Dr. Lynne Davis’ Keynote speech can be found in full on the Resources-Videos page. Below, a summary:
Posted by Carol Mammel
Dr. Lynne Davis from Trent University spoke to the profound sharing, as she prepared to give her presentation. Beautiful, beautiful energy had begun the journey with its sacred beginning, with the sweat lodge, the ceremonies, the food, the conversations and creativity that everyone was now engaged in. The gathering, hushed, waited for her to begin.
Dr. Davis, a self-described non-indigenous scholar and colonial settler, spoke with an elegance and simplicity that hid none of her passion for her life’s work. She described her slow awakening to her own colonial heritage and the systems that had privileged her, and her dawning realization that the majority of non-indigenous people were unprepared by the school system to take up their responsibilities as citizens with First Nations people. Unless they were fortunate enough to have meaningful encounters with indigenous peoples in their life’s journey, they were unlikely to develop the historical consciousness that makes it possible to understand the issues that they see and hear about in the news.
In the Academy, she added, you find bright people with bright minds and multiple degrees and a distinguished research program within the Western paradigm that are seamlessly, seamlessly woven into the Academy and because they are so seamlessly woven in they are completely unaware of the way in which they impose these ways of knowing, these processes, knowledge creation, on others; particularly on indigenous people: this she referred to as cognitive imperialism.
Dr. Davis’ life work and that of her colleagues has been to change that paradigm at her own university, through governance, through alliances, partnerships, building programs, creating supportive spaces, committees, graduating at first BA’s in Indigenous studies, partnering with other centres to offer numerous MA programs, and creating the first Indigenous Studies PhD program in Canada, with three different tenure streams. All through the journey, she has dealt with challenges around what it means when colonialism is embedded in the everyday practices and the things that we do every day in the Academy. The gathering listened to Dr. Davis describe decisions and policies around pedagogy, teaching of indigenous knowledge, how the tenure and promotional criteria could accommodate indigenous knowledge, whether elders could be graduate faculty members, assess comprehensive exams, sit on dissertation committees if they didn’t have a Ph.D. Could a dissertation be done in the language – in an indigenous language—when there are no faculty members who speak that language?
Dr. Davis’ work has led her to identify three kinds of patterns within indigenous/non-indigenous alliances: alliance as a microcosm of colonial relations, such as she described at her university; alliance as a site of pain, where worldviews collide and people’s feelings are hurt; and alliance as a site of learning and transformation. When you are non-indigenous, she said, and working with indigenous people, you make mistakes, big ones and small ones all the time. If you have a relationship with people you may be guided and you may recover, particularly if you can be honest and face mistakes you are making. If you don’t have a relationship, this step could be quite costly. Quoting Leanne Simpson, she said, “ It’s really important to establish these relationships in times of peace: we have to get to know each other and we have to work through our relationships now, because when crises come have to already know one another. In my experience, relationships it’s not a big bang–
It’s slow and steady building over time; through personal experience, respect and trust are developed. And respect and trust are earned over time and that is what forms the relationship. And those relationships are built by being in different meetings, having a cup of coffee.
“They are built over everyday practice and that’s why it’s so incredibly important to have indigenous faculty and staff in the Academy, because that’s what transforms the Academy. Those people are critical to building relationships. ”
The third and most profound pattern is Alliance as a site of learning and transformation: non-indigenous people say that their lives are profoundly changed by what they’ve learned. When people hear the story, their world shifts, and transformational shifts take place… they see things in deeper focus…and the rest of their lives continue to be punctuated by revelatory moments that will continue to unfold.
Indigenous students are now placing their research squarely within the realm of indigenous knowledge. Some people are open to learning in this new paradigm; others are not. Some people because of their scholarship have a very deep understanding of colonization all over the world; globalized nations; but they have a much more difficult problem with the spiritual basis of indigenous knowledge — the spiritual dimension is not easy for many non-indigenous scholars and that is really an important piece and it is very hard to bridge The other difficulty, she said, is the whole model of a faculty member as expert. It is like the story of the University professor and the Zen master.
A University professor goes to see a Zen master to find out about Zen. And the Zen master serves tea and he starts to pour the cup of tea and the teacup is full, and he keeps on pouring. And the University professor can’t contain himself any longer. He says it’s full!– you can’t put anything more in there. The Zen master says like this teacup, you come here all full of opinions and speculation — how can I show you Zen until you empty your cup – how can I fill you up with any information when you teacup is already full? All kinds of people are very certain in the world – very certain of their opinion of the world they know what is certain, they know what is true and what is right and that makes it very difficult to fill their cup.
The other challenge is that we are moving into new spaces. At least for me these spaces are full of not knowing.
That is not the realm of experts
It is the realm of not knowing
And in this not knowing our a lot of new possibilities but it’s not a comfortable space and not everyone can walk into a space of not knowing
And that is a very important dimension of this shift in consciousness that is taking place.