Mothering a community

May 10, 2019 | Society
In my role as a Knowledge Keeper, I have the privilege of also being a kookum to our students. I have grandchildren myself and I do what any grandmother would do. I want the best for my grandbabies.

As grandmothers we have a huge responsibility to ensure our children know who they are, where they come from and why they're here. Of grounding them spiritually. Those are big shoes that should be filled by a family, a community or a nation, but sometimes our students are disconnected – as a result of residential schools or the Sixties Scoop or from being raised in the system and trying to find their own way.

I always say to students that it’s no fault of their own that they don’t know their own history – the true history of Indigenous peoples of these lands – or about protocol, tobacco, smudging, language and ceremony. There’s no shame in that. So I take them out into community, to different ceremonies with different nations.

At kihêw waciston, we are a home away from home for many students. We become their extended family. We support them, we care for them and we care for one another. We become a bridge between the quality education students are receiving at MacEwan and Indigenous knowledge and ways of being.

My grandpa told me that academic institutions can’t teach me what I already know – to always remember who I am as a Plains Cree woman and that I’ll never get lost. So I always reflect on that as an academic and as a professional – but first and foremost as a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt and a Plains Cree woman. How am I going to help students come to kihêw waciston at MacEwan and see themselves here? To see Indigenous knowledge in the curriculum? To bring the truth to the forefront?

We send a very real and important message when we wear our ribbon skirts in these corridors. It's visible. It’s tangible. We’re showing students that Indigenous women are still here despite the efforts of government to extinguish us. We’re reclaiming our place. We’re showing that we belong here. That they belong here.

– Roxanne Tootoosis, Indigenous Knowledge Keeper, kihêw waciston

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