“Is Your Work Clean?”

An Indigenous Theorist’s Exploration into concepts of Ethical Space


Sandi M. Warren, M.Ed., Ph.D.

As edited by M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.


Is Your Work Clean?

An Indigenous Theorist’s Exploration into Concepts of Ethical Space



Sandi M. Warren


This work explores a question posed by a Native Elder, which translates as “Is your work clean?” The question serves as a catalyst for conducting an exploration through shared teachings, life stories, and ceremonies I have participated in as a means to carve out an interpretation regarding concepts of ethical space. The approach is situated in a tin can bear fat methodology, akin to a hermeneutic process, and an awareness of the Counseling Wheel in order to generate two outcomes:


1.           To share life lessons and teachings, which provide snapshot insights into indigenous frameworks that account for multifaceted or multidimensional attributes of indigenous knowledge and ethical space.


2.           To demonstrate through a tin can bear fat methodology how traditional teachings, stories, and life lessons serve as a foundation to develop awareness for creating, transmitting, and sustaining the philosophical principles regarding behaviours, relationships, and wholeness that engage the question “Is your work clean?” and through this awareness to formulate a personal answer to the question, as navigated through my interpretation of ethical space.


Key Words: Community, Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), the Counseling Wheel, Embodied Wholeness, Hermeneutics, Hooks, Interloping, Is Your Work Clean?, Lived Experiences, Livelihoods, Local Knowledge, Medicine Wheel Teachings, Sacred Space, Teachings, Tin Can Bear Fat, Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Protocols, and Wading In.




            I wish to acknowledge that without the guidance of Elders and Traditional Teachers, this story would have remained hidden inside my thoughts and heart. I acknowledge their contribution to new directions in Indigenous Studies as a powerful message for contemporary livelihood and sustainability. I hold special gratitude and heart-warm thanks to the Elders, faculty, and staff of the Indigenous Studies Department at Trent University, as well as Michael Thrasher who has provided both insight and instruction into the questions and teachings that guide my journey through his knowledge working with Elder Peter O’Chiese. Similar gratitude is extended to my colleagues, peers, and visiting Elders and Teachers. In many instances, the words that I transcribe are a direct reflection of words and knowledge shared by all.

         I also extend a heart-felt thank you to my Academic Committee, Dr. Mark S. Dockstator (my supervisor), Professor David Newhouse, Dr. Neal McLeod, and Dr. Louise Ripley and thank them for their continued friendship, guidance, and support. Your mentorship has kept my work focused and enhanced my journey.

         Most important, my heart soars from the support and love of my family who are my motivation for this journey. I announce this public expression of my love and respect for my husband, Spencer, whose strength nurtures me through the most difficult times. I am in awe of your quiet and gentle communion with nature, your understanding of silence and the world around you. Thank you!

                                                                                                            Sandi Warren


Thanksgiving Address - The Words We Say Before We Say All Else


         Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.

         We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

         We give thanks to all the Waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is Life. We know its power in many forms – waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. Now our minds are one.

         We turn our minds to all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

          Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come. Now our minds are one.

         With one mind, we turn to honour and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans, and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting and thanks. Now our minds are one.

         Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning, they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines. Now our minds are one.

         We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so. Now our minds are one.

         We now turn our thoughts to the trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty, and other useful things. Many peoples of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life. Now our minds are one.

         We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds – from the smallest to the largest, we send our joyful greeting and thanks. Now our minds are one.

         We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds. Now our minds are one.

         Now we turn to the West where our Grandfathers, the Thunder Beings live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers. Now our minds are one.

         We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from East to West, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun. Now our minds are one.

         We put our minds together and give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of women all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, Moon. Now our minds are one.

         We give thanks for the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to all the Stars. Now our minds are one.

         We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring Teachers. Now our minds are one.

         Now we turn our thought to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one.

         We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something is forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way. Now our minds are one.


1      Introduction


            I begin with the Thanksgiving Address from the Haudenoshaunee Peoples for two reasons. First, I am Haudenoshaunee (Seneca) and to begin with the address is a matter of protocol. Second, the Thanksgiving Address teaches us that within an indigenous perspective, we treat every day as ceremony, a ceremony of gratitude for the everyday gifts of life that we share. In the context of this work, I am a theorist, and as such am interested in exploring concepts and theories to explain everyday life. As an indigenous theorist, I gravitate toward the exploration of indigenous philosophies as a basis for this investigation.


            At times, you will witness my own journey through identity as I weave my coming into my heritage, layering its complexity of non-indigenous, mixed-heritage, Métis, and Seneca. I began this process with an interest in economic development, exploring how indigenous traditional knowledge and philosophical principles could influence and come together with western (non-indigenous) theories of economy to form a blended model for community and economic development. As I continued to explore the topic, my focus narrowed to an exploration of the concepts of ethical space based on indigenous philosophies and how this space may be applied to the work that we all do in life.


I wrote this work for two reasons. First, I am profoundly connected to the question “Is your work clean?” as I regard the question as a catalyst towards ethics of deep caring. Second, I believe that a movement toward ethics of deep caring is a movement beyond one’s self and into behaviours and relationships based upon principles of respect, responsibility, reciprocity, and sacred ways of being, knowing, and doing.


From the time I was a child I have been reminded to care. As I progressed toward and through my academic studies and in particular the doctoral program at Trent University, I have learned about a number of different indigenous knowledge systems. I have had the opportunity to speak and spend time with a number of elders, traditional knowledge holders, and others versed in indigenous philosophies. Each time, they share messages regarding kindness, stewardship, and peace.


One particular elder, Michael Thrasher[1], has been instrumental in the development of my thoughts. His words inspire and guide my work. In my time with Michael, he has shared with me a number of teachings that form key elements of this work, including:


1.     The question “Is your work clean?”

2.     The Counseling Wheel as a tool to investigate/explain/articulate indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing,

3.     Tin can bear fat as an indigenous methodological framework.


The particular teaching that led to the creation of this work began while engaged in a conversation with Michael Thrasher during one of his many visits to Trent University. Michael and I were sitting in the office of Vern Douglas[2] talking about organizational theory, sustainable community development, and a variety of other topics as we explored the nature of traditional knowledge within everyday practice. At some point during our conversation, Michael asked me to consider the following question as a basis for my exploration into this topic. He asked how I would respond to the question “Is your work clean?”


I was immediately overwhelmed by the power of the question. I have come to appreciate that within the most apparently simple questions (and answers) are hidden a lifetime of complex origins, multiple messages, ideas, and knowledge hooks to be discovered. I believed this question contained for me the model for understanding concepts of doing, located within my interpretation of indigenous knowledge. I believed that it additionally implied a practice to navigate these concepts and this knowledge system within a mindset to care, deeply, emotionally, and spiritually about the ways in which I come to this understanding.


To acknowledge the responsibility to this scholarship, Michael shared that the question “Is your work clean?” had come to him from an old man who had dedicated his life to create, transmit, and sustain his community’s traditional knowledge and ceremonies. The old one would ask a second and third question to emphasize the concept to care. He would ask, “Does your work help others?” and, “Does your work harm others?” In both contexts, the word other was understood to mean all creation. The old man referred to is Peter O’Chiese[3]. He asked people to regard knowledge as belonging to everyone and worried that the attachment of his name to quotes, statements, or knowledge meant someone reading the words may attribute the knowledge to him uniquely rather than embracing knowledge as a process that exemplifies one’s personal growth or serves as an example of shared community narratives. From his instruction, I will continue to speak of him with affection, but include his voice within the narratives of others as the old ones.


As the question of clean work came from an elder I decided to use an indigenous interpretative framework, the Counseling Wheel, based on a Medicine Wheel model, developed by Michael Thrasher. The tool explains and further elaborates on my emerging understanding of this question as it relates to theories of work and the concept of caring.


Figure 1: The Counseling Wheel (Thrasher)


There is a fundamental caveat to this work. The Counseling Wheel as developed by Thrasher incorporated the work conducted by many respected elders in the 1970s. It is important to recognize there are many teachings from many different indigenous traditions that explain and elaborate on the meaning of the wheel diagram. My work is intended to convey only my interpretation of what I have been exposed to and does not reflect all there is to know.


In the schematic, we see at the center of the wheel, which is indicative of the central or fundamental philosophical belief, the words Caring and Care Free, or sometimes Care Free is replaced with Not Caring. To articulate an indigenous concept of caring, I will use a number of visuals based on the Counseling Wheel. From one perspective of the wheel, it is possible to simplify the diagram to a single circle.






Figure 2: Single Circle Representing Creation


The space of this single circle is sacred space. Based on the teachings to which I have been exposed, I understand the term sacred in the sense that it is derived from and connected directly to all of creation, the Creator, and the act of creating. I use the term space to refer to all that is in existence, both the seen and the unseen, such as articulated in the Thanksgiving Address that opened this work. This perspective of sacred space exists without the intervention or involvement of humankind.


When we introduce the human element to creation, the diagram looks like this:


Figure 3: Person within Circle


When we as human beings go about our everyday life, we interact with sacred space, and through this interaction we carve out another space, illustrated as follows:


Figure 4: Circle within Circle


In my work, I refer to this space as ethical space, that is, the space we create as human beings by conducting our work of everyday life. Work in this context is as defined in the Oxford Dictionary – the efforts or actions associated with doing or experiences of everyday life – thus moving the concept of work beyond an occupational labour-force definition to include interactions, relationships, purpose, and outcomes that affect self and community. I use the term ethical because according to the teachings of the wheel approach, we must try to live a good life. A good life is ultimately an issue involving ethical behaviour. As we create ethical space, through the conduct of our everyday lives and in turn through interaction with the sacredness of creation, we situate ourselves in the centre of the wheel, as illustrated in Figure 4. Therefore, I use the term ethical space to describe the area of our lives created through our everyday work as conscious caring as illustrated in the Counseling Wheel (Figure 1).


As we go about our everyday work, the philosophy inherent in the wheel model requires us to ask, “Do you care?”


1.     “Do you care…how you do your work?”

2.     “Do you care…if your work does good?”

3.     “Do you care…if your work does harm?”


This philosophy of caring is an ethical consideration. In this commitment to carrying out daily activities through authentic participation, I am creating an ethical space around my work to ensure my work will be used and referred to as good work. In the same manner of attempting to adhere to an indigenous philosophical concept of care and caring as guided by indigenous principles, I have used indigenous teachings and principles whenever possible and applicable to guide this work.


With this approach I return to Michael Thrasher and the exploration of ethical space. I take you through the discovery of tin can bear fat, as the method of my investigation. It is an indigenous-based methodology that uses the wheel to articulate philosophical principles associated with teachings as a process. The wheel is dynamic, its flux and flow a reflection of all things caught in a system of continuous change. Flowing from this philosophy, tin can bear fat is also a process that is dynamic, fluid, and open to constant change. It is the method of my investigation.


My objective is to uncover/discover information through a repeated process of delicate activity. As if an angler learning to fish, I carefully engage in a constant and active process by dipping a can into waters of new, hidden, or unknown information. Each dipping results in additional information, another piece of a puzzle of inquiry but never the entirety, because the navigation routes, the surface below the water, and the contents of the can alter with each harvest. Due to the constant changes, the complete picture never arises but rather a process to gain awareness of what is being investigated. Consequently, there is no complete answer to the question “Is your work clean?” or the other questions that emerge along this journey.


Each chapter represents a dipping of the can, a repeated process of asking questions related to the ethics of caring. The end objective with this methodology is to gain an appreciation for the process, that of repeating the questions and returning to the sources over and over again. Through this process, my indigenous scholarship draws out the required behaviours and sense of responsibility to the carving out of ethical space.


The question “Is your work clean?” is a conscious reflection of the links that indigenous knowledge contributes to everyday practice within a space of spiritual values that govern principles of respect and balance. From this affirmation, it is my intention to bring about personal conscientiousness and to approach this quest responsibly. I recognize this balance is not an easy one to navigate. I have experienced my own resourcefulness to stand both biologically and experientially between two worldviews. I will weave my journey into my analysis metaphorically and through the sharing of dreams, visions, and experiences, so you may come to know the side-by-side nature of my mind and my desire to navigate these waters. My role is to articulate exchanges and narratives I have gathered over the past twenty years, and to explore these examples as scholarship relevant to ethical space. I have secured these observations to memory and now will utilize my relationship with elders and knowledge keepers to weave the narratives together in order to congeal the memories into my exploration.


To explain my overall approach, I once again refer to the Counseling Wheel as a tool to investigate indigenous philosophical concepts of caring as a basis for the development of ethical space in everyday actions around the work of individuals. In this context, the outcome of this exploration has two streams, first, situating myself at the centre of the wheel and exploring my personal interaction with sacred/ethical spaces in my work such as this introduction, and second, using this situation as a basis for an exploration of how these principles expand beyond the personal and are applicable to all work of individuals and groups, whether indigenous or not, more specifically, economic, community, or organizational development, and change theory.


My role in this analysis of ethical space is not one as filter but as amplifier, turning up the volume or bringing into focus something which has been silenced or hidden from clear view. During my years as a human resources strategist, I have turned up the volume on how knowledge is transmitted and processed. As example, I have amplified local knowledge frameworks to understand and give meaning to a specific geographical area, such as the workplace, and to create structures of experience relevant to the members of the workplace community. One might suggest that I have been, in the words of the 1869 Board of Indian Commissioners, well “educated in the industry and arts of civilization”. I suggest that I was honing my gifts granted to me by the Creator, for which I give thanks.


Similar to one with snowshoes who breaks the first trail through deep snow, this work sets a first pass course toward a life-long journey. Anyone who has experienced the excitement of setting down a new trail recognizes the difficulty of forging into new terrain in deep, uncut snow. On many levels, the task takes your breath away, in wonder, in exasperation, and in concentration. If others have gone before you, you may be slightly off their path, venturing a little farther to the East or to the West. Therefore you must concentrate on the most direct route through the territory, one which you set for yourself. You must tag trees and make other markers so you may return and explore the land in more detail. I rely on a methodological connection to the land through a personal navigation both observable and hidden, until I focus a scholastic gaze through coherence, reference, intention, and innovation. Through this process, I set down a trail for a life-long journey as an indigenous scholar who navigates the terrain of integrated studies and workplace theory.


In terms of conceptual relationships, the traditional teachings serve as the snowshoes, which keep me buoyant on this journey. The strength and duty of these shoes allow me to explore new trails into understanding indigenous knowledge as ethical space, which in turn uncovers a definition for clean work. In this manner, the process is grounded in learning in a terrain filled with love, kindness, and thanksgiving.


Tin can bear fat creates an approach that allows key themes to stand out as descriptions of the lived experience. It engages the new angler and fosters her desire to learn how to fish or hunt. The angler becomes familiar with the broader world around as well as the unseen landscape and the waters experienced by the fish. Through this experience, the mysteries are enfolded into the angler’s knowledge as new ways of knowing and doing.


I propose methodological connections, which during the early stages of knowledge creation, act as hooks that gather my memories and experiences into resources. These resources broaden my understanding of the Counseling Wheel and in return, strengthen my analysis in order to explore the concepts of caring as ethical space. The formal conversations with elders and knowledge keepers guide my understanding of their memories and experiences associated with teachings of the wheel. My participation in camp ceremonies operates as the specialized hooks in order to make sense, meaning, and interpretation regarding the question “Is your work clean?” During these activities, I seek out opportunities to apply our shared interpretations of these experiences. Through conversations, task assignments, stories, and one-on-one instructions, our sense of the question “Is your work clean?” begins to unfold shared understandings of key concepts: doing, ethical space, and indigenous knowledge relevant to the community. With this, I hope to build a shared sense of how ceremonies, the Counseling Wheel, and the act of harvesting fish create images and shared perspectives. The archeology of tin can bear fat is one in which we explore levels of care. When I use the term care, I include concepts of caring, carefulness, care free or careless/do not care. These terms are tied to the directions and levels of the wheel and in the context of the engagement with the land in the methodology of tin can bear fat, to all creation.



2      Chapter Design – “to tag trees”


A good storyteller provides a brief history regarding kinship of the people involved, presents the plot of what happened, and usually speculates why it happened. The process is located in intuitive tradition, the insight gained over years of experience with traditional heritage and knowledge keepers. This is a story of my kinship to the question “Is your work clean?” What does it mean to me in terms of indigenous philosophies? How has the question prompted me to carve out meaning in terms of ethical space? How do we situate the lessons learned from indigenous philosophical frameworks and concepts of ethical space alongside contemporary workplace theory? And how do we foster a life-long scholarship aimed at bringing about change or creating capacity for a side-by-side relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge systems within our everyday practice?


To accomplish this task, I use the Counseling Wheel as an organizing principle for the following chapters. I recognize there are many teachings on the wheel and the following may only be regarded as my interpretation. With this acknowledgement, I hope my schematic associations of the chapters to the directions of the wheel do not offend. The purpose is to provide hooks so the reader might build a connection to the chapter arrangements.


Figure 5: Chapters 1 through 6



The first six chapters represent one dipping of the can. The orientation with Chapters One and Two begins in the center with my introduction and my situation at the core of the concept to care. Chapter Three starts my journey, as the Sun does each morning, in the East. The chapter explains my struggle to locate my journey within the dominant discourse of organizational, social-cultural, and contemporary research. I explore the dilemma of speaking within western institutions regarding these diverse ideologies and methodologies. I share my experience that stemmed from a personal recognition that within contemporary scholarship, the absence of spiritual-based knowledge systems creates a fragmented self-world view.


Chapter Four is located in the South, and investigates the concept of time and continuous exploration through tin can bear fat as an indigenous alternative to western research methods, such as hermeneutics. Chapters Four through Nine are labelled with words from the Seneca language and their rough English translation. The use of Seneca words is my voyage as a native scholar, reclaiming my heritage that has yet to be substantiated through archival evidence. The links to this heritage are established as tags on trees through stories from my grandfather and my mother’s remembering. In her many journals, my mother has sketched out her story as related to the land, people, events, and ancestors, tied to the Seneca peoples.


By locating Chapter Five in the West, I begin to identify the issues and to internalize the meaning of ethical space in my relationship to my role as an angler. I investigate the elements employed by the methodology and the Counseling Wheel framework. I venture into understanding concepts of good, from the creation story of the good and crooked mind. These serve as points for creating reason as understood from indigenous philosophy rather than from prescribed western categories of ethics. I also introduce at greater depth elements associated with tin can bear fat, such as the angler, the water to be navigated, the hidden landscape, the environment, the tin can and the bear fat, which all work together to inform me. The chapter is anchored in a definition of indigenous knowledge as summarized by Thomas Maracle:


Knowledge is a community resource. It defines and drives the community. It’s interconnected, it’s multifaceted and multidimensional, it’s revered, and it’s language, communication, and history. It’s collective memory. It’s captured and maintained for future generations. It’s a reflection of life experience. It’s acquired listening and being empathetic. It’s wisdom, strength, and leadership. It’s a strategic resource. It’s the power of a good mind. It’s imperfect. It’s a gift bestowed by the Creator.


Chapter Six occupies the wheel’s space of the North. Within this location, I ask what is going on in terms of western and indigenous relationships and how historical and contemporary scholars and community practitioners are developing action plans and opportunities to move toward a side-by-side existence. Within this space, ethical practice holds relevance and meaning for the future of both western and indigenous scholarship. I explore the binary terms that both separate and connect two worldviews. I introduce similar information located in other research agendas as an example of decisions that foster strategic efforts to transform dominant knowledge systems.


Upon completing this first cycle or dipping of the can, I envision another rotation of the wheel.


Figure 6: Chapters 7 through 10


In the final chapters, I take an approach of orienting myself and my work to the wheel connected to my spirit name, Morning Star, and to the gifts of my clan. In these chapters, I move within the concepts of ethical space through the line between vision and reason, the axis by which the Morning Star, Venus, rotates.


Chapter Seven returns to the center to build this connection and brings within this knowledge the ideas of the previous chapters. The aim of Chapter Seven is to understand how we know caring is occurring. In this chapter, I aim to establish a sense of the Counseling Wheel as catalyst for ethical space. Here I hope to demonstrate a perception that gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous thinking with regard to whole systems theory could be narrowed if we were to elect to see the opportunities and set trends for indigenous knowledge frameworks as transformative strategy. To accomplish this task, it is necessary to establish a premise by understanding the flux and flow of moving waters. I will talk about why it is important that non-indigenous scholars want to venture into indigenous philosophical discussions. This chapter explores how future directions call upon behaviours and attributes of caring, at the macro and micro level. I introduce various scholarships regarding state relationships and humanistic theory as examples of future directions toward caring, toward which indigenous frameworks as ethical space might venture.


In Chapter Eight I begin to look again at literature, scholarship, and everyday practice as means to understand ethical space. In this context, I wade in to establish levels of trust associated with navigating indigenous and non-indigenous examples of scholarship that also navigate the space between. In this section I introduce myself and my family to the reader. I situate my connection to all creation in a similar way to how a western hermeneutic researcher situates him/herself to the text. I become participant, informant, and catalyst for change.


From these careful eyes, I move to the West with Chapter Nine to explore feelings of hope and possibility. I express opportunities to interlope western research regarding economics, community, organizational and change theory with indigenous knowledge. I open this chapter with a dream in which I select to care. I hook into western scholarship regarding organizational theory, particularly systems that promote wholistic frameworks. Within this examination, I review the concept of CAS, complex adaptive systems, as a potential space to be interloped by indigenous knowledge. To demonstrate the influence of indigenous knowledge as ethical space, I explore areas for future research with regard to knowledge evolution, social system models, and change practices.


The final Chapter, Ten, returns to the center, where I began. Thus I share my own commitment to care and conclude this work with a sense of awareness regarding ethical space and sacred space. The document as a whole is a desire to share my story alongside my research. I regard my work as belonging to my family past, present, and future; to mentors who have influenced my thoughts, emotions, and spirit; to community members both local and extended; and most important, it belongs to the Creator. Concluding my thoughts from this work, Chapter Ten serves as a postscript as I revisit my thoughts and experiences regarding ceremony, traditional teachings, and stories. I return to the original question and determine how far I have come to understanding its meaning and how far I need to go to have wisdom in its meaning.


Just as I began by introducing myself, I continue this approach with each chapter by including a story that conveys a bit of who I am. As illustrated by the use of the Thanksgiving Address to open the discussion, this work is an example of my personal interaction with the sacred and the creation of ethical space around this work. As a process to carve out and maintain this ethical space in this work, I use a tin can bear fat methodology that requires the repetition of actions in order to explore a topic of inquiry. As part of the approach to my investigation of the ethical space of work, the action of introducing parts of my life at the beginning of each chapter illustrates my commitment to this process. As well, with each dip of the can, I provide different information, thus entering a space of kindness and conscious consideration. I begin each chapter with a different perspective of who I am. The process illustrates two things. First, it is not possible for the reader to understand or know who I am completely by reading these inserts, nor is it possible for someone to know or understand indigenous knowledge, the traditions, or the teachings upon completion of the journey, as it is in a constant flux and flow and ever changing. Second, it is a process important to creating, transmitting, and sustaining ethical and sacred space; it is the process of creation and therefore it is a mystery.


The choice of words is meaningful to me. With the concepts of the Counseling Wheel and other teachings, I aim, as much as possible, to incorporate terms relevant to an indigenous approach, based on traditional teachings. My goal is to create an authentic expression, using the terms to which I have been exposed during my time with elders and knowledge keepers. I do not hold knowledge of language nor should I be considered a teacher of traditional knowledge or ceremony. Nevertheless, I have been nurtured by elders and others to develop my words, my stories, and my understanding as a means to do clean work. As I move through this document, I seek ways to describe what and how I see, hear, feel, and move toward ethical space as contextualized by the Counseling Wheel.


The process of defining terms serves as a means to remember the pathways into the waterways, where I hope to harvest. I will share a personal journey into the space of creation and link concepts of creativity and wholeness to this journey. At times the terms creation, wholeness, and indigenous knowledge appear to mean the same thing. At other times, each term speaks to a separate process that enables creation, transmission, and sustainability of indigenous philosophies, and in turn, the fulfillment of operating within ethical space. In both contexts, the terms unravel the question “Is your work clean?”


To begin this process, I wish to share what creation means to me in terms of everyday practice. To answer this question, I return to two points, my experience as a human resource strategist and Master of Adult Education specializing in Workplace Learning, and my personal understanding of the concept and stories of creation as a philosopher of indigenous studies and mixed-heritage woman. I will wade in and let tin can bear fat hook into commonalities that bind these two minds together. Early in my research, I engaged theories of communities of practice and particularly the work of Joan Erikson, who connects creativity to wisdom within a framework of life cycle development. She links creativity to the complexity of living, the concepts of time and space, and the perceptions of wholeness. Along with other western researchers, she associates creativity and specifically wisdom with life’s rich experiences and the process of continuous learning. In this context, I interpret creativity as a resource that fosters one’s experience, life skills, judgment, and ways of seeing.


As I extend my own knowledge into the creation stories, the ethical and sacred space embodied here brings Erikson’s creation definition to life for me. This life-knowledge is documented by Kim Anderson, in her text A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. The connection is made through the stories regarding women’s bodies and the essence of creation as understood through the Medicine Wheel Teachings to nurture healing. These acts are powerful reminders of women’s responsibilities to maintain the balance of the universe, and in turn, powerful reminders that the space of creation embodies caring eyes, ears, mind, and actions. As we nurture our loved ones, so will we nurture our future philosophies and principles.


My time with old ones has provided an expanded sense of wisdom and creativity, which returns the notion of creativity to its origins, the Creator. Old ones suggest that ceremony, such as fasting camps, return us to a state of spirit and rebirth to begin our journeys with new vitality. These teachings serve as a guideline to one’s creative forces.


As with the cycle of the Counseling Wheel, the Stages of Life Teachings of the Anishnaabe teachers provide our spiritual instructions, those gained before we are born and those acquired on our life journey. These instructions continue to flow into our human mind and body for the first few months of our infancy. During this time, we are still connected to the spirit world. In this space, the person is aware of his/her connection to all creation. This connection is continued like the stem of a feather, by a Spirit Line that runs throughout our being, despite the journey in which we might engage[4]. These teachings are a reminder of our connection to the sacred space and our evolution of this space as ethical space.


The carving out of ethical space is part of how a person ages. Over time, the focus wanders from the spirit connection to fill the person with knowledge from everyday physical and mental experiences. As we progress through life, we move from one stage to another. For some, the Fast Years occur during one’s childhood until the person becomes a youth, approximately 13 years old. The Wandering Years and Years of Truth are stages three and four. These years occupy one’s youth, young adulthood, and early thirties. The Planting years for some people will overlap the Truth years, beginning in someone’s twenties or thirties. The Doing years generally fall later in life, about age forty, fifty, or sixty and last for about twenty years. The final stage is Elder or Teaching Years, which occurs late in one’s life.


The Stages of Life Teachings are an example of the resources of creation and the universal connections between sacred and ethical space, building on continuous learning, and providing instruction through a lens of wholeness. Within this context, sacred space defines meaning, provides direction, and has the potential to offer new beginnings as a force for the creation, transmission, and continuation of indigenous philosophies. The caveat to this teaching is that the journey remains unique to each person. Therefore although the stages are spoken of in terms of years, each person has the opportunity to move in and out of the stages at different times. Furthermore, the Spirit Line is always present and such things as fasting and vision quests are seen as opportunities to tap into these universal relationships and the power within them.


Indigenous scholars Willie Ermine and Marlene Brant Castellano have used the term ethical space to express “a statement of recognition of cultural jurisdictions at play in which dialogue about intentions, values, and assumptions can be brought out and negotiated”. The space imperatives include:


1.   Two-way bridge of awareness building and understanding;

2.   No preconceived notions of the other’s existence;

3.   Values, motivation, and assumptions brought to bear;

4.   Dialogue on issues of knowledge, ownership, control, and benefit.


Sacred space and its natural evolution, ethical space, manifests as a part of my quest for self-understanding. This knowledge does not flow from the lines or the words of the document. Instead, my relationship to this knowledge represents the continuity of a circle. Although spoken of as a true physical site, the behaviours of entering this space, as acknowledged by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, involve attention to and respect for the environment. The intent of this investigation into indigenous knowledge as ethical space engages a similar relationship.


One of the definitions I consider in this work is the concept of panindianism. As I introduce myself as Seneca and Haudenoshaunee, I am cognizant that many regard my identity with skepticism as I also introduce other teachings and my own mixed-heritage. However, I hope my work is understood to have come from the space that evolves from our understanding of creation, as illustrated by the Counseling Wheel. At the core of this space is all creation. Contained within this work are the different philosophical traditions of many indigenous persons who have influenced and shared their knowledge of creation, both oral, as with different elders speaking or holding ceremonies, and written, as with different texts by a spectrum of scholars who represent different traditions.


My understanding of the centre of the wheel is a place where all humankind originates. As a fundamental principle, from this point of origin all peoples, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, expand outward toward the edges of the circle of life. In this process, our interpretations of caring and our sense of being are tied to our original instructions. In the beginning, each person, clan, nation, and being received directions that strengthen our bonds while maintaining our diversity. In this context, my work aims to develop and explore indigenous philosophical tenets that lead to awareness and consideration of ethical space from a common point of origins, creation. This approach does not suggest I am stating that all indigenous people are the same and have the same practices. In fact, my inclusion of diverse practices and stories is a statement toward the opposite. My inclusion of western theories alongside indigenous theories is a statement toward the opposite. Through our different interpretations of our original instructions and how we have evolved our understandings within a contemporary world, we continue to unravel the points of commonality that we acknowledge through the root of our origins. These roots return us to the point of creation. It is at this point of commonality that I situate my approach to use different traditions in this body of work.

[1] Michael Thrasher (Ka-Whywa-Weet) has been a regular contributor to the indigenous knowledge component of Native Studies at Trent University since its inception. He is a nationally recognized Métis teacher of Anishnaabe First Nations philosophy, tradition, and culture. He is widely credited for his ability to use traditional knowledge and viewpoints to address contemporary issues, http://www.turtle-island.net/.

[2] Vern Douglas (Biidaaban) is the cultural advisor to the Indigenous Studies program at Trent University. Vern facilitates awareness and understanding of contemporary and Traditional Aboriginal issues within the university community,  http://www.trentu.ca/indigenousstudiesphd/facultystaff.php.

[3] Peter O’Chiese lived most of his life in the mountains of Alberta. His contribution to indigenous knowledge may be found throughout our communities as we sit with the many people who participated in ceremony with him. As well, his words are found in the film, Kinomagtewapkong: The Teaching Rocks, text, Richard T. Price’s The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties and other reference to a life-long dedication to sustaining indigenous knowledge. He was 109 years when he died in 2006.


[4] A schematic of the feather connection to the Stages of Life Teachings is located in the Appendix.

Chapters 1-2 Chapters 3-4 Chapters 5-6 Terms
Chapters 7-8 Chapters 9-10 Glossary Sandi's Book - Introduction
Bibliography Appendix Afterword  


© 2020 M Louise Ripley