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Pockets of Hope Through Anishinaabe Resurgence

May 29, 2014

by Tricia McGuire-Adams

On April 17th, I attended the Biiskaabiyaang Collective’s teach-in event, Zhaaganashiyaadizi and Mino-Bimaadiziwin: Using Anishinaabeg Ways of Knowing to Address Racism, in Thunder Bay. I witnessed a ‘pocket of hope’ in the dialogue that took place among the Anishinaabeg community and settler Canadians, on settler colonialism and racism. In this piece I consider coming together for a purpose, or Wiisokotaatiwin, as a way to provide a crucial space to foster decolonization.

The Biiskaabiyaang Collective is a grassroots community initiative. It is not an organization. It receives no funding. The Collective is comprised of five Anishinaabeg people who have a vision to address the roots of colonialism in the community of Animkii Wiikwedoong. It is not easy to engage in decolonization. It is hard work, as it should be. The Anishinaabeg and settler people who participated in the Zhaaganashiyaadizi and Mino-Bimaadiziwin teach-in are an example of decolonizing processes: by engaging in dialogue about colonialism, oppression, and racism, meaningful transformation can occur.

The Zhaaganashiyaadizi and Mino-Bimaadiziwin teach-in was my first experience where I saw the root of the problem, colonialism, be addressed in a pedagogical way, rather than in the standard ‘culturally competent’ way. When we offer our Anishinaabeg ways of knowing through ‘culturally competency’ training to settlers, it does not solve anything, as it does not address their privilege or role within colonialism. The teach-in broadened the discussion beyond ‘cultural competency’ to focus on how we might challenge racism, which is a tool of colonialism, in the moments that we experience it.

Colonialism has its tentacles in every facet of our lives. It is seen, for example, in the breakdown of our family relations; loss of language; violence enacted against Indigenous women; and health disparities. In naming how colonialism has affected us, it is not to say that we do not experience love, language, honour, and health; rather, it creates opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue, such as the Zhaaganashiyaadizi and Mino-Bimaadiziwin teach-in. More importantly, it demands attention be paid to our regeneration.

There is a monumental surge of decolonization and regeneration of our ways of knowing that is currently occurring. The Anishinaabeg concept Biiskaabiiyang, which means returning to ourselves, is powerful enactment of this regeneration. An integral part of decolonizing is returning to one’s Indigenous teachings to gain new perspectives on identity, purpose, and well-being. These processes of decolonization are included in the Anishinaabe concept of Biiskaabiiyang.

Biskaabiiyang begins with an interrogation of the effects of colonialism on our lives, minds, and spirits; through this process of decolonization, one can then return to his/her ways of knowing to fully engage in regeneration (Geniusz, 2009). To return to our ways of knowing does not necessarily include returning to the past. Rather, it means a powerful regeneration of our ancestral ways of knowing being applied in our current lives (Simpson, 2011). The practice of Biskaabiiyang was evident in the teach-in, where participants shared powerful stories about challenging colonialism, which shows the strength our people carry. As I continue to struggle with the effects of colonialism, these stories offer hope through enacting in the process of Biskaabiiyang.

I realize that in my own journey, Biskaabiiyang is a framework from which to challenge the effects of colonialism. I strive to engage in Biskaabiiyang in the following ways: Participating in physical activity with the specific purpose of regenerating in myself the physical strength carried by my Anishinaabekwe ancestors; connecting through prayer with my ancestors and manitous (spirits); having a loving, equal, and respectful relationship with my partner; and, most importantly, raising our son to be loving and kind, while also fostering his Anishinaabeg identity, culture, and ceremony. These actions are especially important because familial decolonization and regeneration is connected to the broader community’s regeneration.

Pathway to Hope: Wiisokotaatiwin

When I began on the path to decolonize, I was not alone. I was able to start my journey with three other Anishinaabeg people who also took up the challenge to dismantle their oppression. Together, we were able to guide each other to begin this powerful metamorphosis, triggered by an insurgent professor. For me, decolonization started thirteen years ago and I continue to engage with it every day because colonialism has deeply affected me. I have often thought about how we, as Anishinaabeg people, can support each other in our efforts to decolonize. Through my own journey I have realized that there are two critical elements in challenging the effects of colonialism: creating a space and offering support for people to come together for the purpose of dialogue. These elements are found within the concept of Wiisokotaatiwin.

The Anishinaabe term Wiisokotaatiwin means coming together for a purpose. This term carries our knowledge and spirit. Further, because it is Anishinaabemowin, it connects us to our ancestors who continually guide us. Creating an Indigenized consciousness-raising group, based on our Anishinaabe ways of being will provide a pathway to decolonization. Supporting and guiding each other, by using Wiisokotaatiwin as a method of dialogue, will foster critical consciousness to engage community decolonization and regeneration.

bell hooks’ (2000) use of consciousness-raising groups showed how they were an essential tool to foster the revolutionary potential of feminism, but women had to engage in personal transformation through raising their consciousness first. In order to make change in the world, we must first change ourselves. If we use the idea of consciousness-raising groups, and place them in our struggle to decolonize, to re-emerge as an Indigenized consciousness-raising group, it has the potential to be a powerful transformational tool for dialogue and practice as seen in the Zhaaganashiyaadizi and Mino-Bimaadiziwin teach-in.

Dialogue is seen as a tool within the context of challenging colonialism. For instance, Paulo Freire offers a way to use dialogue for transformative purposes. In Pedogogy of the Oppressed he asks his readers to begin a critical engagement in the form of praxis, which is reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it. Freire makes clear that dialogue fosters transformation. The concept of Wiisokotaatiwin is driven by an active challenge to colonialism by engaging in decolonization and therefore requires a commitment to engage in meaningful dialogue.

By creating a spaces like Wiisokotaatwin, the renewal of the inherent strength of Anishinaabeg ways of knowing will be used to address the root of our disconnection: colonialism. By using Wiisokotaatiwin as guided, regenerating process, colonialism will be addressed. At the same time, the Anishinaabeg ways of knowing will be used to assist in our regeneration efforts. The journey is not easy once we commit to decolonization but it is essential for our regeneration and Biskaabiiyang. This is why creating avenues like the Zhaaganashiyaadizi and Mino-Bimaadiziwin teach-in and Wiisokotaatiwin is so important; it allows us to maintain a strong foundation so when we feel overcome with addressing colonialism, our Anishinaabeg community will encourage, support, and provide us with hope.


Tricia McGuire-Adams, an Anishinaabekwe from Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek, is a PhD. student in the Human Kinetics Program at the University of Ottawa.  She also received her Master of Arts Degree in Indigenous Governance from the University of Victoria.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tracy permalink
    May 30, 2014 3:17 pm

    Beautifully written piece Trish!! An excellent teaching.

  2. Alex permalink
    November 30, 2014 10:00 pm

    Writing a paper on Anishinaabe and colonialism. This was so very valuable! Thank you!!

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