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Conducting research from an Indigenous lens

Valarie Waboose

This Anishinabe[1] teaching, referred to as the Seventh Fire Prophecy,[2] has been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years:

The seventh prophet that came to the people long ago was said to be different from the other prophets. He was young and had a strange light in his eyes. He said, “In the time of the Seventh Fire an Osh-ki-bi-ma-di-zeeg (New People)[3] will emerge. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail.

Their steps will take them to the Elders who they ask to guide them on their journey. But many of the Elders will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the Elders will be silent out of fear. Some of the Elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the Elders. The task of the New People will not be easy.

If the New People will remain strong in their quest, the Waterdrum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice [emphasis added]”.[4]

Since the beginning of time, the Anishinabe have transferred Indigenous knowledge,[5] such as stories, legends, teachings and prophecies (also known as Indigenous legal traditions, or ILT)[6] to the young to ensure their cultural surviv- ance.[7] Gifted storytellers, mentored by Elders,[8] were passed the responsibility of transmitting stories, legends, teachings and prophecies onto subsequent generations. The above quote is an example of one such teaching. This prophecy is one of seven prophecies of the Anishinabe also known as the Seven Fires teachings.[9] This teaching, along with many, provided the foundation upon which Anishinabe children were socialized before introduction to colonial society.

After contact, the socialization of Indigenous[10] children changed considerably. During the 1800s, Indigenous children were removed from their homes and sent to Indian Residential Schools[11] (IRS) for long periods of time. While attending these schools, children were taught that their parents were pagan and their cultural ways were evil. Due to the fact that children lived far from home, they no longer heard the teachings and Elders were no longer able to transmit the teachings to subsequent generations. This time was predicted in the Sixth Fire Prophecy.[12] It has been told that during this time, a group of visionaries brought a message to the Anishinabe that the Midewiwin way of life was in danger. Upon hearing this, the ceremonies went underground, the sacred bundles and sacred scrolls were hidden,[13] and the stories, legends, teachings and prophecies were rarely shared.

The secrecy surrounding Anishinabe ceremonies continued for years until a cultural revitalization began in the 1980s amongst Indigenous people across Canada. The younger generation started searching for Elders who remembered the original teachings of the ancestors. This era is known as the time of the Seventh Fire

Prophecy.[14] This prophecy states: “if the New People will remain strong in their quest, the Waterdrum of the Midewiwin Lodge will sound its voice again”.

After the cultural revitalization movement began, many Anishinabe went back to practice the original teachings and started living their life accordingly. Today, the momentum that began 30 years ago continues. During this time of change, struggle and resistance, the Indigenous people of Canada were able to negotiate spaces for themselves within local, regional and national institutions and organizations. Although change was slow, it is important to note here because the struggles, occupations and resistance demonstrated by Indigenous people across Turtle Island[15] exemplified a need for change. Even institutions of higher learning were experiencing a paradigm shift. As Indigenous people returned to the teachings, completed educational degrees and accepted positions in institutions of higher learning, changes occurred. Indigenous scholars began writing and conducting research within these spaces, incorporating their stories, legends, teachings and prophecies, placing ILT at the forefront of Indigenous scholarship. Thus, a new wave of scholarship emerged; Indigenous scholars are now conducting their research and writing using the cultural lens of their ancestors.[16]

Leading Indigenous scholar Dr. John Borrows[17] shared his thoughts about the future of ILT in a book titled Canada’s Indigenous Constitution. In this book, he states that ILT flows from many different sources.[18] He further states that although ILT is not prominent in Canada, it has a huge impact upon the lives of Indigenous people.[13] Also diverse in their overall structure and process, Borrows states that ILT can be divided into five distinct areas: sacred law, natural law, deliberative law, positivistic law and customary law.[20] As previously shared stories, legends, teachings and prophecies are a part of ILT.

At this juncture, I want to step back and share some information about this chapter. Firstly, this chapter is one chapter from my PhD dissertation. Secondly, I want to explain the organization of the chapter for the reader. The chapter began with the Anishinabe Seventh Fire Prophecy to provide the context in which this chapter is written. The next section includes a summary of the research topic - IRS and the compensation processes utilized by IRS Survivors. The chapter then moves onto a discussion of how the methodology and theoretical framework transpired. The following section continues with a discussion about the interrelatedness of the research topic and the sacred teachings of the Seven Fire Prophecies. The conclusion ends with some thoughts about the future direction of Indigenous scholarship within Canada.

Indian residential school legacy

My research examined the compensation processes utilized by IRS Survivors[21] as outlined in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). The residential school legacy is one of the darkest chapters in Canadian history. From the mid-1850s to 1996, thousands of Aboriginal children were taken from their homelands and placed in IRS. Taken against their will, many dreaded attending these schools. Some children attended for as long as 10 to 15 years, only to be strangers in their own communities upon their return. In the past 30 years, Survivors began disclosing the loneliness, confusion, fear, punishment and humiliation they suffered within these institutions and reported traumatic incidents of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. These childhood traumas still haunt them today.

Since the last IRS closed, Survivors were able to negotiate the IRSSA. The IRSSA provided an Alternative Dispute Resolution system called the Independent Assessment Process for physical and sexual abuses, a Common Experience Payment process which compensated every Survivor that attended an IRS using the 10 + 3 formula.[22] The IRSSA also included the development of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), which archived the stories of thousands of Survivors across the country


I begin this section by sharing how my cultural values and beliefs supported the completion of my dissertation. It is not known whether other Indigenous researchers know before starting their study that they will utilize an Indigenous methodology in their research - I can only share my personal experience. At the onset, I must admit that using an Anishinabe methodology did not come automatically Reflecting upon this time reminds me of how I, as an Indigenous student, became immersed and reliant upon Western academic thought. Although I am an Anishinabe Kwe who studied in an Indigenous Knowledge program, my initial thoughts about the methodology I would use in my work only included Western methodologies; never did I think otherwise. I was trained as a lawyer to think black- and white-letter law. Therefore, when asked by my supervisor to think of an Indigenous theoretical framework to use, I was perplexed. I didn’t know what a theoretical framework was because this was not taught in law school. So, I queried my supervisor - I needed an example to understand what was being asked of me. I thought long and hard and even frantically searched the dictionary to understand the term. I spent a good portion of my time at one writing retreat focusing on a theoretical framework to explain my work. Finally, after much thought about the stories of IRS Survivors, the teaching of the Seventh Fire Prophecy and the voice within the Waterdrum, I was struck by the similarities of the Survivors sounding their voices by telling their IRS stories and the sounding of the Waterdrum {voice) as they returned to the teachings and ceremonies. At that second, a vision of the Little Boy Waterdrum came to me. I was overjoyed. As I envisioned the Waterdrum teachings further, I was convinced this would be the framework for my work. The feelings that ran through my body assured me I was on the right path.

However, I was still reluctant to use this sacred object and teachings as my methodology and theoretical framework. I needed something more to settle my fear, therefore, I conducted a literature review of Indigenous research methodologies to satisfy this reluctance. Reading how other scholars were using Indigenous methodologies in their work put me at ease. According to Wilson, Indigenous methodologies are now being used in the research of Indigenous scholars throughout the world. He states:

Within the past decade though, research and researchers have begun to change. More is being done to bring Indigenous communities into the research process, and the usefulness of the research is becoming more visible and beneficial to communities. A precursor for this change has been the growing number of Indigenous people who have excelled in academia and who focus their study on their own peoples. These new Indigenous scholars have introduced Indigenous beliefs, values and customs into the research process and this in turn has helped research to become much more culturally sensitive to Indigenous peoples.[23]

By using research methodologies that are culturally relevant and sensitive to Indigenous people, Indigenous researchers can use their stories as theoretical frameworks within which they can interpret other stories, teachings and experiences.[24] Margaret Kovach explains:

Conceptual frameworks make visible the way we see the world. Within research, these frameworks are either transparent (i.e. through form) or not, yet always present. The rationale for explicit representation of one’s conceptual framework is that it provides insight into a researcher’s beliefs about knowledge production, in general, and how those beliefs will impact the research project. The content and form of the conceptual framework itself assists in illustrating the researcher’s standpoint, thus giving the reader insight into the interpretative lens that influences the research.[25]

Kathleen Absolon further states:

The past, present and future intersect and much of our research is about searching for truth, freedom, emancipation and ultimately finding our way home. Finding our way home means searching to return to our roots and finding the dignity and humanity intended by the Creator.[26]

Wilson, Kovach and Absolon state that using our own theoretical framework helps Indigenous researchers such as me, to better understand Western research practices. Kovach further states that

we carry our framework, which is not inherently good or bad, around with us and it is through this framework that we view the data.[27]

After this review, I understood what an Indigenous theoretical framework encompassed. In addition, I was assured that by using elements of Anishinabe sacred law in my work, I would not be exploiting my culture. Pondering this reluctance, I realize my cultural teachings as an Anishinabe Kwe, Second-Degree Midewiwin member of the Midewiwin Society made me fearful of exploiting the teachings and that is something that I could not do. However, I understood what I had to do. My heart was first and foremost Anishinabe, therefore I must use my lens to tell this story.

As I look back upon the vision that appeared to me, I recall how quickly the IRS story began unravelling before my eyes; all the visions that I experienced during my working hours showed me how the story was meant to be told and the manner in which it must be shared. I was emotionally and spiritually moved by the vision of the Waterdrum and the Seven Fires Prophecies. Never did I think that someday the teachings that I had heard many times before in the Midewiwin Lodge would lead to the completion of my PhD dissertation.


Everything in Creation is interconnected. Just like a spider that spins its web interconnecting each strand to another, all living things in Creation are interconnected as well. The aim of this section is to illustrate the connections and interconnectedness between the IRS legacy and the teachings of the Anishinabe, while demonstrating how an Indigenous lens shaped this dissertation.

The Seven Fires Prophecies

The heart of my story about the IRS, previously stated, lies within the teachings of the Seven Fire Prophecies and the Waterdrum. As the story unfolds one chapter at a time,[28] the journey of the IRS Survivors travels through a timeline of over a hundred years. Although the prophecies spoke of the path that IRS Survivors (New People) would take in the future, in all fairness, they probably never knew the path they were travelling was such a significant one.

The voice within the Waterdrum

At the early stages of the interview process, it became very clear the methodology would have to reflect the Survivors’ responses word per word. During a conversation with one Survivor, I was told point-blank not to change any of the words he shared with me as other researchers had done to him in the past. What he wanted was for the story he shared with me to be in his words - his voice. In my view, his concerns were valid, so I decided then that I would not change any words spoken by the Survivors. Little did I know then, this conversation would become one of the driving forces of the study. Not only did this conversation lead to the methodology used in this study but it also led to the theoretical framework. As I contemplated writing in the voice of the Survivors, I remembered the prophecy teaching: “If the New People will remain strong in their quest, the Waterdrum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice".[29] In that instant, I understood the connection between the Survivors and the Waterdrum: Survivors were not only sounding the voice of the Waterdrum - they were also demanding their voices be heard. As I thought about the Survivors and the path that led them to the IRSSA, I envisioned the Waterdrum awakening the spirits of the Survivors. One by one, they recognized the sound of the Waterdrum and as they were awakened, they felt a profound strength as they stood up to tell their stories of the IRS. After years of having their voice silenced, they were finally being heard across the land. This is such a beautiful story of IRS Survivors demonstrated amazing resilience and courage and demanding resolution to the wrongs that were committed against them.

The Waterdrum

The Aiiishinabe use two different types ofWaterdrums in the Midewiwin Lodge: tlie Grandfather Drum and the Little Boy Waterdrum.[30] The Grandfather drum can be recognized by the hoop placed at the top of the drum, while the Little Boy Waterdrum is tied together with seven small, round stones. In this dissertation, when referring to the Waterdrum, it is the Little Boy Waterdrum being referenced.

The Waterdrum is constructed using various elements taken from Mother Earth. The elements required to assemble a Waterdrum include a hollowed tree, a piece of deer hide, seven round stones, approximately six feet of leather lace, a wooden plug and water. Once the various parts are assembled, they are placed on the Drumkeeper’s altar[31] in preparation for dressing. Putting the pieces of the Waterdrum together is referred to as ‘dressing the Little Boy’.

In this chapter, the dressing of the Little Boy can be compared to preparing for a research project to begin. When constructing a Waterdrum, the builder must search for a tree that will be used to construct the drum. Not just any tree will suffice; it must be a tree which can perform the duties required of a Waterdrum. Similarly, before a research project begins, the author will search for the appropriate methodology and framework that suits the research project. In this dissertation, both Anishinabe and qualitative methodologies are used. In the following pages, the methodology and theoretical framework are shared to impart an understanding of the preparations that went into this dissertation.

The Anishinabe conceptual framework of the Waterdrum includes six elements that are required to dress the Little Boy: the tree, the stones, the deer hide, the deer hide lacing, the water and the wooden plug. Below are various research elements used to illustrate how the Waterdrum was used metaphorically to put the pieces together.

Tree - Anishinabe conceptual framework

The hollowed tree stump carved into the Waterdrum is the conceptual framework employed for this dissertation. This framework is borrowed from the teachings of the Waterdrum transmitted in the Midewiwin Lodge.

The drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. As long as the heart continues to beat, the life of the Anishinabe people will remain. The powerful and beautiful voice of the Anishinabe is the being that accompanies the sounding of the Water- drum. The importance of the Waterdrum should never be underestimated, for it is the voice of the Anishinabe. Without the appealing sound of the Waterdrum and the beautiful voice of the Anishinabe people, the Eighth and Final Fire[32] will never be lit.

Stones - methodological principles

The stones tied around the Waterdrum are used to illustrate the various methodological principles required to undertake this study. To illustrate these principles, this section is divided into subsections to represent the stones used to tie the Waterdrum. In the circle of stones that fastens the deer hide to the base of the drum, no stone is more important than the other. Each stone is important to the overall construction of the Waterdrum as are the methodological principles of a dissertation.

286 Valarie Waboose Stone 1: relationality

In Anishinabe society, as well as other Indigenous societies, relationships are extremely important to the peaceful coexistence of the community. Relationships not only exist within the human realm but also within the spiritual and physical realms as well.[33] According to Anishinabe teachings, all living things within the universe are interconnected; therefore, relationships are crucial to the survival of humankind and the universe.

Before commencing interviews with residential school Survivors, a plan had to be developed. To capture a broad cross-section of residential school Survivors from across Canada, it was decided that interviews would take place in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. Manitoba was chosen because it is a central province; British Columbia was selected because a previous research project identified a large number or residential school survivor litigants residing in this province; and Ontario was chosen because it is my home territory.

Even though well planned, the interview process did not roll out as expected. Contact people were needed to locate and identify' residential school Survivors to interview. I began by thinking of relationships established with various people in Manitoba and British Columbia. One of my best friends (Pauline Terbasket) lives in British Columbia, so that was easy; however, I knew very few people in Manitoba.

Shortly thereafter, I attended a residential school conference held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and was fortunate enough to meet Jennifer Wood, the coordinator for the Residential School Survivors program at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs office. She agreed to be my contact person in Manitoba. Susie Jones, a resident school survivor, was my contact person in Ontario.

Absolon describes relationships in this way:

Community' relationships are another common strength of Indigenous methodologies. Consistently', conscious Indigenous re-searchers agree that our searches be purposeful and beneficial to community (whatever that community' is and represents). My re-search community' is comprised of a diverse representation and includes Indigenous educators, scholars and searchers. I also have my traditional community, geographic community' and nation community'. I have a clan family and a circle of people who I choose to be in relationship with and who lovingly support me. Some searchers may interpret community to be their reserve, their First Nation, Indigenous peoples generally', their land base, either cultural orientation or their lifestyle. Community' is determined and defined with respect to the searcher.[34]

In this case, the community relationships consisted of those involved in the residential school issue - family, friends, those of Anishinabe ancestry and others that worked with residential school Survivors.

Conducting research from Indigenous lens 28 7

Another important relationship fundamental to the success of this dissertation was my friendship with Elder Shirley Williams, professor emeritus of Trent University. Shirley was a residential school survivor and a role model for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Also, Shirley was a previous professor of mine at Trent University; therefore, I knew Shirley, but not as well as I would in the months that followed entry into the PhD program. Together, we developed and taught a university course on residential schools for two years while I completed my residency requirements at Trent. We travelled to residential school conferences together and met regularly for breakfast, lunch or supper. Due to the fact that she is knowledgeable of the residential school legacy, she was invited to be a committee member on this dissertation journey.

Stone 2: outsider/insider - respecting local protocols

Another consideration requiring prior thought and consideration was how to enter the community without offending community members. Going into an Aboriginal community without prior contact or a contact person would be a grave mistake because community members do not think favourably of research conducted within their community by outsiders. Therefore, as an outsider I would need someone to introduce me to the community in Manitoba and British Columbia. According to Linda Smith:

Most research methodologies assume that the researcher is an outsider able to observe without being implicated in the scene. This is related to positivism and notions of objectivity and neutrality. . . . Indigenous research approaches problematize the insider model in different ways because there are multiple ways of both being an insider and an outsider in indigenous contexts. The critical issue with insider research is the constant need for reflexivity.[35]

Although outsiders are useful in some instances, it is important not to offend Survivors in their own community. Therefore, I eased myself into the urban community of Winnipeg and into the Okanagan Nation in two very different ways.

In Winnipeg, my contact person Jennifer Wood made the initial contacts with the people that were interviewed, and she set up the interviews at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs offices. Since she made the initial contact, she acted as the gatekeeper between the survivor and myself. She knew most of the residential school Survivors in the Winnipeg area and they knew and trusted her; so, they were open to being interviewed.

In the Okanagan Nation territory, I was fortunate to be in the area when several residential school survivor gatherings were scheduled in Penticton and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. My contact person took me to these gatherings and introduced me to many of the Survivors. While in the area, it was possible to also attend several other community social events such as wedding anniversaries and baseball and basketball games. Attending these gatherings proved to be an excellent opportunity to meet a lot of residential school Survivors. Therefore, when it came time to start interviews, people in the community were familiar with me, which made interviewing easier.

The interviews conducted on Walpole Island First Nation introduced a set of different variables because this was my home territory. Although viewed as an insider, my relationship with the community triggered a different set of expectations. As stated by Smith:

Insiders have to live with the consequences of their processes on a day-to-day basis forever more, and so do their families and communities. For this reason, insider researchers need to build particular sorts of research-based support systems and relationships with their communities. They have to be skilled at defining clear research goals and “like .... Of relating” which are specific to the project and somewhat different from their own family networks.[36]

As an insider researcher, there is still the requirement to be ethical and respectful, as reflexive and critical as an outsider[37] while being humble at the same time. Smith states that one of the difficult risks insider researchers take is to “test” their own taken-for-granted views about their community. It is a risk because it can unsettle beliefs, values, relations and the knowledge of different histories within the community.[13]

On Walpole Island, the residential school Survivors have been meeting for the last 5 to 10 years on a regular basis. My mother was a part of this group before she passed away in 2007. I had attended several meetings with her, so the group members were aware of my interest in the subject. When it came time to interview members of this group, I contacted the group’s organizer to inform her of my research and to ask for her guidance. She arranged for me to introduce my research at a Residential School Survivors meeting scheduled in February 2009. After the presentation, 10 people indicated that they were interested in being interviewed.

Stone 3: ethical considerations

There were many ethical considerations to contemplate before undertaking this research. My past experience working with residential school Survivors gave me insight into the type of questions that could be asked and those that could do potential harm during the interview process. Some of the ethical considerations to be considered prior to interviews include, but are not limited to, what to do if a person disclosed a physical or sexual assault they had never disclosed to anyone else; what to do if the person went into a fit of rage; how to respond if the person cried uncontrollably; what to do if the person fled the room.

Every possible situation that could arise had to be examined and a response plan considered beforehand. It was also necessary to have contact information for the local police, counsellors and other support people in the event a disclosure or negative outburst occurred. As each hypothetical scenario was pondered, a response had to be prepared.

Stone 4: creating the time and the place

Another consideration decided beforehand was the place where the interview would be conducted and the time required. Every residential school survivor interviewed was given the opportunity to name the location where they would be interviewed, either in the comfort of their home, in a community hall, in a hotel room or at an Aboriginal organization with which they were familiar. To ensure they felt safe and comfortable, each survivor was able to state the time they would be interviewed. Safety was one of the most important aspects of the interview process; therefore, every survivor was accommodated to the best of my ability'.

Stone 5: reciprocity

Reciprocity' in Aboriginal communities is taught when children are very young. For everything a person takes from Creation, something must be given back. This notion is reflected in the work of Bagele Chilisa, as shared here:

Third and fourth-world communities have resisted intrusion into their lives since the colonial period. The resistance has been largely ignored because, in essence, it questions the validity' of the colonial research-built theories. Once they brought tobacco, Ellis and Earley (2006) report, key informants responded positively to the request for the interview saying “You have shown respect for our ways by offering tobacco and smudging, your intentions seem to be good ones, let’s see how we can help you”.[39]

The practice of offering tobacco is important to Aboriginal people in many areas of Turtle Island; therefore, upon entering Okanagan, Saulteaux and Cree territory, tobacco was offered. In Anishinabe society', tobacco is offered to give thanks for the knowledge gained from the interview.

In this exchange as a doctoral student, what I learned had to be given back to the community in some manner. Giving back can take many shapes and forms. In this instance I give back not only to my immediate family, but to my community, the Anishinabe people and the Aboriginal people of Canada. By undertaking this study, the words of the Survivors are shared regarding their experiences with the processes. By sharing with those who are interested, I give back what lias been learned to every reader. In a research context Kovach states:

They say that we traditionally knew about portal, the doorway, how to get knowledge and that it was brought to the people by sharing, by community forums, by sitting in circles, by engaging in ceremony, by honouring your relationship to the spirit. When we do that, the spirit will reciprocate and we will be given what we are needed.[40]

The belief in reciprocity and doing things in the right manner ensures that researchers will be given what we need to complete our research while respecting those interviewed.

Stone 6: the interview questions and process

The interview involved 10 questions. Eight of the 10 questions dealt with the process utilized for the compensation payments; the other two questions concerned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A list of the questions can be found in the Appendix 12 of the manuscript found in the Trent University archives.[41] The interview process began by explaining the interview process, signing the Informed Consent Form[42] and reading the Information Sheet[43] and the Feedback Form.[44] Each survivor who participated could expect at least one hour for the interview; however, some interviews were as short as 15 minutes. The majority of the interviews were conducted beginning in February until November 2009, with the exception of one, which was conducted the summer of August 2010.

The interviews were recorded and later transcribed by myself using a digital recorder and laptop computer. The recorder and laptop were both required to have secured passwords so no one could access the files unless given the password.

Stone 7: cultural protocols

When conducting research in an Aboriginal community, cultural protocols are important to consider when planning the research strategy. With familiarity of my own community, very little preparation was needed. However, learning proper protocol for British Columbia and Manitoba was extremely important

Trent University, online:

When we put our tobacco down and ask for help to solve a problem, to come up with a strategy or so that the Stone we threw ripples through the world in a positive way, we are asking the implicate order to visit our action.[45]

However, during the residential school era, the cultural practices within many communities were lost and many Elders and residential school Survivors converted to Christianity and did not practice their traditions any longer. For this reason, direction from the contact people on how to approach the Survivors to be interviewed was critical, for they knew their community members. On their advice, it was decided to offer either tobacco pouches or gifts to those interviewed based upon the recommendations made by the contact person.

Deer hide - positionality and self-care

The deer hide used to create the Waterdrum represents my positionality within the research. During the interview process, it was quickly learned how emotionally demanding the topic of the research was for both me and those interviewed. For this reason, it was crucial to my well-being not to take on the negative emotions of those who were interviewed, should they surface. I had to learn to shake the negativity whenever it began weighing me down, for my own self-care.

At times, a call to Elder Shirley Williams for support was needed. At one particular time in Winnipeg, a Survivor’s reactions took me by total surprise. Settled into a secluded space at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs office, the Survivor was welcomed when he walked in. He began by stating he was not going to participate in the interview, and he thought this research was not right. He continued on for about half an hour. Then he smiled and left the room. Astounded and almost in tears, I went to Jennifer’s office and told her what happened. At that point in the research process I began to doubt myself and wanted to drop all things and run home. Instead I called Elder Shirley Williams who reaffirmed there would always be someone that would disagree with what I was doing and to think about all the positive experiences and move forward with this important research. This example demonstrates the importance of having a support person to assist through the rough times so work can continue.

Deer hide lacing - important considerations

The lacing securing the deer hide over the top of the drum is seen as the considerations taken into account before conducting the research. Before the interview process started, the implications of the research had to be considered from many different angles for both myself and those who would be interviewed. Before the interview process began, every stone would have to be turned over and thought through to ensure no preventable harm would come to the Survivors.

Support systems

Undertaking a research project that involved interviewing residential school Survivors was an incredible responsibility, more than ever imagined. One very important aspect of the interview process was finding support networks in the area. The support person identified was contacted before scheduled interviews to ensure they would be available during or after the interview. The name of a traditional person or Elder was also identified in the event the person being interviewed asked for this person.

The support person was selected based on previous experience, profession or traditional experience and recommendation of my contact person in that province. When interviews were arranged, each Survivor was asked whether they wanted a support person with them when they were interviewed. Participants were also given the option of having a family member, friend or Elder of their choice with them when they were being interviewed.

Water - people (the participants of this research)

The water poured into the Waterdrum represents the residential school Survivors interviewed - the life-force of the study. Therefore, choosing who to interview had to be considered. The final decision regarding selection of people to interview was made with the assistance of the contact person in each of the locations. The contact person provided a list of residential school Survivors that they felt would be a “good candidate” to interview. By a “good candidate” meant a person that would be less likely to be traumatized by the experience and someone who would be able to provide valuable information. It was particularly difficult to determine who to interview in Manitoba and British Columbia; I had to trust my contact person, and for the most part, those recommended were perfect candidates who provided rich and valuable information.

From the interviews conducted, approximately 35% of those interviewed were from Ontario, 30% from Manitoba and 35% from British Columbia. This in my view is a good cross section of residential school Survivors from three different provinces.

The total number of residential school Survivors interviewed was 24. The following information provides a profile of those interviewed:

In Ontario, a total of nine were interviewed: six were women and three were men. In Manitoba, a total of six were interviewed: two were women and four were men. In British Columbia, a total of nine were interviewed: three were women and six were men.

The 11 women interviewed ranged from 50 to 75 years of age.

The average age of the women interviewed was 67 years of age.

The 13 men interviewed ranged from 53 to 80 years of age.

The average age of the men interviewed was 63 years of age.

Another interesting fact learned was the youngest child sent to residential school in this group was four and a half years of age and was from Walpole Island First Nation, in Ontario. Of the residential school Survivors interviewed, only one man and one woman were placed in more than one residential school. The woman was placed in two different schools, while the man was placed in three different schools.

Another observation was that the longest amount of time spent in a residential school was 12 years. In Canada, the average time spent at a residential school was seven years. The average time spent in residential schools in Ontario was six years; the average time for those in Manitoba was eight and a half years; and the average of those from British Columbia was 10 years.[46]

The wooden plug - my word/the promise I gave

The wooden plug that secures the water in the Waterdrum represents the promise made to Survivors interviewed. As previously stated while being interviewed, several survivors spoke adamantly about not being quoted properly or their story not being told accurately in other research studies they had participated in. Their statements were deeply disturbing, and as a result, I gave them my word that they would not be misquoted. For many, the process was intimidating and difficult. For some, being interviewed yet again was unwarranted and seen as another exercise of being misunderstood or misinterpreted.

One of the main reasons a qualitative methodology was selected was to ensure that the voice of the survivors would be heard. The methodology had to tell their story and their experiences with the compensation processes from their perspective and not my own. While this may have seemed an unrealistic expectation at the time, I gave my “word”; therefore, I am bound by this promise.[47]


The purpose of this chapter was twofold: firstly, to share my research journey illustrating how an Indigenous scholar utilized an Indigenous lens to write a PhD dissertation; and secondly, to provide a space for IRS Survivors’ voice to be heard. Although I never intended to write about my personal research journey, I felt it necessary to do so. I wanted the reader to fully understand how a colonized Indigenous legal scholar struggled to write from an Indigenous lens at the onset. After writing in this manner for the last 10 years, I can honestly say that my research and writing has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I can now use my cultural knowledge and personal experience as an Anishinabe Kwe to share my deepest thoughts and understanding of current issues using the teachings of the Elders. Writing within this context provides me with an opportunity to drift into deep thought and concentration about the meanings behind the teachings and ceremonies. Thinking about this, I am reminded of Shawn Wilson’s book title: Research is Ceremony. The title of his book rings so true - researching from an Indigenous paradigm teaches so much, not only about the research topic but also about self, the teachings of the ancestors and our interconnection to all living things. It is an experience that I will cherish forever and one which I believe all Indigenous scholars should undertake.

I want to end by sharing some closing thoughts about being an Indigenous legal scholar. I take the responsibility of teaching young lawyers very seriously. As more and more students learn about Indigenous history and issues that we face, I believe we are moving one step closer to reconciliation in Canada. I also believe as more Indigenous scholars utilize methodologies from their respective Nations, the more cultural awareness will be raised. The time for Indigenous scholars to utilize the spaces within educational institutions to further educate society is upon us. The time to speak our truth is now. Our voice was silenced during the IRS era. As second and third-generation survivors of the IRS legacy, we must continue sounding our voice to honour our ancestors and ensure that we are never silenced again.

I want to end this chapter by sharing the Eighth and Final Fire Prophecy. The prophecy states:

It is at this time that the Light-skinned Race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and Final Fire - an eternal Fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood.[48]

  • [1] Anishinabe in the Ojibway language is composed of Ani (From Whence), Nishina (Lowered),Abe (The Male of the Species or also known as Original Man). For more information, seeBenton-Banai, infra note 4 at 3. It should also be noted that this chapter is written by Anishinabe Kwe (woman), therefore the word Anishinabe will be used when referring specifically tothe Anishinabe culture.
  • [2] The Seventh Fire Prophecy is one of seven prophecies that have been shared generation togeneration since the beginning of time. The Anishinabe are not the only First Nation thathave prophecies, other Indigenous Nations across Canada have similar prophecies. The phraseSeven Fire Prophecies is capitalized here to illustrate the importance of this prophecy to thesubject of the chapter. For more information on the Seven Fires Prophecies see Benton-Banai,infra note 4 at Chapter 13.
  • [3] In this chapter, New People is capitalized because of the importance they have to this topic ofdiscussion.
  • [4] Edward Benton-Banai, The Mishomis Book (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010)[Benton-Banai],
  • [5] Indigenous knowledge can be found in teachings, stories, legends and prophecies of theoriginal peoples of a specific territory. “Indigenous knowledge” will be used when speakinggenerally about any Indigenous group of people. It should also be noted that Indigenousknowledge and Indigenous legal traditions are one and the same, even though scholars mayuse different terms to describe this knowledge.
  • [6] Indigenous legal traditions are discussed in detail in text by John Borrows text: Canada’sIndigenous Constitution (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010) [Borrows],
  • [7] Survivance is a critical term used Anishinabe scholar Gerald Vizenor. There he explains that“Survivance is an active sense of presence, the continuance of native stories, not a merereaction, or a survivable name. Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance,tragedy and victimry.” See Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (Lincoln:Nebraska, 1999) atvii [Manifest Manners],
  • [8] In Anishinabe culture Elders are those that acquired Indigenous knowledge throughout theirlifetime.
  • [9] To read all seven teachings of the Seven Fires teachings of the Anishinabe see Benton-Banai,supra note 4 at Chapter 13.
  • [10] 1 use the term Indigenous here to illustrate that not only Anishinabe children were impactedafter contact. Every Indigenous Nation, whether it be Cree, Mohawk, Blackfoot or Squa-mish, whose children attended an Indian residential school were impacted.
  • [11] There were approximately 130 Indian residential schools in Canada during the Indianresidential school era.
  • [12] The Sixth Prophecy can be found in Benton-Banai, supra note 4 at 91.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] The Seventh Prophecy can be found in Benton-Banai, supra note 4 at 91.
  • [15] To many Indigenous Nations across Canada and the United States, the North Americancontinent is known as Turtle Island.
  • [16] Many Indigenous scholars are utilizing their respective Indigenous lens to write within theacademy. For more insight into writing from an Indigenous lens see the works of variousIndigenous authors, such as Val Napoleon, Shawn Wilson, Margaret Kovach, Leeanne Simpson, Kathleen E. Absolon, Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, Aimcc Craft, Jeffrey G. Hewitt,Beverley Jacobs, Sylvia McAdam, Sakej Henderson and Leroy Little Bear.
  • [17] Dr. John Borrows is the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University ofVictoria Law School in British Columbia.
  • [18] Borrows, supra note 6 at 23.
  • [19] Ibid.
  • [20] Ibid, at 24-55.
  • [21] In this chapter, Residential School Survivors and Survivors are used interchangeably. TheSurvivors referred to are of either Aboriginal, Metis or limit descent. Further, the wordSurvivors is capitalized to illustrate the significance of these people to the story that unfolds.
  • [22] The 10 + 3 formula used by the Federal Government to compensate Survivors included S10,000for the first year and $3,000 for each additional year any survivor that attended an IRS.
  • [23] Shawn Wilson, Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods(Halifax: Fernwood, 2008)at 15 [Wilson],
  • [24] Leanne Simpson, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Rack: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring, 2011) at 32 [Simpson].
  • [25] Margaret Kovach, Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations and Contexts(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009) at 41 [Kovach].
  • [26] Kathleen Absolon, ICaandossiwin: How We Come to Know (Halifax: Fernvvood, 2011) at 55[Absolon].
  • [27] Borrows, supra note 6 at 24-55.
  • [28] As previously stated, this chapter is one chapter from my dissertation. Because not all sevenchapters are reviewed here, the reader will not be able to see how my dissertation unfolds. Toview the total manuscript, see: “Re-living the Residential School Experience: An AnishinabeKwe’s Examination of the Compensation Processes for Residential School Survivors” (Thesisand PhD dissertations, Trent University), online:
  • [29] Benton-Banai, supra note 4 at 93.
  • [30] Ibid, at 71.
  • [31] The Drumkeeper’s altar is the place where the sacred objects used in a ceremony are placed.Normally the sacred objects are placed on a doth or animal hide, but the type of altar aDrumkeeper uses is their choice.
  • [32] To read more about the Eighth and Final Fire Prophecy see Benton-Banai, supra note 4at 93.
  • [33] Absolon, supra note 26 at 125.
  • [34] Ibid, at 127.
  • [35] Linda Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1999) at 137[Smith],
  • [36] Ibid, at 137.
  • [37] Ibid, at 139.
  • [38] Ibid.
  • [39] Bagele Chilisa, Indigenous Research Methodologies (Los Angeles: Sage, 2012) at 115 [Chilisa],
  • [40] Kovach, supra note 25 at 154.
  • [41] See supra note 28 where PhD manuscript can be found>.
  • [42] Ibid, at Appendix 2.
  • [43] Ibid, at Appendix 1.
  • [44] Ibid, at Appendix 3.
  • [45] Simpson, supra note 24 at 146.
  • [46] Benton-Banai, supra note 4 at 93.
  • [47] In Aboriginal society, when one gives their word that they will do something for anotherperson, their word is generally accepted as a given. This would be comparable to two Westernsociety individuals using a handshake to close a deal. For Aboriginal people, giving your wordis a sacred covenant. This is especially true since I was speaking to Elders who understand andstill practice these sacred ways. Therefore, when I gave my word to the Survivors, I made acommitment to them to share the truth as they spoke it.
  • [48] This prophecy sends a beautiful message about how we as citizens of this Universe must reconcile our differences so we can live in everlasting peace. I share this prophecy so that thosereading this chapter will understand the Indigenous worldview, especially the Anishinabeworldview that is shared in this chapter, and begin meaningful conversations about howour Nations can move towards reconciliation. Reconciliation is a huge undertaking that theCanadian government has promised to implement in its entirety. Although I would love toshare more about this subject, but I don’t want to take away from this chapter, so I’ll leaveit for another day.
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