MSW Aboriginal Field of Study
Social Work professor Kathy Absolon launches first book
Office of Aboriginal Initiatives
Kathy Absolon is Anishinaabe kwe from Flying Post First Nation in Northern Ontario. Her Anishinaabe name, Minogiizhigokwe, means Shining Day Woman. Her educational background includes a BA, an MSW and a PhD in Adult Education from the University of Toronto. For the past five years she has been a professor in the Faculty of Social Work's Aboriginal Field of Study at Wilfrid Laurier University. She lives in the city, but her heart still belongs to the remote bush in which she and her three sisters and one brother were raised by their Ojibway mother and British father.
This introduction of who a researcher is, called 'locating', is a critical element in Indigenous research and is one of the many methodologies Kathy talks about in her first book, Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know. Kathy locates extensively and tells stories about herself and her own journey of searching for knowledge. She weaves her own methodological process throughout the book and models that locating yourself means you do not hide your motives, methods or agenda and the search process is transparent.
The book is based on Kathy's doctoral research, which itself came out of her frustration with not being able to find any Indigenous perspectives or research methods she could use when conducting her own research. So began a search for Indigenous ways of searching for knowledge. After defending her PhD in 2007, Kathy set her doctoral work aside but returned to it in 2009 after friends and colleagues repeatedly encouraged her to publish her thesis and told her that it was an area of Indigenous research that needed to be out there. "Indigenous methodologies need to be acknowledged," said Kathy. "Our culture has a unique way of viewing the world, gathering knowledge and putting it into context. I wanted to offer another perspective."
Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know, published in October 2011, is an examination of the wholistic ways of searching for knowledge. "As researchers, we shouldn't have to check who we are at the academic doors," said Kathy. "Traditional Western methods say that we have to remain impersonal and objective when conducting research, but Indigenous methodologies don't believe that's possible. Who we are and where we're coming from influences what kind of research we do and how we do it." Which is why, as described earlier, Kathy believes so strongly in locating. "Bringing ourselves into our research ensures our work is ethical, respectful and honest. It tells the people you're researching what your motive is and it lets your readers know if what you're writing about is relevant to them."
Another tenet of Indigenous research is the idea of genealogy of knowledge. Researchers are not the lone expert of knowledge production. "Research is about gathering a collection of knowledge, of shared wisdom," Kathy said. "People understand that their stories will be part of this collection of knowledge and they want to be accountable. They want the reader to know who is speaking. They want to stay honest and true."
Also unique to Indigenous methodologies is the component of spirit. Before sitting down to share stories, Kathy offered each person a gift of raw tobacco, a sacred, spiritual medicine in Anishinaabe culture, as an offering of gratitude and to honor their spirit. "It was a sacred exchange from my spirit to their spirit", said Kathy. "There is a sacred level of ethical responsibility that happens in that exchange. When they accept the tobacco, they accept that they will offer all they can and they trust that I will treat their knowledge with honor and respect."
" Kaandossiwin carries this spirit with it," Kathy said. "It carries very important stories that were shared with me from Indigenous knowledge searchers and now it is out there sharing the experiences of doing research wholistically from the spirit, heart, mind and body. My hope is that others will be encouraged on their searches."
By Lynne Jordan, Faculty of Social Work, Coordinator, Professional Development and Alumni Relations