“We need to remember our journeys, stories, and songs; and recognize we are those sacred spiritual beings who descended from the Sky World to work on this spiritual journey.”
These are the words of Cayuga Elder Norma Jacobs from her book Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys that I helped with as Editor, and I wanted to start my introduction with them as a reminder of the true roots from which my work arises. I was born along the great river that my French Canadien ancestors renamed, in that colonial way, St. Lawrence, and I currently live with my wife and two children in Toronto, the meeting place of the Mississauga, Seneca and Wendat. These lands and waters centre much of the decolonizing work I have been doing for over 25 years, ever since my first social work job in a northern Indigenous community had me work out of a Roman Catholic Mission. That experience highlighted for me the ongoing position of social work in colonial missions, as well as my family’s ancestral position in these missions.
I see myself as canadien, spelled with a small “c” and pronounced in the French way. This identity connects me in the fullest way to my ancestors, particularly those that begin with the French-speaking coureur de bois and habitants who lived along the St. Lawrence River and came to be called canadien in the 1600s. From the present to at least the mid-1600s, my family has straddled a Two Row Wampum relation between canadien ancestors and Mohawk/Wendat from what was once Jesuit mission communities along this river. Generations of my family were connected to missionizing through various orders of Catholic Nuns, and this is where I position my social work profession’s missionizing legacy. While we also have coureur de bois ancestors who followed the river routes that gave birth to the Metis, my ancestors always returned to the St. Lawrence River and thus are not Metis. The silence of colonialism was instilled in a way that persists into the present generation of my family, despite having immediate Indigenous familial relations. Because of this colonial history my family is also disconnected from the French language, and so I do not see myself as Quebecois or French Canadian.
From within these turbulent waters, I am trying to imagine what could have been, what it is to be small “c” canadien, to be a family and community who lives Two Row relations in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect. This is the spiritual vision that I now understand brought me into relationship with the sacred meeting place of Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s. I am learning the spiritual responsibilities of what it is to be “canadien”, and I am trying to live and work that the best way I can.
The primary focus of my work is creative writing (research) about Canadian/canadien ancestral issues in relation to our present climate of change, as represented in my books Climate, Culture, Change: Inuit and Western Dialogues with a Warming North (University of Ottawa Press, short-listed for 2012 Canada Prize in the Social Sciences), and the more recent A Canadian Climate of Mind: Passages from Fur to Energy and Beyond (McGill-Queens University Press, 2016). A recent article in the Journal of Social Work Education entitled “Let Us Continue Free as the Air” was awarded the 2019 Best Conceptual Article by the Council for Social Work Education. My most recent publication is as Editor of the book based on the Two Row wampum and orientated around the Haudenosaunee teachings of Gae Ho Hwako Norma Jacobs called Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys (MQUP 2022). I am now writing a book focused on the Huron Carole in relation to recovering wholistic healing approaches to the colonial disease at the core of ongoing Canadian colonial missions.
After completing a MSW at the University of Toronto I worked in the area of anti-violence and then in Indigenous communities on issues related to Canadian colonialism, including youth solvent abuse, high suicide rates, and family violence. A recurring experience that intrigued me while in Innu and Inuit communities was the positive relation of health to being on the land. There was little discussion of this in my social work education, and thus I undertook a PhD in Environmental Studies that allowed me to consider the relation of land and climate to colonial histories, justice, and wholistic healing. From 2011 to 2015 I wrote the book A Canadian Climate of Mind that is centered around particular lands along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River corridor and what their historically changing relations tell us about healing Two Row and land relations. I have now found my way back to social work at Laurier, but now engaged from the view of land-based knowledge and education. My continued learning with Indigenous understandings has marked various journal and chapter publications, some of which are listed below in Select Publications.
I am happy to supervise students in any of my research interest areas. I have advised and/or supervised PhD and Masters students in the areas of environmental/social justice, land-based education/healing, land-based approaches to truth and reconciliation, and spirituality. I have supported the writing and publication of both undergraduate and graduate students, including the inclusion of chapters by four former students in the edited book Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys. Here is a sample of graduate student topics that I have been involved as supervisor or committee member:
Best Practices for Social Workers Engaging with Spiritual/Religious Clients
Ecological Ethics and Social Work Therapy Practice
Environmental Justice and Land-Based Healing with Racialized Youth
Community and Arts-Integrated Approaches to Gardening and Experiences of Ecological Grief
Queering Abolition Through an Indigenous Wholistic Land-based Lens
Exploring the stories of individuals with lived experiences of homelessness in Canadian urban settings