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Robin Margaret King Stonefish named winner of 2020 Scholarship for Research in Violence Against Indigenous Women

January 25, 2021

By Perry King


Photo of Robin Margaret King Stonefish

At the heart of her academic work, Robin Margaret King Stonefish is carrying on the tradition set by her auntie and mother.

King Stonefish, a first-year doctoral student at OISE and the first-ever recipient of the 2020-2021 Bonnie Burstow Scholarship for Research in Violence Against Indigenous Women, will be studying ways to help learners overcome barriers they experience in learning about their language and culture.

King Stonefish pledges to work to eliminate those systemic barriers – especially for Indigenous women. “What I would hope to see out of this process is to develop resources and tools for others to help overcome some of the barriers to fulfilling Lifelong Learning,” she said.

The scholarship, established in 2018 by late Professor Bonnie Burstow, is intended to support a graduate student whose thesis focuses on violence against Indigenous women. Burstow, who passed away in late 2019, created the scholarship in memory of Helen Betty Osborne (1952–1971), a Cree woman who dreamed of becoming a teacher. She was kidnapped and murdered while walking down the street in The Pas, Manitoba.

This award, established in honour of all Indigenous women who are victims of violence, is awarded to an OISE student entering a thesis program in Adult Education and Community Development whose intended thesis focuses on violence against indigenous women (or the history underpinning it).

King Stonefish’s research is connected to customary practices of Indigenous families who carry knowledge bundles for their communities. She will look specifically at Anishinaabe math and science teachings from her late aunt, who was trained from a young age to become a Knowledge Keeper.

For Jennifer Wemigwans, an Assistant Professor at OISE, King Stonefish epitomizes what the scholarship stands for. “Robin has spent a lifetime learning from her community and caring for Indigenous Knowledge that has been carried by her family,” says Wemigwans, who is based in OISE’s department Leadership, Higher and Adult Education. “She is also active in language revitalization efforts. For Robin, Indigenous Knowledge is a way of life – not a theory or a concept.”

Her academic focus at OISE is something that embodies the work of her mother and aunt, who “always did so much stuff that just blew my mind,” says King Stonefish, who has roots with Henvey Inlet First Nation but grew up in Toronto.

Her mother, Emma, was a translator in hospitals, the court system, board member, and advocate in her volunteer work and administrative and clerical staff for various Indigenous organizations in Toronto. Her aunt, Nellie, was many things – a founding board member of Native Child Family Services of Toronto with Emma, a band administrator in Henvey Inlet First Nation, graphic artist, and a community member who would support kids and her many nieces and nephews from home when they needed that auntie figure to step in and help.

“Eventually I became her student,” said King Stonefish, of her aunt. “She was one of the people at the time that, in the 70s and 80s, if there were things you wanted to learn about culture and language, she was one of the people that you went to.”

Her family are educators. For example, when her aunt and uncle supported Native Child and Family Services’ first summer camp program – where Indigenous kids in Toronto, who’ve only grown up in the city, would spend time at Gundy Lake that sits between Henvey Inlet First Nation – King Stonefish was right there to learn and help teach kids their culture and history (while having fun through many outdoor activities like fishing and swimming).

Her family wanted to make their culture accessible to those who couldn’t find it easily. But, when King Stonefish’s aunt unsuccessfully tried to get educational books published, those memories stuck with her – it taught her that women like her aunt battling against a system that was still very patriarchal.

“As an Indigenous female Knowledge Keeper, Robin’s aunt was not treated respectfully during her time and in many ways was dismissed,” says Wemigwans. “Robin’s research will address historical epistemic violence experienced by Indigenous Women Knowledge Keepers, which makes her work a wonderful fit for the inaugural Bonnie Burstow Scholarship for Research in Violence Against Indigenous Women in Memory of Helen Betty Osborne.   

That was part of why King Stonefish decided to study at OISE. “I think of how many people were so impacted by the system that is present, the contemporary system that sits all around us,” she says.

Her aunt, before she passed away years ago, gave her two pieces of paper. One was a picture of the Thunderbirds, and how it's assembled. “She would always remind me all knowledge is contained in the circle,” says King Stonefish, noting a lesson that has helped fuel her educational journey.

The second piece of paper was a list of names on it. “She says, ‘I don't want you to forget this. These are the people – we don't know what happened to them.’” They were people from her community that were taken – to residential schools, during the 60s Scoops or other unknown reasons.

“‘This is why you're doing what you're doing,’” her aunt told King Stonefish.

Wemigwans praises King Stonefish for her scholarship win. “I am so pleased that Robin is the first recipient of this new award,” she said. “Congratulations Robin, we are so pleased to have you join our program and look forward to walking with you on this important learning journey.”

King Stonefish is grateful to be named the inaugural winner of this scholarship. She wanted to work with Burstow before she died in late 2019. She loved Burstow’s approach to research, and the way in which she was working to advocate as an ally.

“I think that’s why I feel so honored to be able to do this work,” she said, “because much of her own work ties in with further advocating for work that my aunt and my mom did – to be able to have it heard and have it be part of the greater discourse.”

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