Lana Whiskeyjack is a multidisciplinary treaty nêhiyaw (Cree) artist from Saddle Lake Cree Nation and assistant professor in the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta. In 2017, Lana completed her iyiniw pimâtisiwin kiskêyihtamowin doctoral program (ipkDoc) at University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistamêyimâkanak Blue Quills (UnBQ), a former Indian Residential School attended by two generations of her own family. Learning and reconnecting to nêhiyaw ceremony, nêhiyawêwin (Cree language), and nêhiyaw worldview in the same place that forcefully removed these connections have become the roots her community-based practices. Lana integrates Indigenous ways of knowing and being with methods of Western academia in her scholarship, research and course development. Her research, writing, and creativity focuses on Indigenous sexual health, economic security, transforming intergenerational trauma to resilience, and Indigenous visual literacy. Her current research project explores issues around the theme of ‘(re)connecting to the spirit of nêhiyawêwin (Cree language)’, nêhiyaw gender worldviews, and the iskwew (woman) body relation to the cosmic and earth within 13 moon teachings through arts-based practices. She is featured in a documentary about confronting and transcending historical trauma through her arts-based practice titled, “Lana Gets Her Talk” (2017).
From my humble beginnings as an Indigenous student researcher within a Western academic university quickly taught me how not to conduct research within Indigenous communities. My transformative experiences within the doctoral studies at UnBQ sparked my research career, where I began my arts-based research practices of exploring, confronting, and transcending intergenerational trauma to researching Indigenous beauty and resilience of iskwewak (women). It is where I also became a decolonizing community researcher, co-leading a six-year sexual health research project with Saddle Lake Health Centre, UnBQ and University of Toronto (2009-2016). I was part of UnBQ ipkDoc research team exploring Indigenous women’s economic security and wellness with a ten First Nations, Metis and Dene communities.
Truly engaged community-based Indigenous research requires extensive and continued commitment to long term relationships, such as engaging community members, scholars, knowledge and language keepers, both in the context of research, as well as, in social, cultural, ceremonial, and economic contexts. This will enrich and deepen the knowledge shared within the current project; increase the likelihood of utility to the community; and provide a guide for the best modalities of knowledge translation; as well as, laying the groundwork for future research partnerships. My current and existing research collaborations include: okimaw kihew mekwanak (OKM), formerly known as Indigenous PFLAG (Parents and friends of Lesbians and Gays), and Edmonton Two Spirit Society (E2S) to strategize on research activities and programs to develop urban Two Spirit youth programs; kâniyâsihk culture camp and various knowledge and language keepers throughout Treaty 6 Territory to revitalize nêhiyawêwin (Cree language); and numerous Elders and knowledge holders throughout Treaty 6 Territory sharing their teachings on language; women’s physical, spiritual, reproductive, and mental health; and gender for the ‘Spirit of the Language’ project; and, my arts-based research of an iskwew exploration of nêhiyaw thirteen moon calendar and connecting to the spirit of nêhiyawêwin (Cree language), exploring the vital relationship between being a human being of this earth, and the reclaiming of our Matriarchal society.
As an Indigenous scholar, my educational journey began with my earliest memories of learning from my grandmothers. Successful educational experience and knowledge transmission in Indigenous contexts requires the inclusion of traditional knowledge, languages, and ancestral ways of education. My grandmothers’ teachings, that I experienced as connecting to spirit (of language, of land, of culture) is one of my guides for best practices in education. Education is more than connecting to the brain it is about connecting the mind to the heart. I educate with this philosophy, based upon the Natural Laws of Cree Tradition: sharing, truth, kindness, and courage. These land-based Laws are grounded in reciprocity to maintain good relations. I begin each course and project with gratitude and acknowledgement of who I am and where I come from as a way of connecting with learners. Learning and teaching is a reciprocal relation. I worked with various Indigenous Knowledge keepers who shared their ancestral wisdom within circle dialogues, in which everyone including the experienced and skilled knowledge keepers sits within the circle as equals and co-creators guided by strict teachings and protocols of the circle. I integrate circle dialogues in my teaching as an important way of beginning to build trust, understanding, and relationships for everyone within the class. Circle dialogues also offer peer support and feedback and represent a best educational practice is to engage with intergenerational knowledge transmission.
As a multidisciplinary artist creating art is about connecting the mind to the heart and I utilize and foster this connection as a parallel teaching modality. Combining the left-brain scholar education with the creative right-brain through action is a powerful act of learning. Art creation is the act of reflecting what is being learned. My teaching not only includes art-integrated learning but also experiential learning. It is important to connect learners to resources that will inspire curiosity; maintain the knowledge they learn; acquire critical analysis skills; and see the world in a new way.
Special topics will vary.Spring Term 2021
An elective course on selected topics in community engagement.Fall Term 2020
Prerequisite: Any 100 or 200 level WGS or W ST course, or departmental consent.Spring Term 2021
20181130 - 20200630
Colonization, Catholicism and capitalism have continually compounding and devastating impacts on generations of Indigenous peoples, and their connection to the spirit of nȇhiyawȇwin, the Cree language. This then contributes to a disconnection to land and creation. Interviews with diverse Indigenous community members, from urban environments to First Nation reserves, address historical and present patterns of actions leading to traumas affecting the spirit of the language and land. Our research addresses the ongoing consequences of colonization, capitalism, and residential schooling as each deeply affecting relationships with the language, land, ancestral governance and kinship systems. Community conversations identified the nêhiyawêwin worldview as being from and of the land, of which the land has its own spirit. The Indigenous language participants identified problems of previous research around Indigenous communities and languages, which included hesitations around institutional involvement and intellectual property around universities. Elders and community members shared the importance of honouring the living language through land-based Indigenous learning pedagogies to include reciprocal-relational methods like ceremony and mentorship. This product of this research provides a resource directly supporting ceremony- and community-based pedagogies for Indigenous language transference, and for Indigenous peoples to reclaim sovereignty over language education, community building, ceremony, and restoring of balance through decolonial strength-based ways.
KEYWORDS: nehiyawewin, decolonization, land-based, ceremony, kinship
2014 - 2017
Exploration of Indigenous women's beauty and their intergenerational resilience.The beauty of MJ
2015 - 2016
The purpose of this project was to develop a community-led intervention and evaluation strategy that brought together Cree knowledge and research related to HIV and sexual health. Cree women provided a vision of health using metaphors from the natural environment. Starting points and core characteristics of health were grounded in relationship with self, others, place, and the land, suggesting sexual health interventions should be land-based and focus on restoring secure attachment. Cree women also said an intervention should start at the individual level so a long-term ripple effect can be initiated through the community as those who heal turn and support the healing and nurturing of others, thus impacting the next seven generations. Ceremony, restoring relationships and traditional teachings became core elements in all four of our interventions.
20190101 - 20200630
The proposed project is to create a series of thirteen (13) 3-4' x 4-5' futuristic-romantism oil
paintings of iskwewak (women) dressed in contemporary Indigenous haute couture while
engaged in contemporary and traditional work symbolizing iskwewewin (womenhood) 13
moon teachings. The paintings will also be used as the basis for a hardcopy book. The series
title "wawihisiyiho" means in Cree, "present your best self" because you never know when the
Creator will call you home. My teaching of wawihisiyiho is to live in the best way possible in
balance with all our relations. nêhiyawak (Cree people) were given laws on how to live a good
balanced life with all living beings (Water Nation, Plant Nation, Animal Nation, Flying Nation)
that is learned and maintained through committed participation in ceremony. Two of the laws
motivating the creation of this series is wâcîyîtok (to help one another), and kiskinohamatok
(teach one another, show each other the way). As a woman, mother and grandmother it is
important to pass on powerful iskwewewin (womanhood) teachings; and, as an artist, to
explore symbolism through visual narratives of a futuristic classical romanticism style of oil
painting. This cultural and symbolic study will expand my creative and cultural skills and