Sandi’s Book: Teaching Indigenous Concepts of “Clean Work” to Western Business Thought

 Foreword (by Louise Ripley)

I will best remember Sandi Warren as a Haudenoshaunee (Seneca) woman, enveloped in her elk-skin jacket and playing her drum, singing in front of my class, Women and Business at York University in Toronto. She would later tell me how terrified she was, and I would share with her that I had no idea how my business students, most of them educated in a western view of the world of work, would receive her. She sang beautifully, my students loved her, and she came back year after year for many years to meet new classes. Every year I learned more from her, about what is important in work, in life, in finding balance. I am a better teacher because of Sandi Warren.

Sandi died of cancer in 2008, at the age of 51, shortly after receiving her Ph.D. in Native Studies from Trent University. This book represents my attempt to bring her thesis to book form, as I promised her I would do.

Sandi was an indigenous scholar who came late to her knowledge of her Métis heritage. She was my undergraduate student at York University, the second year the Women and Business course was offered, in the early 1990s (it is now called Gender Issues in Management). This course gave students of business and of women’s studies an opportunity to work on a major project of their own involving issues relevant to women working in non-traditional (and traditional) fields. Sandi worked then in computer technical support. She used her project to help create and move into a new position as Equity Coordinator for a large manufacturing facility in Hamilton, Ontario. As I continued to teach the course, Sandi came back each year to share her ongoing story with the current class. Through awareness of her story and her willingness to share her experiences, she helped set the direction the course would take over the next decade and a half.

After graduating from the York University Women’s Studies programme, Sandi undertook a Masters in Continuing Education from the University of Calgary, taken by distance. Much that I know about distance education and now use in my online teaching, I learned from Sandi. She worked for the Management Board Secretariat, helping to manage the budget for the provincial Ontario government, at one time overseeing the budget of the Ontario Provincial Police.

A few years into her visits to my class, Sandi discovered her Métis heritage, unknown until this time. One summer while attending a family reunion where her maternal grandfather was present, someone mentioned how nice it was to have everyone here, and her grandfather suddenly cried, “No, not everyone. I have a sister”. He was still relatively young, not senile and not known to make things up. With tears streaming down his face, he insisted, over and over, “I have a sister”. Sandi, intrigued by this, did some research on the family. She discovered that when her grandfather had been very young, his mother was a single mother raising two children, a boy and a girl. The State, in its wisdom, had decided that as an “Indian” mother she was not capable of raising two children and so they took one of them away. Her grandfather came to remember standing on the steps of a farmhouse, sobbing, as the car carrying his mother and sister drove off. He was “given” to the farm owners, who made him sleep in the barn and used him like a slave. This was the start of Sandi’s recognition of her Métis heritage.

Sandi threw herself into absorbing this new culture which had influenced her all her life, even when she knew nothing of it. She started to work with native women’s groups, attended conferences of Métis women, and studied her culture in first-hand experience, including a trip to the southwest United States to study with a Hopi Shaman.

Sandi’s family had always been important to her, and I had heard many of her stories over the years. They came to be especially precious to her as her time ran out. She sought through her family to explore her heritage, which she describes as “grounded by…stories, dreams, and teachings”. Particularly special to her was Sandi’s niece, Typhany Choinard, who continues the exploration with genealogy searches, to find more evidence of the family’s story. But, Sandi maintained, empirical proof is not needed. The proof resides in her mother’s journals, her remembrances from her childhood, words of her grandfather, all tags on trees to lead her to the right path.

Sandi went on to do a Ph.D. in the Native Studies programme at Trent University. Because I was an academic in western business and because I had followed her studies for so many years, she asked me to serve on her doctoral committee, to which I agreed with pleasure. The evening she asked me, after speaking with my class, we shared tea together and talked until the graduate lounge closed down. She brought with her a small pouch of tobacco, a gift given when asking a favour of someone. I jointly supervised her thesis with three of her professors at Trent, Michael Docstator, David Newhouse, and Neal McLeod. Trent University’s Native Studies programme exudes a wonderfully warm welcome and sense of spirit as well as giving students a thorough grounding in indigenous studies. The other members of Sandi’s committee could never quite understand why I was so willing to drive the two hours it took me to get to Peterborough from Toronto for meetings, when we had available technology such as Skype and other methods of linking distant colleagues. I came because of the profound warmth and welcome and acceptance I felt at Sandi’s place of study, with her professors, and with her fellow students.

Sandi already had been teaching at Humber College in Toronto for the previous fifteen years. After defending her Ph.D. thesis, she took a position teaching at the University of Athabasca starting in July 2008. She was thereby my colleague, my student, my advisee, my mentor, my role model, and my friend. The only thing Sandi and I ever argued about was who had learned more from whom in our long relationship. When it became clear she most likely would not live long enough to make it to the convocation ceremony more than six months in the future, Trent University arranged a special convocation ceremony just for her to which came, in addition to her many family, friends, professors, and fellow students, the Chancellor of the university Roberta Bondar, and other dignitaries.

Sandi Warren PhD Convocation

Sandi left as her academic legacy her doctoral dissertation on how indigenous views of ethical space can interlope into western views of the way we organize work, for the improvement of work life. She had wanted to do much more in her thesis, including applying its concepts in an actual community project, but as her supervision committee, we convinced her it was far too vast an undertaking for a doctoral thesis. Not knowing how little time she actually had left, we assured her there would be lots of time after completing the thesis to explore the dissertation and its concepts further.

Sandi never had the chance to do all she wanted to do. She particularly hoped to explore the idea of interloping western business thought with indigenous concepts of ethical space. It is the idea of working with care that Sandi, above everything, wanted to bring into western business teaching. Sandi studied, taught, and worked in the fields of business, government, and native studies. She believed absolutely that western management thought is making its way, albeit slowly, toward being interloped by indigenous philosophy. This book embodies my attempt to bring Sandi Warren’s work to anyone interested in how these two very different views of the world might be intertwined.

She entitled her thesis “Is Your Work Clean?” An Indigenous Scholar’s Exploration into Concepts of Ethical Space. The question was posed to Sandi by an Elder as she began her doctoral work. The idea of work being clean is that at many levels of being, knowing, and doing, we possess awareness of our commitment to all creation, and our responsibilities to the past and to the future, as well as to the present. Sandi once described to me that the indigenous way asks us to look seven generations back to see from where we have come and on what we build, and to look seven generations forward to gauge what will be the effect of our actions on future generations and on the earth.

Sandi gave me the incentive to change the way I teach business. I have never been a teacher of business only. Along with Introductory Marketing and other marketing courses, I have for many years at York taught Women and Business, cross listed with the School of Women’s Studies, Social Marketing cross-listed with the Faculty of Environmental Studies, and Philosophical and Ethical Issues in the Mass Media, cross listed with the Philosophy Department and team-taught by myself and Professor Claudio Durán of Philosophy.

It had always troubled me to try to lecture, especially in this course, and especially in our classes that meet for three hours once a week; students, particularly adult students of whom I had many, need to be actively engaged in the teaching of a course. I had attended a workshop on creative teaching which emphasized putting away the lecture notes and the overhead acetates that screamed at students, “Here is the truth!” Instead, I began my classes by putting a picture on the overhead projector, asking, sequentially, “What do you see?”, “What do you hear?”, “What do you feel?” Sandi epitomized this style of teaching. Every time she came to my class, I sat spellbound, and watched as she mesmerized my students, with no notes, no overhead acetates, but often with items from her history: her Medicine Wheel, her drawings of the wheel of caring, her drum.

In the last class she would address, she no longer had her drum, as she had sacrificed it in a ceremony of healing performed for her by the Elders at Trent University and in her community. The one who asks for more time must sacrifice something very special to her, and for Sandi it was her drum.

I had myself been diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same time Sandi was diagnosed with what they first thought was breast cancer, but which turned out to be fourth stage lung cancer, although she had never smoked. While I had a just-over-first-stage tumour, underwent a mastectomy, and continued on, Sandi would only last a few months. This was the last time we would be together in a classroom. We had shared both our stories with my students and it was a memorably emotional last class. In her talk with the students, Sandi emphasized the importance of living life to its fullest, of discovering ways to find work-life balance that would include time for family and friends and oneself. She told us the story of the stick of life each person receives upon birth. Very few of us ever know just how long that stick is, but at her time now, she knew exactly how long her stick was, and she would spend the time she had left mindfully aware of what was most important to her: her family and friends. She quoted a modern song by the Tru Rez Crew, an aboriginal group of young people, in which they sing, “I’m the lucky one”, referring to the fact that no matter how bad things get, you can always find something to be thankful for. Most special to her was her husband Spencer, whom she labels an indigenous man, although not an aboriginal, and whom she describes as the man whose strength nurtured her through the most difficult times. All of us who felt our own terrible wrenching sadness at the thought of losing Sandi, thought first of Spencer. They did one care free and wild thing in those last weeks, and that was to take a Mediterranean cruise. Two days after Christmas, just six weeks after her convocation, Sandi died surrounded by her loved ones, comfortable, and at peace. It would be another year, Elder Doug Williams told us at her funeral service, until she would reach the end of her journey and enter the Western door, at which time it became possible to speak openly of her.

What follows this foreword is a rewrite of Sandi’s doctoral thesis for Trent University’s Native Studies Ph.D. programme. It is not a scholarly work, and I make no pretense to be an indigenous scholar. Her original dissertation had all the requirements of an excellent thesis, but I have redone it to make it more easily readable. Sandi speaks of her indebtedness to all those from whom she has learned, and this includes all those in the bibliography at the end of her work. Where she had simply referred to an idea but without direct quotation, I have removed the parentheses labeling from where it came. It came from her experiences with her doctoral research and with her community. Where she had quoted directly, I have either reworded it or in most cases have left it in quotation marks but referred only to “as Person X has said….” If there are any places where it appears that words have been taken without credit, Sandi is not to blame, but rather it will be my position of not being intimately familiar with every work from which Sandi drew her academic strength. I hope this book will make Sandi’s work accessible. She has a powerful and important message, for indigenous peoples, but most strongly for non-indigenous (western) peoples in the world of business.

M Louise Ripley

 

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