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 canadien writer, teacher, helper and father.
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; who could give thanks to creation through every act of living:
Dating from the mid-twelfth-century, this stained glass window in the cathedral at Chartres is known as Notre Dame de la Belle Verrière or Blue Virgin. Her shades of blue and white garments flow like water and air within a red surround that resonates with the Sun’s warming rays. Upon her lap sits the Christ child with a green halo… that suggests spring’s natural profusion or what Saint Hildegard referred to as viriditas, a fresh green that “represents the principle of life, growth, and fertility flowing from the life-creating power”… traversing an oceanic gulf, the Blue Virgin’s angelic theophany is an emanation of energy into the viriditas of Turtle Island… a potentiality symbolized in the braided name Notre Dame de Turtle Island. (Leduc, A Canadian Climate of Mind, 161, 169).
Feeling the cool rain fall upon my face, the spirit of thanksgiving arises from within me like the mist that now hangs above the ground, vegetation, and roads around my house. The renewal of rainwater, the warmth of sun, the droplet-speckled leaves of so many plants, so much medicine, the moist soil of E tinoha ongwesidage’dra gwe’ (Mother Earth), which supports life, and the ancestors and spirits, who are like the mist, all remind me of our first human responsibility to express thanks for this great mystery given by Shogwaeyadisho’ (the Creator)… For Gae Ho Hwako, the environmental and social issues that intensify with each passing year are most fundamentally rooted in the ways of societies whose people have forgotten to express gratitude for all that we have been given. (Leduc, in Ǫ da gaho dḛ:s: Reflecting on Our Journeys, 19)
Image to Left: Braid of Notre Dame de la Belle Verrière on the back of Turtle, Notre Dame de Turtle Island.
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 Nuns & 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 below is 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. That is what I am working at turning around in the transformed Seven Fire belt above.