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); and the Editor of the book by Cayuga Elder Gae Ho Hwako Norma Jacobs Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on our Journeys (McGill-Queens University Press, 2022). Most of my writing arises from the time I spend walking in the forests and along the lakes and rivers that are the root of my life in south-eastern Ontario (Ontar:io or “beautiful shining waters”).
The original meaning of my given name, Timothy, is "He who honours God or the Creator." But for too long my canadien and European cultural ancestors have held too strong to a Creator who is seen as wholly outside of creation, and so for the past 25 years I have been re-learning from my Indigenous elders what it means to honour the great mystery of this life through all our Mother Earth relations. The patient Heron has been one of my central guides in decolonizing and renewing a more grounded sense of my name, Timothy, and my responsibilities as a writer, teacher and social worker.
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 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 peace, friendship and respect.
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 the great St. Lawrence 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 canadien ancestors always returned to the St. Lawrence River and thus are not Metis. In the wake of colonial pressures, hiding and silence was learned and instilled in ways that persist. As my family is also disconnected from the French language, I do not see myself as Quebecois or French Canadien.
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 are teaching me 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 a northern Roman Catholic Mission where I lived as the social worker, I had a dream that still influences my life journey. I had the impression of waking up in bed, but in fact remained 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 Indigenous community in ceremony out in the night air. While the people worked from without, I was drawn to act from within the basement below the mission. 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. With this gift came faint yet clear instructions that re-directed my blind awareness to a shadowy overbearing presence just beyond me: “you need to kill god.”
The patterns of this dream have come to inform my Two Row work with Indigenous people as a canadien concerned with responding to colonial missions, honouring cultural ancestors and uplifting treaties; but doing so from the depths of Canadian institutions and consciousness. That god that needs to die is not 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, J. B. Rousseau and A. Leduc; Grey Nun & Jesuit missionaries
2) Scholarly ancestors: ecology of mind (e.g. J. Livingston, R. Carson, A. Leopold), Carl Jung, & hermeticism
3) Indigenous ancestral teachers: K. Tekakwitha, J. Brant, Chief Kondiaronk of Montreal Tree of Peace, & Chief J. Thomas
4) Missions: St. Marie aux pays des Huron, Residential Schools, Social Work, & the University
5) Treaties/Agreements: Two Row, Montreal Tree of Peace, Seven Fires, Toronto Purchase, Haldimand & Nuttfield Tracts
6) Land/Water Relations: Heron, Oak, White Pine, Passage de Tarontho (Humber River), & St. Lawrence River
Image to Right: The wampum belt known as Tsiata Nihononwentsiake, “the Seven Nations of Canada, the Seven Fires”. Inspired by the Haudenosaunee Great Law, 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.” Also, 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.