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New Assistant Professor Dr. Jennifer Wemigwans brings expertise of Indigenous Knowledge and new media technologies to OISE

October 18, 2018

By Kaitlyn Balkovec


Dr. Jennifer Wemigwans (centre) with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers.

This August, OISE welcomed Dr. Jennifer Wemigwans as the new Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education. Dr. Wemigwans is Anishnaabekwe (Ojibwe/Potawatomi) from Wikwemikong First Nation, and is the president of Invert Media, a company dedicated to Indigenous knowledge, culture and education.

Dr. Wemigwans’ research focuses on the convergence between education, Indigenous knowledge, and new media technologies. She brings over 20 years of expertise in media exhibition, practice and consultation, Ojibwe language, Indigenous history, First Nations spirituality, and multigenerational Indigenous cultural literacy. OISE News asked Dr. Wemigwans about what sparked her interest in new media technologies, her current research, and her approaches to teaching and learning.

Can you share some highlights from your career?

In 2012, I was asked by Jake Swamp to help him with his vision for a condolence ceremony at the headwaters of the Mississippi. I was so humbled by his request as it was the first time an Elder had approached me about working with new technologies and the Internet. Sadly, Jake Swamp passed before we could get started. To honour his request, I contacted his family and helped with building a website that spoke to his vision of the condolence ceremony that was held. My family and I attended that ceremony which initiated a new era for Reviving Indigenous Spirit Everywhere (RISE) – this was Jake’s vision.

In September 2015, I was invited to Chile as a keynote speaker to celebrate International Indigenous Women’s Day. It was a huge honour for me to meet the grandmothers, activists and scholars in the Mapuche community. They were very interested in hearing about how to produce and create ethical Indigenous knowledge resources using new technologies. It is an experience that I carry with me every day – the strength of those Abuelas, the Mapuche grandmothers. 

I continue to be humbled and honoured by working with international Indigenous Timekeepers to recover and share knowledge on Indigenous calendars and cosmology. Working with Indigenous communities is the highlight of my pursuits in education and technology. 

What inspired your interest in Indigenous Knowledge and new media technologies?

I began learning about Anishinaabe traditional culture in my early twenties when I was employed as a front-line community worker in Toronto for various not-for-profit Indigenous organizations. These included Native women’s and men’s drop-in centres, homeless shelters, and cultural centres.

Based upon my experience as an adult literacy instructor, I started thinking about how the Internet could lead to greater empowerment for members of Indigenous communities. The flexible ways in which people can explore the Internet are well suited to adult learners who want to gain knowledge at their own pace. I began to explore how new media technologies could be used to help Indigenous Peoples reconnect with their cultures, especially those who have experienced disenfranchisement from their own cultural teachings and Indigenous Knowledge.

As a doctoral student in the Social Justice Education department at OISE, I was able to explore notions of media and community through my studies. This led me to really think about the convergence between Indigenous resurgence, knowledge, education and new technologies. 

Can you tell us more about your current research and why it’s important?

Since 2010, Indigenous timekeepers from the Mayan, Otomi, Kogi, and Hopi communities have been meeting to discuss the coming of the new dawn, marked by the end in 2013 of a long cycle in the Mayan calendar. For these timekeepers, the end of this period in the Mayan calendar marks the beginning of a new cycle, a new dawn of truth, recovery, reconciliation, and investment in Indigenous ways of being and knowing.

In 2015, this group invited me to New Mexico to meet with them to discuss how to share their collective knowledge, through new technologies, for the benefit and health of Mother Earth. I have begun working with them on the Indigenous Timekeepers Project, which will share the interconnections among the Earth, moon, stars, and human consciousness to reveal how we are all part of the Sacred Cycle of Life.  

For Indigenous timekeepers, a return to ourselves and to our ways is paramount for our survival. Doing research that is in service of Indigenous communities is a critical strategy for my work, because we are entering a new era that will carry us for the next several hundred years. That said, there is much work to be done! 

What courses are you teaching this year? How would you describe your approach to teaching and learning?

This semester, I am teaching Indigenous Knowledge: Implications for Education and in the winter semester I will be delivering a course called Indigenous Worldviews: Implications for Education. As an Indigenous adult literacy instructor, I was trained in Indigenous methods of pedagogy, which emphasize that a human being consists of four parts: spirit, heart (emotion), mind and body. I was taught that a good learning process is a holistic one, which engages all aspects of the adult learner. I believe that balance in the individual strengthens capabilities. This is key, especially for graduate students, who are under immense pressures while studying.

I also believe that not everyone learns in the same way, and that the university must be a place where pedagogical innovation occurs, so alternative forms of learning need to be considered. I am grateful for the time I spent as an adult literacy instructor because it sensitized me to a variety of learners with various strengths and capabilities and gave me a different perspective on learning. I have incorporated this perspective of learning in my course work. 

I also feel it is important to have students look to each other as sources of knowledge. My approach to teaching is not a top-down process, but rather a collaborative enterprise, where students are encouraged to express who they are and what they know. In this way, I continue to honour Indigenous teachings that stress that each person has a gift and something to share. As a responsible and contributing community member it is my goal, especially in the role of a professor, to bring that out.  Learning is an experience that involves everyone, including me, and that is the ultimate joy of teaching: to keep learning. 

Moving from the classroom to the outside world, any idea how you might contribute to local communities here in Toronto and Ontario?

For the past twenty years, I have immersed myself in two fields of study, education and media arts. One of my projects includes the online Indigenous knowledge website, which was created to support and make accessible the teachings of five diverse Indigenous elders. Today, the website is widely used and sought out in education and by a variety of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. 

I have produced numerous websites, videos, and publications, including a series of Indigenous language applications, which introduced Ojibwe language learning. These applications utilize game play to help develop memory in learning audio and visual cues for reading and learning an Indigenous language. These kinds of projects provide resources for educators to use when teaching Indigenous knowledge/languages and fill a gap with respect to much needed Indigenous curriculum resources for all kinds of learners. 

In my research and work as an independent transmedia producer and writer, I take great pride in inverting the conventional use of media by revealing the potential for Indigenous cultural expression through new technologies. I am excited by the prospects of community empowerment from an Indigenous perspective and committed to exploring the convergence between education, Indigenous knowledge and new media technologies in my research work. I am also committed to continuing my production work with Indigenous elders and traditional teachers because I believe they are the key to what Anishinaabe scholar and performance artist Leanne Simpson calls “Indigenous Resurgence,” which refers to the revitalization of traditional Indigenous knowledge and practices. I believe that a combination of scholarship and media practice, and writing and production can accomplish these goals.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments, personally and professionally?

Personally, my family is my greatest accomplishment. Being able to share a safe and healthy home and cultivate a space of warmth, love and creativity for my family is so important to feelings of well-being and accomplishment.

Professionally, I am thrilled about being at OISE and so excited about my first peer reviewed book, A Digital Bundle Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online coming out this fall! I am also really excited about all the digital projects that I am doing and the current research that I am undertaking on institutional violence against Indigenous women.  

With OISE I can… 

Contribute to Indigenous Knowledge projects that are ethical, respectful and grounded in the cultural protocols of their communities.