I am an associate professor in land-based social work at Wilfrid Laurier University, not far from my home in Toronto (Tarontho or “meeting place”), Canada (Kanatha or “village”) that I share with my partner and two children. I am the author of three books, including Climate, Culture, Change: Inuit and Western Dialogues with a Warming North (University of Ottawa Press, short-listed for 2012 Canada Prize in the Social Sciences) and A Canadian Climate of Mind: Passages from Fur to Energy and Beyond (McGill-Queens University Press, 2016). Most of my writing arises from the time I spend walking in the forests and along the lakes, rivers and ponds that is the root of my life in south-eastern Ontario (Ontar:io or “beautiful shining waters”).
These lands and waters centre much of the decolonizing work I have been doing for over 25 years, ever since my first social work job in a northern Indigenous community had me work out of the Roman Catholic Mission. That experience starkly highlighted for me the ongoing position of social work in colonial missions, as well as my family’s ancestral position in these missions. For more on my professional background, you can go to my profile at Wilfrid Laurier University: https://www.wlu.ca/academics/faculties/faculty-of-social-work/faculty-profiles/tim-leduc/index.html
I am canadien spelled with a small “c” and pronounced in the French way. This is an identity that connects me in the fullest way to my ancestors, particularly those that begin with those French-speaking coureur de bois and habitants (peasants) who lived along the St. Lawrence River and came to be called canadien in the 1600s. From the present to at least the early 1700s, my family has straddled a Two Row Wampum relation between French canadien ancestors and Mohawk/Wendat relations from what was once Jesuit mission communities along this river. Generations of my family are connected to missionizing through orders of Catholic Nuns, and which I position my social work profession within. While we also have coureur de bois ancestors who followed the river routes that gave birth to the Metis culture and nation, my ancestors always returned to the St. Lawrence River and thus are not Metis. In the wake of the Indian Act, Residential Schools and Metis suppression over the latter half of the 1800s, some chose to hide their Indigenous relations amidst fear of the Canadian nation without and family silence within. That silence was learned and instilled in a way that persists into the present generation, despite having Indigenous familial relations. As my family is also disconnected from the French language, I do not see myself as Quebecois, French Canadien.
I know lots of people who struggle with wanting to be in the canoe but are on the ship. It is hard for them to decide where they stand on the river of life because of this confusion. The waters around them are always dark and deep. It is hard to find answers about who they are and how to live… There is so much confusion in those dark in-between waters, and it raises questions about how to retrieve people.
I often reflect on these elder words of Gae Ho Hwako Norma Jacobs from her forthcoming book Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys (MQUP 2022) that I helped with as Editor. From within these stormy waters, I am trying to imagine what could have been, what it is to be small “c” canadien, to be a family and community who lived Two Row relations in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect. What if our learning of how to live here had not been silenced by colonialism? What if the matrilineal roots of my Indigenous relations had been allowed to seep into my familial sense of being canadien? This is the spiritual vision that I now understand brought me into relationship with Gae Ho Hwako in the sacred meeting place of Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s. Somehow, the good mind spirit and generosity of Haudenosaunee teachings have been teaching me the responsibilities of what it is to be “canadien”, and I am trying to live and work that the best way I can.
Image to Left: Uprooted tree that I reflect upon in a few publications in relation to family colonial & environmental position, and the responsibilities that arise.
Ancestral Land Responsibilities
In late 1998, near the end of my time in the northern Roman Catholic Mission where I lived as the social worker, I had a powerful dream one evening. Perhaps you are familiar with those intense dreams that begin with the impression of just waking up in bed, but you are in fact still asleep. Lifting the sheets, I left my room to go down into the dark basement, and as I descended I could barely hear the drums and singing of the community in ceremony out in the night air. While the Indigenous people worked from without, I was drawn to act from a different position in the basement below the mission church. As I settled into a deep darkness that I had not experienced before, someone beyond my senses handed me a knife with a beautiful gem-adorned hilt whose brilliance remains etched in my memory. And with this perplexing gift came faint yet clear instructions that re-directed my blind awareness to the shadowy overbearing presence just beyond me: “you need to kill god.”
The patterns of this dream have come to inform my work with Indigenous people as a canadien concerned with responding to colonial missions, honouring cultural ancestors and uplifting treaties; but doing so from deep within Canadian institutions and consciousness. That god that needs to die is not synonymous with the Creator or great mystery, but rather reflects the missionizing worldview (of Christianity, social work, Canada), the sense of superiority (in professions, the university, male, white), and how all of this plays out in my self, family and ancestors. This is what my writing and teaching engages through some of the following relations:
1) canadien ancestors: coureur de bois like E. Brule, Grey Nun and Jesuit missionaries
2) Indigenous ancestral teachers: K. Tekakwitha, J. Brant, Kondiaronk
3) Missions: St. Marie aux pays des Huron, Seven Fires, Social Work, the University
4) Treaties/Agreements: Two Row, Montreal Tree of Peace, Seven Fires, Toronto Purchase, Haldimand & Nuttfield Tracts
Image to Right: The wampum agreement known as Tsiata Nihononwentsiake, “the Seven Nations of Canada, the Seven Fires”. Inspired by the Haudenosaunee Great White Pine, this belt represents a peace between seven Jesuit mission villages along the St. Lawrence River. But there were a couple significant alterations, as Darren Bonaport clarifies: “instead of being united by a pine tree or heart at the centre… the icons on this belt were united by the cross of Jesus Christ.” Of greater significance, there “was no path of peace directly linking the fires to the cross that stood alone.” It is a stark image of the violent isolation that is colonialism, from missions to residential schools to child welfare.