February Feature: Dr. Erynne Gilpin

This month, we are so excited to bring you an interview with Dr. Erynne M Gilpin (she/her.) Dr. Gilpin has a Ph.D. in Indigenous Governance and is a Community Birth Doula, Educator, Activist, & Founder of Indigenous Womxn Climb. She employs community-based research and focuses on Indigenous health and well being. Enjoy the interview!

Q: Hi Erynne! Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself!

A: Tan’si kiya, Erynne Gilpin nitisiyagason, Li Pas kayate nitocheen. My name is Erynne Gilpin and I am Saulteaux-Cree Metis and my home territories extend from Treaty 5, the Pas Manitoba (Canada). I introduce myself first and foremost as a community-based researcher, educator, and Land-based wellness advocate. I believe that Indigenous Leadership is necessary to transform societal relationship to the Earth and everything that I do is aimed towards enhancing and supporting Indigenous wellness, well-being and community strength.  I am a community-based educator, artist (performance), Birth-Doula, film-producer and rock climber: who is also passionate about education (I teach sessionally within Indigenous Studies at the University of Victoria).   Currently I work as an Indigenous Learning Specialist at the University of Victoria, which is a role tasked with the responsibility to implement efforts of Decolonization and Indigenization in higher learning and teaching practice. I am also a member of the Nesting Doula Collective (POC Birth Workers) and support Doula Training programs through Indigenous health care practices, approaches and learning.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about your research and what you're currently working on?

A: My current research explores the interconnectivities between Indigenous womxn’s experiences of wellness and well-being with their self-determined acts of governance and leadership. Furthermore, I examine the ways that Indigenous womxn’s leadership and wellness extends from, determines and or returns to meaningful relationship to Land and Waters. My research employs cultural knowledge frameworks grounded in my own Nehiyaw-Michif teachings of Miyo-Pimatisiwin and Miyo-Wichetowin, and Kitaskinaw I pi Kiskinohomakoya. My Ph.D. Dissertation entitled: Land as Body – Indigenous Womxn’s Leadership, Land-based Wellness and Embodied Governance was successfully defended in Nov. 2019 and my future research is to apply an Indigenous Inter-National approach to learning about how Indigenous-led Birth-practice informs governance and community health.

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to work in your field?

A: I always wanted to work for the well-being and future of the Land and Waters. However, I didn’t know that I could do that within an educational setting with knowledge, language and tools from my own culture and governance. The Canadian Education system has been used to systemically and strategically oppress and enact violence against Indigenous peoples in Canada. The last Residential School (educational institutions for Indigenous youth in Canada, meant to eradicate diverse cultures and impose Christian and Western protocols and languages; also sites of extreme physical, mental, spiritual and sexual abuse) closed in 1996. This led to the erasure of Indigenous histories, place-based knowledge sciences, local governance practices and Land-based healing and learning pedagogies from societal knowledge, education and remembrance. It wasn’t until the first year of my Master’s of Indigenous Governance did I even take a class from an Indigenous scholar. Today, we witness a resurgence of Indigenous presence and world-views within the academic setting and our youth are now able to recognize themselves in their own professional and academic futures – and grow into work supported by institutional settings rather than excluded from them.

Q: How did you become interested in your field?

A: My undergraduate degree was in a program called Social Justice and Peace Studies. In my degree, I attended a talk offered by Inuit Climate Activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier. In her talk, Cloutier spoke about her people’s “Right to be Cold”; as she described her communities cultural and sovereign ties to their Arctic Lands and shared how climate change enacted ecological genocide against her peoples and their ability to be Inuit.  Cloutier opened my eyes to the roles that our communities have in advancing climate justice efforts and in 2012, I attended the UN Earth Summit as an Indigenous Youth representative in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My work focused on Indigenous Leadership within Climate Action through Indigenous Inter-National relations and solidarities. The deeper I dove into this work, the more burn out I experienced – and I soon learned that our ability to take care of one another and live out our responsibilities to the Land and Waters is dependent upon our own experiences of well-being. I have had the opportunity to live in Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador and learn from place-based Land governance practices across our Nations. I am committed to building capacity across educational, wellness and governance spheres through Indigenous-centred relations and Land-based learning opportunities; and am also passionate about sharing our storied-knowledge through film*. *My husband and I are starting an Indigenous-led film-production company [UATE, 2020]  to share Indigenous storied teachings and knowledge as educational resources.

Q: What hobbies do you have outside of your field?

A: About five years ago, I fell in love. First with a beautiful man, and then with this weird sport that he was really into… rock climbing! Rock climbing is now one of my main “hobbies” and a place for me to further explore my own relationship to Land in a way that centres well-being, personal growth and transformation. It was quite clear as I began to climb, that Indigenous representation was limited within the outdoor narrative and imaginary. Without meaningful representation, then Indigenous relational Land-based protocols and knowledge will also not be represented; creating a danger to replication White-patriarchal colonial norms. Therefore, I began to create more space (tatawaw) for Indigenous bodies, representation, safety and culture in the rock climbing world and created: Indigenous Womxn Climb [https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/indigenous-womxn-climb-erynne-gilpin-1.5339576].

I also teach and practice yoga, and am a member of an Indigenous Performance Collective (I am a dancer and singer). I am actually working towards a life where my hobbies and work are integrated and support one another; education, climbing, climate activism, film-making and storytelling, arts-based research, Birth-Work, Wellness and Healing, beadwork and more. I believe that so many Indigenous peoples are fluid like water and take on many different roles and responsibilities to their work, passions and relational accountabilities. I am working towards transforming institutions to better reflect Indigenized work and relational experiences in the spaces we occupy and exist in.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your field or graduate program?

A: There are a few things that I am grateful for within my field of work/research and relations.

The first is that our field prioritizes Indigenous worldviews, knowledge keepers, cultural governance, protocols and practice. In a world which often minoritizes and or marginalizes Indigenous ways of knowing, learning and relating, it is incredible to exist in spaces which sets the State (Western values and societal norms) at the periphery and centres Indigenous relational governance, language and relations. A second reason I am grateful to work in the field I do, is because Indigenous knowledge, governance and wellness can not be divorced from meaningful relationship to Land and Waters. It is important for us to centre the Land and Waters as relations and knowledge keepers themselves; and this allows for us to contemplate how our work can be centred within relationship and kin-centred approaches to Land-Water practices. These factors also contribute to ongoing personal growth, learning and self-becoming in my own personal commitment and accountability to be a good guest on another’s territory. They provide opportunities to deepen my own learning and accountability to local lands and local Nations and also teach me how to explore Inter-national Indigenous relations within resurgence, solidarity and strength-based approaches to our work! Finally, I am so grateful for the space that our work creates in opening space and welcoming all peoples to walk with us in a good way. It is truly breath-taking to also witness transformation, contemplation and relational-care from non-Indigenous community members in our work to return to the Land/Waters in a good way.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: I currently work full time at the University of Victoria, so a typical day is pretty routine at the moment (which takes some getting used to). I usually wake up at 6:00 am, spend a moment to smudge and pray for the day, prepare food- and head to work while it’s still dark out. On my drive I always call my Pops and chat with him. I work from 8:30-4:30 and will often be involved in diverse educational workshops, teach classes or prepare Indigenized curriculum at the University. After work I either go to a yoga class, teach yoga, run an Indigenous Youth Climbing Group or head strait to my sanctuary: the climbing gym (Shout out to Boulderhouse, Victoria B.C. who makes conscious and self-aware efforts to make their space more accessible and welcoming for POCX climbers)!

Q: What are some of the greatest challenges you experienced..

A: The main challenges within academia is trying to shape-shift myself to exist and work within Institutional standards, expectations and social norms. There are daily experiences with micro-aggressions and honestly, most days were a battle. However, Indigenous students on our campus have outstanding support from dedicated and loving Indigenous staff and Elder’s in Residence. In my remaining time here, I am committed to working towards both structural and relational transformation (decolonization/indigenization) so that Indigenous Students can have safer learning experiences.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are trying to make their way towards higher education?

A: My advice would be: to define, protect and live out your self-care. What do you need to be well? Who do you need to be well? The Institution will let you run yourself into the ground if we let it. Therefore, protect yourself. Give yourself permission to prioritize your wellbeing. YOU ARE ENOUGH. You are your ancestor’s prayers. Seek out support, guidance and mentorship where possible, and always always always – Return to the Land and Waters to breathe, release and recharge.

Q: Why are representation and diversity important in higher education?

A: Representation and diversity is important in higher education for 1,000 reasons, but I’ll address three. One: POCX folks are brilliant. Our knowledge, worldviews, experiences and imaginations have been oppressed and excluded from structural spheres of influence throughout colonial legacy- however we have the capacity and brilliance to transform relations across societal-spiritual-cultural and academic arenas. Two: We are Our Ancestor’s Wildest Dreams. At some point, our ancestors prayed for the wellbeing and thrivance of seven generations to come. They prayed, made decisions, and organized their families and Nations for the wellbeing and continuity of their future generations: US. We deserve to be here- and we have work to do for the well-being of the next generations to come. Three: Resistance is real. Unfortunately colonialism and racist-violence continues to reproduce; and it is necessary to continue the hard work to interrogate the impacts of these projects; while also making more space for more diversity across all fields of work and research. I like to imagine the difference between a mono-crop, like Soya, and an abundant garden filled with bio-diverse species. If one bug gets into the mono-crop, the whole thing is going down. However, in a bio-diverse area, they have the resiliency and co-creative ability to resist and thrive. We are stronger when we create more space for more. In my culture, the act of creating space or making space for others is a natural law- and something that can inform the work we do in the spaces we exist in.

Q: Any parting thoughts?

A: For me, it’s all about the Land and Waters.

Together, we have a collective responsibility to protect, foster and live out meaningful relationship to the Land and Waters. Our wellbeing can not be divorced from the wellbeing of the Land and Waters, and Indigenous leadership, values and relational governance protocols can show us the way.

Hiy Hiy!

Thank you Dr. Gilpin for this beautiful interview!! To learn more about Dr. Gilpin, see links below!:

Beadwork and Website: https://www.sweetgrassandmangoes.com/

Indigenous Womxn Climb: https://www.instagram.com/indigenouswomxnclimb/?hl=en

Press: "8 Women who are changing the climbing community" via Outdoor Online, CBC NEWS : https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/indigenous-womxn-climb-erynne-gilpin-1.5339576

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