Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Building on Conceptual Interpretations of Aboriginal Literacy in Anishinaabe Research: A Turtle Shaker Model

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Building on Conceptual Interpretations of Aboriginal Literacy in Anishinaabe Research: A Turtle Shaker Model

Article excerpt

Building on Conceptual Interpretations of Aboriginal Literacy in Anishinaabe

Research: A Turtle Shaker Model

This article comes out of the larger context of my doctoral research. My dissertation (Debassige, 2012) makes its contribution to Indigenous discourse by providing an examination and analysis of my personal experiences of coming-to-know Anishinaabe mino-bimaadiziwin (Good Life) and journeying as an oshkabaywis (ceremonial helper) and academic scholar (oshkabaywis-academic). It has been my participation in ceremonies that has greatly facilitated my re-conceptualized understanding of research and literacy. My dissertation presents one pathway for informing the preparation, conduct, and expression of research grounded in an Indigenous framework of knowing and includes expressions of Anishinaabe literacy that I uncovered along the way. Through my research journey, a model and expression of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) for research that is distinctly Indigenous has emerged. I refer to this model as the turtle shaker. The purpose of this paper is to share an applied example of Anishinaabe literacy that relies on learning gained from traditional knowledge and academic learning environments.

First, I present the concept of Aboriginal literacy and localize it within Anishinaabe literacy. Next, I discuss my self-referent methodological approach as framed within Anishinaabe mino-bimaadiziwin (Debassige, 2010). I then describe and present illustrations of a carved turtle shaker, which is the central example of Anishinaabe literacy from my dissertation. The shaker, a three-dimensional spirit-centered teaching tool and musical instrument, was designed to deliver knowledge through oral transmission. In my research, I used it to give context to my data and by data I mean knowledge bundle. In Indigenous contexts, a knowledge bundle encompasses a process of gathering, accumulating, carrying, and using knowledge, information, and sacred items for various purposes in life. Examples of different kinds of bundles are: 1) poetry, stories, oral history, and songs (McLeod, 2007); 2) themes of inquiry (Canadian Council on Learning, n.d.); 3) sacred items (Anishnawbe Health Toronto, n.d.); and 4) power, gifts, and teachings (Benton-Banai, 1988). In research, the term knowledge bundle encapsulates collected information, including facts and statistics as in the conventional use of the term data, and privileges the way information, knowledge, and items are gathered. Therefore, how something is collected, carried, and used is just as important, perhaps more so, than what is collected.

My discussion of the turtle shaker focuses on two of its parts, the handle and the head. The shaker handle metaphorically represents my journeying in ceremonial and academic settings while the shaker head has allowed me to express my experiences at a sugar bush camp in my home community of M'Chigeeng. While the details of the data presented in my dissertation will not be discussed in this article, I do make reference to themes from both data sets. In addition, although the turtle shaker is referenced and discussed throughout this article, aspects of it are not expressed as part of any written medium. For example, the actual carved turtle shaker contains mnemonic representations of traditional songs that are only shared in ceremony or under culturally appropriate circumstances.

The turtle shaker is of utmost significance in the expression of both my knowledge and my data. My story can be found in both the actual carving of the shaker itself--through an oral sharing--and in the conceptual model discussed in this article. In essence, the turtle shaker is a mnemonic device and functional form of literacy and expression of spirit-centered data. In my dissertation, I used the turtle shaker literacy as a thematic topic in the written presentation of data. In this instance, the text of the dissertation transforms from written to oral and back to written as a way to honor the integrity of the oral transmission of IK. …

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