This is an interview between @kwetoday and @Evolving (Shawn) to help raise awareness and support Shawn’s campaign on indiegogo to help he attend the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education (WIPCE). You can read that interview below and if you are able to, donate some good ole zhoonya ($$$) to his campaign!
So first off congratulations on your acceptance to speak at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WiPC:E)! Can you expand a bit on your topic and why choose to this particular topic?
Thank you, Naomi. I was debating submitting a paper for the conference, but then I came up with the idea to present on the program I am currently enrolled in, the Master of Social Work – Aboriginal Field of Study. I met with my program co-ordinator, Kathy Absolon-King, and presented my idea to her. With her approval, I submitted my proposal to WiPC:E and was accepted by the conference committee. I choose to present on this topic because it is the first program of its kind in Canada. As a student, I feel the conference is a great opportunity to raise awareness among other academics of the tools this unique program has to offer to those enrolled and the community in which they serve. The goal of the program is to develop wholistic practitioners that will work in the field through the use of both Traditional Indigenous knowledge and Western approaches to social work practices.
With respect to the Aboriginal Field of Study program, it is described as the first MSW program in Canada that is rooted in a “rooted in a wholistic Indigenous world view and contemporary social work practice” and that the goal of the program is to “to develop social work practitioners who demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the history, traditions and culture of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.” Why is this wholistic Indigenous world view and understanding and respect for the history, traditions, and culture of Indigenous peoples in Canada important to the MSW academic field and practice?
During my educational career, I have learned many Westernized theories and approaches to use when working with clients. I was always taught to treat the relationship as professional and “client/counselor”. I’ve been taught that we don’t let the client get to know us on the personal level and they should view us as the counselor and nothing else. The question I was always faced with during my undergrad was “How do I work with my people and keep them from knowing who I am as a person?” I found this to be a hard concept to grasp because it sounded cold and distant. In this program, I feel as if my slate has been wiped clean and I am being taught a new way to work with clients. We begin by first understanding ourselves. We learn how to “locate” ourselves, which is answering the question “Who am I at this very moment?” We need to first understand the impact that colonialism has had on our lives and the clients we work with. Once we understand our own colonialism, we than begin to understand how we could use this awareness to help others. We do so by the tools we are provided with in the classroom. Some of them being the teachings of the medicines, our environment, traditional songs, and participating in ceremonies on a daily basis. By learning these tools we are able to implement them when working with clients. This is necessary because there many people within the field of social work either do not understand traditional practices or were never taught.
And the theme for this year’s conference is “E Mau Ana Ka Mo‘olelo: Our Narratives Endure” which is a call to invite speakers to share their stories so that Indigenous peoples “may solidify and continue our cultural legacies.” How does your personal story or your particular topic engage or expand on this theme?
Sharing our voices and our stories is necessary. They carry knowledge, wisdom, and history. Our stories remind us of who we are as a people and where we come from. They remind us to be proud and to carry on our traditions. For me, the title of the conference means that even we will all pass one day into the spirit world, even though our physical bodies may be gone our voices will still be carried on through the next generation. That is why its important that we engage with one another, talk, converse, laugh. We need to keep our stories alive and hosting conferences such as WiPC:E allows for this exchange of dialogue to take place.
You have numerous speaking experiences, and a lot of these experiences touch on your personal history and identities, Indigenous, mature student, LGBT, etc. Why is important for you to speak about your personal histories and to talk about your experiences? What are some of the challenges in sharing your personal story? How do you overcome those challenges? Do you have any advice for those who have similar experiences in overcome their own challenges?
I have been sharing my personal story for the past 5 years at numerous workshops, classrooms, and conferences across Canada. I talk about what it was like growing up as First Nations and Two-Spirit and my addiction to drugs and alcohol. I enjoy sharing my personal story because it allows me to provide a message of hope to others who might be going through the same challenges in life. My talks also focus on the positive such the tools I used in my recovery from addiction and services that helped me earn my education. My words of advice that I give at all my speaking engagements is “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Use those three little words ‘I need help’. I needed to admit that I couldn’t do it alone and I am glad that I came to that realization because it got me to where I am today.
What do you hope to gain from this new experience speaking at WiPC:E? How important is it for Indigenous people to gather, regionally, nationally, and internationally? What are the next steps for you in this journey leading up to WiPC:E?
Education is vital. This conference will provide that will allow for ideas to be exchanged while allowing people to network with other academics who share the same passion for education. It necessary that we keep encouraging the next generation to attend post-secondary and that is why this conference is needed. We need to know what is working (or not working) for these institutions that also educate within an indigenous framework.I am currently seeking financial support to attend this conference and it’s unfortunate that there is little support out there, especially as a graduate student. So far, I have found the funds to pay for my registration but still need help with airfare and accommodations. I had a good friend suggest creating an Indiegogo account and so far I have a handful of donations. I am very grateful for the amount that I have raise so far, but still have a long ways to go in regards to fundraising.
And regarding 2013, what was the most memorable experience for you and why?
My favorite moment of 2013 was being able to spend 3 days with Sylvia McAdams, cofounder of Idle No More. She was in Waterloo to speak at a conference and during her visit I was asked to be her guide to events. It was an honour to spend time with her because I have been involved with the movement from the beginning and organized a few events in the London area. During her visit, she received kept receiving messages about Elsipogtog and was upset there wasn’t more she could do. She asked my friend Lisa, Heather, and myself if we could organize a rally. It just so happened that the three of us had experience in the past putting together these events. In 24 hours, we held a candle light vigil and round dance in downtown Waterloo with a turn out of over 200 people. Syliva spoke at the rally as well Bridgette DePape from Shit Harper Did. Those three days were unforgettable and I look forward to working with Sylvia again in the future.
Thank you Naomi for your support over the years. Miigwetch!
Thank you/Miigwetch Shawn for sharing your story!