By Michael O’Shea
Overlooking downtown Toronto from a striking vantage inside the Nexus Lounge at the Ontario Institute for the Study of Education (OISE) Canada last fall, Dr. Jennifer Wemigwans presented her powerful new book, A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online. In it, Dr. Wemigwans identifies the growing body of online Indigenous Knowledge as “digital bundles” and explores their significance. The book “offers the protocols, stories, advice, practices, and wisdom from Indigenous Knowledge holders to help address the challenges and questions about how Indigenous Knowledge can live now and in the future…with new forms of technology,” says Marie Battiste, author of Decolonizing Education.
Student affairs professionals who wish to better understand the contemporary landscape of online Indigenous Knowledge will be interested in reading this important work. Faye Ginsburg, director of the Center for Media, Culture and History at New York University calls the the book a “guide for scholars, activist, media makers, and visionaries…to..collective imagine Indigenous cultural frames with mindful use of digital technologies than can enable collaborative connections among First Nations communities across the globe.”
Dr. Jennifer Wemigwans (Anishnaabekwe from Wikwemikong First Nation) is Assistant Professor at OISE, where she teaches courses in Indigenous Knowledge, pedagogy, and research methodologies, which are central to Indigenous Resurgence. She is also president of Invert Media Inc, which produced Four Directions Teachings, a highly influential, interactive online resource for preserving, sharing, and teaching Indigenous Knowledge. This is one of many dynamic online Indigenous knowledge projects, created by Invert Media, that foster dialogue, inspire learning, and respect Indigenous diversity.
Michael is a Settler of Irish ancestry from Chicago (Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Odawa, Sac, Fox, and Miami territory) studying at the University of Toronto.
First off, I was a huge fan of fourdirectionsteachings.com when I worked at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. I even had the poster up on my office wall! I directed countless clients to the site for a myriad of uses: People wanting to get back into their culture, people who through CAS or other means had never developed a connection to it, folks with accessibility barriers, students wanting to do cultural research in a time crunch, educators seeking information, the list goes on. The site just seemed so instantly accessible and I loved having it as a resource.
Wemigwans states that the site is in no way a true reflection of face to face time with an Elder or in ceremony, let alone a replacement, but it’s a very good place to start to foster a relationship with Indigenous Knowledge (IK) and begin to know what questions to ask to further develop that relationship. Wemigwans states that her original intent of the site was to provide a good resource for frontline workers. For me, it did its job wonderfully.
I am currently reading this book for a course in an M.Ed, Urban Indigenous Education at York University and I LOVE THIS BOOK. Wemigwans provides extensive analysis of protocols around sharing traditional IK online, introducing concepts such as Indigenous intellectual property online and the threat of western audiences’ tendencies to consume, appropriate and commodify what’s made available online. Despite these and other risks, she makes an excellent case for making IK accessible online in a respectful and deliberate way, and for establishing online IK as a distinct new genre. To me it connects closely to the genre of Indigenous Futurism that offers insight around Indigenous cultural resurgence and adaptability, and speaks back to the colonial erasure narrative. I applaud Jennifer for taking the lead in this controversial new discourse and highly recommend checking out the book.