscuits/bannock, and be mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally present for our visit, but it feels contrived. The feelings of love and security that are present in real life are hard to recreate in a virtual space.
5) Land based knowledge is challenging to explain online. The foundation of Keeoukaywin: The Visiting Way is the connection to place-based knowledge and concepts which cannot be taught during a short online zoom webinar nor explained to someone not familiar with Indigenous ways of knowing, being, doing. I’m not sure how Indigenous academics impart land-based knowledge online since it is a spiritual pursuit. You must be present and connected to the land in order to have the internal knowing that is necessary to visit and relate to each other. Tanya and I share Treaty 8 territory land-based knowledge because I lived in Yellowknife and we collaborated on Indigneous women’s health stories.

In summary, I attempted to bring the Keeoukaywin: The Visiting Way Methodology to our Indigenous Womxn Write webinar, but I failed in my delivery. I wanted to re-create that feeling of community love and bonding that we experience as Indigenous womxn when we gather, especially because we are socially distant and unable to visit our families. I loved visiting online with Tanya and sharing our experiences as Northern writers but it was not an inclusive conversation. Maybe the group – approximately 27 members – was too large to visit in a meaningful way or because we were strangers it was not a comfortable environment. If Tanya and I did the webinar again I would request a maximum of five participants that are familiar with the kitchen table theory. We tried our best to inspire and encourage Indigenous women to write their stories, especially during COVID-19 when we are isolated at home and perhaps have more time to do so. I’m grateful that Tanya shared her poem, I Am (she did not want it recorded) because it inspired the audience members. If we can adapt and refine the Visiting Way Methodology online then we can help more Indigenous women build community and encourage them to share their stories. 
I would love to hear from other Indigenous academics that are attempting to decolonize online spaces –  disrupt colonial system and bring our Indigenous ways of knowing, relating, and doing – online to Indigenous students, academics, and communities. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or insights about this webinar: Shelley@womenwarriors.club. 

Biography – Tanya Roach is an Inuk writer and throat singer living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her family roots are from the Kivalliq region of Nunavut; an area on the northwest coast of the Hudson’s bay. She has been writing for 10 years about life as an urban Inuk and as an Indigenous child in the NWT foster care system. Her writing can be found in UpHere magazine, Edge Yk, the Writers Union of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. She loves books and is a full-time employee at the Yellowknife library. Published articles: A Fierce Love (2019). The Edge YK. Larga Love (2016). UpHere magazine.

Biography – Shelley Wiart is a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Shelley is currently finishing her fourth year of a Bachelor of Arts program in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Athabasca University. Last summer she was the recipient of the Hotıì ts’eeda (NWT SPOR Support Unit) Research Capacity Development Program and for two consecutive years she was awarded the Alberta Indigenous Mentorship in Health Innovation (AIM-HI) Undergrad Summer Student Stipend for her Indigenous women’s health research project, Digital Storytelling as an Indigenous Women’s Health Advocacy Tool: Empowering Indigenous Women to Frame Their Health Stories. She published an academic article from this research, Decolonizing Health Care: Indigenous Digital Storytelling as Pedagogical Tool for Cultural Safety in Health Care Settings in Northern Public Affairs Magazine (2020). Shelley was the first runner-up for her story, My Northern Healing awarded by the Sally Manning Award for Indigenous Creative Non-Fiction (2020) UpHere magazine. 

Gaudet, J.C. (2019). Keeoukaywin: The Visiting Way – Fostering an Indigenous Research Methodology. Aboriginal Policy Studies, 7(2). https://doi.org/10.5663/aps.v7i2.29336.

I started an Indigenous Womxn Write group for NaNoWriMo. Please join the website then add yourself as a member. If you are interested in participating in an Indigenous Womxn Write webinar co-hosted by myself and Tanya please email me: Shelley@womenwarriors.club.

Indigenous Womxn Write: Word Therapy & Strength-Based Stories

Upcoming Speaking Engagements & Conferences

October/November: AbSPORU Virtual Institute 2020, to be held online from October 13th to November 20th, 2020. You can view my recorded presentation above, Decolonizing Health Care: Indigenous Digital Storytelling as Pedagogical Tool for Cultural Safety in Health Care Settings.

November 17th: Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) November 16th-20th, 2020. Our panel, Covid-19 and Global Indigenous Health Inequity: A Holistic Life Cycles Approach to Systems Change is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17th 12:30–2:00 pm MST. Please view our panel on the CSPC program.

Recent Media Interviews:

  1. Healthy Inside & Out: Psoriasis (September 2020) – Tanya Roach (my co-host for Indigenous Womxn Write Workshop) was featured on the Sickboy Podcast.
  2. Go the Distance podcast (September 2020)- Athabasca University.
  3. Sickboy Podcast 252 (August 2020)- Women Warriors: Advocating for Indigenous Women’s Health.