Lana Whiskeyjack, ipkDoc, MA, BA
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arts - Womens & Gender Studies
9137 116 St NWEdmonton ABT6G 2E7
Area of Study / Keywords
Indigenous Matriarchy Diverse Genders Sexual Health Indigenous Feminisms Indigenous beauty Kinship Indigenous Arts-based practices
Lana Whiskeyjack is a multidisciplinary treaty nêhiyaw (Cree) scholartist from Saddle Lake Cree Nation and assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts, Women's and Gender Studies, 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 womb connections. 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 and arts-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 diverse 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 passion of exploring arts-based research practices in confronting and to transcending intergenerational trauma into researching Indigenous beauty and resilience of iskwewak (women). It is where I learned to unpack and decolonize educational and research practices, specifically within a seven-year sexual health research project with Saddle Lake Health Centre, UnBQ and University of Toronto (2009-2016). I was also part of UnBQ ipkDoc iskwêwak 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 arts-based scholar, my educational journey began with my earliest memories of learning from my grandmothers creativity and storytelling skills. 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 through ceremony and nêhiyawêwin (Cree language). 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.
GSJ 575 - Indigenous Genders and Sexualities
Exploration of gender diversity and sexualities from Indigenous and Indigenous feminist worldviews, including critical examination of colonial constructions of gender and sexuality.
GSJ 598 - Special Topics - Topics in Gender and Social Justice Studies
Special topics will vary.
MACE 597 - Topics in Community Engagement
An elective course on selected topics in community engagement.
WGS 280 - Indigenous Women, Autobiography, and Life Writing
Explores the ways in which Indigenous women have resisted colonial constructions of race and gender through autobiographical expressions and life writing. Includes study of memoirs, journals, confessions, diaries, personal essays, oral histories, and visual art.
WGS 298 - Critical Issues
This course offers an introduction to select issues in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. A variable content course, which may be repeated if topics vary.
WGS 475 - Indigenous Genders and Sexualities
Exploration of gender diversity and sexualities from Indigenous and Indigenous feminist worldviews, including critical examination of colonial constructions of gender and sexuality. Prerequisite: Any 100 or 200 level WGS course, or departmental consent.
Research - Connecting to the spirit of language.
20181130 to 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, kinshipSpirit of the language
Research - Indigenous beauty and intergenerational resilience
2014 to 2017
Exploration of Indigenous women's beauty and their intergenerational resilience.The beauty of MJ
Research - Restoring Health and community interventions
2015 to 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.
- Women who participated in the beauty retreat benefited from the art, nature and therapeutic value of gathering as indigenous women to reclaim beauty.
- Townsite residents benefited by having a communal garden, planter boxes, and movement towards a playground for their children.
- Community members who participated in the motivational interviewing training benefited by gaining a new therapeutic skill.
- Community members who attended Agokwe benefited from the performance and panel discussion and teachings.
- Families who attend Saddle Lake's Canadian Prenatal Nutrition program will benefit from the indigenization of the program.
- The community benefits from having five digital stories, three of which document traditional teachings and language that might otherwise become lost.
Research - Strengthening Relations Through Cultural & Arts-Based Practices to Promote Resiliency and Well-Being for Two-Spirit Youth and Their Families
Fall 2020 to Spring 2022
Indigenous concepts of gender and sexuality have been intensely disrupted by historic and ongoing colonization and epistemicide, which has profoundly impacted the health of Two-Spirit people. The denigration and suppression of valued and diverse gender and sexual identities and roles has resulted in the loss of language that describes the vast diversity of Indigenous gender and sexual identities. Furthermore, intersecting forms of stigma, marginalization, and discrimination experienced by Two-Spirit people likely contribute to higher rates of reported violence, mental ill-health, poverty, and substance abuse. Although Indigenous understandings of gender, sexuality, and health have endured with some Knowledge Keepers, they are not well-known as much Indigenous knowledge was forced underground by legislation, persecution, and policing. Connecting youth and families to cultural knowledge, traditions, language, and concepts of gender and sexual health promotes resilience and well-being for youth. Thus, the proposed project has two main objectives: 1) to strengthen relationships between okimaw kihew mekwanak (OKM), a grassroots community organization led by PI Dr. Lana Whiskeyjack and Knowledge Keeper Roxanne Tootoosis that supports LGBTQ2S+ families from an Indigenous (primarily nêhiyaw/Cree) worldview, and community organizations Edmonton 2 Spirit (E2S) and the Rainbow Alliance for Youth of Edmonton (RAYE) that also support LGBTQ2S+ youth; and 2) to build connections, relationships, and health promotional interventions with Two-Spirit youth and families. Together, we will build intergenerational relationships through gatherings in ceremony, land- and language-based cultural teachings, and transformative arts-based activities to generate knowledge exchange and co-creation with the ultimate purpose of developing an Indigenous-led community-based participatory research project (CBPR) to promote resiliency and well-being for Two-Spirit youth and families. Strong relationships between LGBTQ2S+ youth and their families and these community organizations are critical for developing Indigenous-led CBPR interventions that not only promote resiliency and well-being for youth and families, but also are feasible, relevant, and sustainable.
Research - wawihisiyiho: An exploration of 13 moons
20190101 to 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 practices.More Information