Sandi’s Book: Teaching Indigenous Concepts of

“Clean Work” to Western Business Thought

Chapters 3-4



3      Tin Can Bear Fat Analysis What is it?


At the time of beginning, People of the Earth developed a relationship with the natural elements and lived in harmony with the unwritten laws of the universe.


For some reason, People of the Earth began to argue and take sides against each other and they no longer wanted the same things. Some wanted to plant gardens and store food for the winter. Others wanted to wander and hunt. Still others were content to laze about and be amused by the conflict and do nothing.


The Wise Ones watched as the People of the Earth made fun of the Elders who encouraged them to change their ways before something truly horrible happened. The Elders tried many things. First, they suggested contests with the winner becoming the decision-maker. This worked for a little while but it did not last long.


They then appointed representatives to form a circle of council. This, too, was short-lived because the chiefs began to exert their particular powers over the others.


The once-calm Wind Spirits began to shift and howl. They became angry and dried up the land. The people’s discontent grew and the Wise Ones lost all patience and sent out a loud echoing sound. The Earth trembled. Many people became frightened. Some fled. Others went into hiding.


The thirteen chiefs gathered in front of the Spirit Keepers of the West and East. They did not know which way to look, and watched as the Elders quickly placed many objects in a circle surrounding them. Down the centre of the circle they drew a straight line.


The Eldest of the Elders held up a tiny spider and told the chiefs, “You are all so mighty, yet you have much to learn from Spider”.


Instantly the chiefs became transformed into the symbols of their animal clans. Their spirit forms swirled, captive within the circle. Once so boastful and strong, they were now reduced to grunts, growls, barks, and shrieks.


“We warned you. You did not listen. You chose not to cooperate”. The three Elders nodded as the fourth, Eldest of the Elders, reached into a medicine pouch and held up a beautiful star-shaped object.


As Eldest of the Elders spoke, the animal spirits watched intently. “The solution to your conflict lies in this form of interlocking units. Take one part away and the structure remains. Take two and three parts away and the structure still has form but is weakened. Separate all the pieces and you have nothing”.


The Elders, who were wise, knew they must make their point very strong. “As there are thirteen of you and thirty elements to this object called an Orb, so the pieces will be scattered unevenly. Some will receive more than others,” Eldest of the Elders said. And so it was that the Orb was pulled apart as the three Elders chanted to the sound of a steady beat and a medicine rattle. Then a silence filled the circle.


Angry Wind Spirits gathered around the outside of the circle. Inside, there was no movement except the breath of the speaker who said, “All depends on your ability to pass on the teachings of life necessary to assemble the Orb”.


The Elders moved toward the centre and joined hands as Animal Spirits tried to gather the pieces of the Orb. High overhead, Eagle circled. The third Elder spoke, “We warned you of this time”.


Having said that, the Wise Ones locked their minds together and vanished. Some say they rose in spirit to enter Eagle, leaving Animal Spirits in confusion.


With one great flap of its mighty wings, Eagle made a gust of wind with a force so strong it broke the circle and sent People of the Earth and Animal Spirits scattering throughout the universe.


For longer than memory, People of the Earth struggled. Each tribe adapted to its new environment and passed down the story of the Orb from generation to generation. Each time the story was told, the vision became stronger.


A very long time had passed when the Wise Ones, who had been traveling to other moons, decided to return and see if People of the Earth still remained. They were pleased to learn that there were no longer thirteen tribes, but seven.


On the night of the summer solstice while the world slept, the Wise Ones planted a dream within each of the chiefs and waited. They did not wait long before they heard a faint sound.


“Thump”. It grew louder and multiplied, “Thump-thump; Thump-thump-thump”. Soon the air was filled with a steady pulse and many drum beats. A message spread throughout the land as descendant People of the Earth began to gather. There were many and they came from everywhere, including the woodlands, the North, the deserts, the coast, and the mountains.


Among them were Bear, Wolf, Beaver, Raven, Snake, Elk, Thunderbird, Turtle, and representatives from every elemental clan.


When all had gathered, an eclipse occurred. The moon passed between the Earth and the sun, and day became night for a moment and the universe changed balance.


As the light returned, the Wise Ones were amazed at the size of the massive Orb that was assembled. It was thousands of times greater than the original pieces the Elders had dismantled eons ago. Beside it, a tiny boy picked up a water drum and pounded a rhythmic beat calling People of the Earth home.


Vibrations extended to the North and South, releasing the spirits of the animal world and altering their appearance into human beings. As more and more people of the Earth arrived, it became a time of great jubilation, feasts, chanting, and dancing.


Eldest of the Elders spoke once again. “Long ago your people and their ways were swept away”. He reached for a blanket and held it up high over his shoulders so all could see. On it was sewn the star-shaped symbol of the Orb.


“Place this symbol on every blanket, every hut, and every heart. Let the stars and the sky serve as a reminder of where you have come from. All you must do is gaze upon this symbol to realize that all of you depend on one another, and your life source comes from this planet we call Mother Earth”.


Or so this story goes.


Kati Simons, 81 years of age as told to Leo Sawicki

Cited in Anywhere Stories

Retold here without editing



I begin this chapter with the story of the shattered orb and the destiny of the people to rebuild this sacred symbol. When I first heard the question “Is your work clean?” I shook. As with the story of the orb, I regard the question as a connection into future relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples and perhaps, all creation. To me, both the story and the question provide instructions for responsibility and actions associated with how to behave as a participant in all creation. The story of the orb places this analysis at the center of the Counseling Wheel. I stand in this space and carve out meaning for the question. I add this contemplation regarding creation because I tend to wander in my thoughts from the day-to-day experience into broader universal connections. As a consequence, the evolution of my methodology to be named tin can bear fat emerged from frustration and a struggle to fit the way I see things as an indigenous scholar and to understand how to merge these notions within academic practices dominated by western research. My peers and mentors suggest that I tend to approach an issue as if I held a paint gun and exploded the contents against a blank wall, Splat. Stepping back, I would proclaim, “See, that’s what I mean!” Few methodologies are capable of interpreting the outcome of this approach. This arose in a coaching session with Lorne Ellingson[1].


I am not alone in my dilemma as an indigenous scholar. For example, Donald Fixico suggests that as opposed to the indigenous mind that seeks to understand relationships, the linear mind is looking always for cause and effect. Indigenous philosophy and intellectualism are shaped by everything in life, including dreams, ceremony, and community balance with the universe. The outcome is an emphasis on collectivism versus individualism. Within my heart and mind, I feel a sense of accountability to this collectivism and therefore I seek a method reflecting an embodied wholeness[2] as illustrated through the Counseling Wheel and its multiple layers. The unfolding of these layers is a return to the question “Is your work clean” and an understanding of the principles that guide our ways of doing. The term embodied wholeness is the responsibility for creating, transmitting, and sustaining indigenous knowledge as ethical space in our contemporary world with a focus on sacred intentions. Ceremonies, stories, and traditional teachings shared within the community translate original wisdom into everyday practices for individuals and their families.


Conceptually, I do not regard this macro plan as constructed by humankind but rather as orchestrated through the interconnectedness and multifaceted relationships of universal laws. As a consequence, the expressions at this macro level embrace the mysteries and repository of knowledge held by the universe. I translate these mysteries within everyday practice as part of my involvement at all levels with the collective exchange of caring, situated within an embodied wholeness. Thus I engage the broader macro plan as illustrated by the Counseling Wheel, with creation at the centre.


Figure 7: Counseling Wheel Revisited



The words of the previous paragraph appear to fold in and expand out, circling around or weaving into one another. This is the complexity and interconnectedness of the embodied wholeness, the Counseling Wheel, as we begin the cycle of life to retrace or respect what it is we know or think we know. Within this context, I carefully decide how to operate. I choose whether my work is clean. By introducing the definition of embodied wholeness, I establish a personal accountability to the creation and continuance of indigenous knowledge and in turn indigenous studies as a spirit-based knowledge system, one that is cyclical, interconnected, and fluid.


This view stemming from a definition of embodied wholeness and the question “Is your work clean?” struggled in my mind against a western tendency to categorize relationships utilizing western methods that appear linear or employ binary practices. Similar to other native scholars’ desired practice, I sought an indigenous process that was cyclical. As such, the outcome I sought was intimacy, respect, and obligation as the social framework for everyday life, connected to past, present, and future generations.


Cora Weber-Pillwax cautions that objectives and methodologies of research must be linked to community needs and context. She argues for integration of knowledge obtained through research into indigenous ways of knowing and being, including interview methods and the role of trust and accountability in researcher-interviewee relations. As I move forward, her words, trust, and accountability, extend a caution to my journey, specifically in terms of how I might interpret ethical space.


As my journey progressed to uncover an appropriate methodology, I turned to elders to support my scholarship. I recalled stories, participated in ceremonies and teachings, and sat in offices to remember ways of seeing from an indigenous and sacred mindset. Our conversations spoke of intricacies of the inner space and connected this space to everyday practices through language, the land, ceremony, and community experiences.



In traditional instruction, Douglas Williams explained that when a new angler asked an experienced angler to teach her how to fish, the old one might respond, “I will show you the water, the land, and all the passageways. I will ask you to come in the morning, afternoon, night. I will suggest that you come with the changes of the moon, the month, and the seasons. I will ask you to sit and watch the animals and other creatures that come to harvest fish. And maybe, at some point in your life, you will know how to fish”.


When I shared Doug’s conversation with Michael Thrasher, also in traditional instruction, he asked, “You now know what is above the water, what you can see, but do you know what is below the water?” Michael explained that to acquire this knowledge, the angler must become familiar with the broader world around as well as the unseen landscape experienced by the fish. To understand the specifics of the fish’s world, the angler extracts a small sampling of the environment below the water’s surface. To do this, skilled anglers fasten a tin can lined with bear fat to the end of a line, which is lowered to the bed of the river or lake. The cooler temperatures below cause the bear fat to congeal which allows the plant and earth material from the lower depths to be sucked into the container and pulled to the surface. The angler utilizes her knowledge of the broader landscape and the localized information collected in the tin can, gathered from specific targeted areas, to interpret the patterns influencing her relationship with her surroundings and the fish.


         The emphasis of tin can bear fat is not strictly on the contents pulled up from the bottom of the waterway. The importance is the relationship between the bear fat and the contents. The tin can allows us to see this relationship but it does not define it. So when I speak about tin can bear fat methodology, I engage a process that understands the whole story, the tangible and intangible elements that contribute to the experience of the angler. The tin can is only a tool to move the angler from the world above the surface of the water and into the world below the water. The tin can is not the source of the knowledge but only a hint of all that is seen and all that is hidden. Tin can bear fat illustrates that within an indigenous research inquiry, the person on the quest is connected to whatever s/he seeks. The quest is a lifetime journey, to move from an awareness of fishing through knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. The journey incorporates behaviours of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity.


As an indigenous theorist, particularly a scholar who seeks points of integration and co-existence, I understand the limitations of the tin can. Specifically, the process of tin can bear fat analysis means it is not possible to extract and thereby articulate indigenous knowledge that holds all the answers with only one pass of the waterway. I am cognizant that methodologies interpreted by scholars such as myself must be regarded as one interpretation rather than a panacea to all indigenous communities’ issues.


I acknowledge the diversity of the waterways, the variety of means to harvest fish, and the shifting tides that reshape the hidden terrain. Each of these factors creates points of divergence and pathways to converge. The outcomes sometimes appear unclear or unfocused to others. Linking my thinking to ceremony and the behaviours of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity, I propose a methodology based on continuously dipping the can into the water to gauge the harvesting possibilities.


The late Vine Deloria Jr. expressed a perspective that within traditional Indian society, there is no separation of knowledge and personal growth from the rest of creation. I understand these words as I witnessed my father’s relationship to the land as a hunter and fisher. During our time together I watched as he would sit for hours, watching, listening, basking in the sun or freezing in the rain, sometimes coming home with a bounty of fish and other times coming home empty-handed. Always, he had stories to tell.


My father was not an aboriginal man, but he was an indigenous man. He was born under the earth in a mud house in Saskatchewan in 1915. His indigenous ways of being were made evident when he spoke about the land. One example is when I wore Elk, a coat gifted to me by a Hopi Elder. As my father watched the sway of the golden fringes he would comment that I moved like the wind through the prairie grass. It was his voice that reminded me to wear this coat in the city at work and to draw the strength of the animal from the living cloth. Through his land skills our family was reconnected to our native heritage which my niece now insists her children know.


         Through my father’s teachings I acknowledge a sacred relationship between the angler and all creation with this methodology. In this relationship I begin to explain my concept of the question “Is your work clean?” The concept speaks to what this work is about in terms of definitions that guide my methodology and how I translate experience and text through empirical and symbolic oral messages as the ritual of exchange that occurs among the angler, the fish, and the environment. The translations provide meaning to tradition and ceremony which create ethical space and build passages between indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge systems. This meaning is woven into our everyday practice as a system where everything is interdependent and moved along by creative energy.


         As with my father’s luck at harvesting fish, each experience may result in new stories which are often more relevant to our household than the fish itself. As with my father’s stories, my naming of tin can bear fat aims to discover when, where, and how to navigate the water. The interconnectedness of this methodology ensures I incorporate into my stories an understanding that the landscape below the surface is never static. In this framework of embodied wholeness, indigenous knowledge is a living philosophy and a means for harvesting fish.


Chapter Summary


The dilemma to locate my journey within the dominant discourse of western research is perhaps a reflection of the advancement of indigenous scholarship in terms of institutional and organizational change. The growth of contributions into research that represents indigenous knowledge frameworks has increased over the past decade. My analysis of this dilemma as a paint gun explosion epitomizes a sense of urgency felt by recent academics who in our enthusiasm seek opportunities to create, transmit, and sustain new knowledge creation.


In my own enthusiasm the paint gun explosion is tied to a personal recognition that within contemporary scholarship the absence of spiritual-based knowledge systems, as suggested by Leroy Little Bear, continues to part us from an indigenous worldview and especially worldviews which remind us of our instructions from creation. Without these challenges to knowledge, the continued absence hampers a side-by-side negotiated position with non-indigenous practices.


This chapter introduced the analogy of tin can bear fat as an alternative voice to dominant research practices and illustrated its relevance to my work, as a personal connection to my family, the land, and all creation. In this context I expressed how concepts of creation serve indigenous perceptions and knowledge frameworks, which are sacred, guided by traditional teachings and definitions. I acknowledged a personal obligation and intention to act accordingly and to understand this connection as ethical, sacred ways of knowing and being. From this exploration, I begin to unravel an answer to the question “Is your work clean?” and in turn, an articulation of ethical space.


4      Teke’nyaha’to do what needs doing


He was very old – his face bearing ancient wisdom like a rack of books in a library. Each row of wrinkles represented a story. There was youthfulness to him as well. Vitality sprang from his very being. He smiled as I thought this and I was aware that he and I shared the same thoughts, the same space physically, mentally, and in spirit. I never asked who he was because it was evident that it did not matter. It was time to listen not speak. I could hear him speaking to me in my heart; I needed no translation. Yet, I knew he was speaking Language. Again, the language did not seem audio but more fluid, elemental in nature. More like water or air than words. The transmission was instant as if the space around us held the language versus our minds.


I had placed my tobacco down before retiring for bed, hoping that I would have an introduction into the question “Is your work clean?” Now, I was sitting with this familiar kin, aware that I was dreaming and that I was awake. He hesitated as I grasped the meaning of this meeting. He had come to TEACH.


He touched the air that stood between us. A holographic image formed that floated with conversations, actions, relationships, and stuff. I laughed at the concept of stuff – and he smiled. “Stuff happens”, I heard. The two dimensional images of my work had come to life. The flat lines of arrows and boxes had formed into energy currents, sparking actions and responses.


What felt like a lifetime of observation was instantly organized into this multidimensional and multifaceted image with the stroke of his hand, and by the time he had touched the air, I had already begun to receive the organization of this image as if we were one. All the while, his voice was speaking both instantly and slowly, as is the nature of spirit time.


The holographic image held still, falling into the familiar patterns of the hermeneutic model that I have incorporated into my research, with an exception. In the center, in the space where one would expect to see the box of textual inputs, was a hole.


In his hand, he held a sphere. It was translucent and silver at the same time. It was solid and fluid. But it was perfect in its roundness. He reached forward and passed the sphere into the gap of the familiar model. Immediately the globe shifted into different teachings, first familiar, such as the Medicine Wheel Teachings, then less familiar, springing from sources unknown to me. He spoke about the timelessness of traditional teachings, old teachings, revived teachings, and modern adaptations of teachings. The timelessness is connected to this space; he gestured to the Sacred Space around us and this space; he gestured to the globe he had placed within the holographic model. I was instructed to hold out my hands together, palms up. He placed the globe within my hand. I felt emotional and wonderful as I received the globe and as soon as it was received, it was gone. So was he.


I was aware that I had awakened from sleep long ago, some time into our meeting; what had begun as a lucid dream had evolved into a waking vision but I kept my eyes closed, holding on to what had transpired. Go and live so others may see how to connect this space, I heard. And now the words flow onto my paper.

                                                                                            A Personal Vision, July 2007



In the Introduction, I claim my heritage as Seneca, the legacy of my ancestors and hopefully our future generations. Despite this claim I am timid alongside my contemporaries and fellow indigenous scholars. For many students, academics, and citizens with a mixed-heritage background, our sense of wholeness and our place as aboriginal people was eradicated with the words:


“No half-breed head of a family (except the widow of an Indian, or a half-breed who has already been admitted into a treaty) accounted an Indian, or entitled to be admitted into any Indian treaty” (Canada Indian Act, 1951).


As indicated in the Counseling Wheel, one must return to respect or look again at how these perceptions alter our voices. For me, I do not accept this biased perspective of indigenous identity which is only acknowledged through governmental status. Yet this perspective causes me to hesitate when I wish to soar. The center or sacred space of the Counseling Wheel is whole and complete rather than alienating. Still, in our efforts to carve ethical space, we inadvertently misinterpret or misrepresent the whole due to the language, as articulated in the above excerpt from the Indian Act. These statements set up cultural and personal biases and create misrepresentations of what it means to be part of a culture, clan, nation, or peoples. From this legislative imposition, I must do the work to reconnect the orb as told in the previous chapter and operate in a wholistic way because the whole orb has already been interpreted as a fragmented beginning.


Perhaps my starting place as someone who stands between both indigenous and non-indigenous worldviews is a gift that opens my awareness to the issues of identity as articulated through biased legislation and historical consequences of fractured nations. To me, my path is confirmed through dreams, my name, my mother’s stories, my academic and work pursuits, and my commitment to traditional teachings and ceremony. My duty to this identity is how I live this path, not how others define me. The dream told at the beginning of this chapter serves to remind me that beyond the definitions and misinterpretations, the sacred space holds our identities and in turn, we have the power to respect these identities with caring eyes in order to establish the intentions of ethical space.


When I share with you later in this document my heritage, my name, and my clan, I am sharing with you an identity which was acknowledged through ceremony rather than through political and social documents. The perspective of who I am and what I bring to this document skirts the boundaries of identity issues, as we will see through the Counseling Wheel in an effort to fully explore the complexity of our relationships from the original instructions, both indigenous and non-indigenous. The issue of identity is only one aspect of this contemplation; it is not the focus of the story I hope to explore. The exploration of ethical space respectfully moves beyond the discourse of contemporary identity located in the legislative prescriptive views. Within the Counseling Wheel, bringing these issues to the surface becomes relevant to our coherence as a people to care.


Indigenous philosophies, and in particular the means to come to knowledge, carve this space by moving beyond prescribed identities and practices to include methods that are sacred. Similar to the experience in the chapter’s opening dream, these sacred practices expand frameworks beyond primary and secondary sources of acculturation, where common-sense knowledge rather than ideas is the central focus. Within the sacred practices, indigenous frameworks begin when we have learned within our most inner being, as Jamie Sams describes it, to “walk the wisdom of all directions in our physical bodies”. This sacred space resides alongside the primary and secondary sources as informal influences. In my work, I must develop indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing which resist the tendency to reduce the study of society into one that relies on solely human existence. Instead, my journey must expand to include all creation.


My vision explores pathways and bridges in order to develop these competencies by engaging in traditional structures and systems. The relationships and images presented in the opening dream imply that at the core of my coherence to this knowledge are traditional models which interlope and transcend contemporary power structures, communications, and interpretations. Through the dream’s imagery, the archeology of contemporary knowledge systems is interloped by indigenized thinking based upon the relationships, behaviours, actions, and elements associated with occupying space both implicit and intrinsic to indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing. In this manner tin can bear fat begins its inquiry with an assumption that in a contemporary context, indigenous methodology incorporates a side-by-side occupancy of both spaces, what we see on the surface and what is hidden.


Other indigenous scholars such as Vine Deloria Jr. encourage a movement toward ceremonies and traditional practices as a method of preserving the alignment between these spaces as understood through traditional ways of being, knowing, and doing. Interpreting Deloria, I conceptualize the connection between ceremony and traditional practices and their fit into an indigenous way of thinking as one in which the exchange is seen as an organic rather than a constructive process. The emerging indigenous expressions as theory function within this framework and represent an aboriginal consciousness based upon consensual relationship and anecdotes that hook into new ways of thinking proposed by western theory.


         These new ways begin with an assumption that a concept of good demonstrates patterns that Boulding claims reduce the threat, encourage exchange, and legitimize sacredness as attributes of an integrative process that promotes harmony and flux. The framework assumes a perspective regarding the evolution of institutions, such as organizational perspectives that constitute change as sources of inspiration characterized by integrity, wisdom, and compassion.


From these beginnings, I borrow my words from Douglas Cardinal, who stated, “Ceremonies are the primary means of instilling the attitude of expectant stillness that opens the door to full awareness”. My participation in community ceremonies has opened a portal to expand my coherence, reference, intention, and invention of the concept to care beyond everyday practice and exchange created from physical informants to include informants from a metaphysical domain. From these informants this body of work is an opportunity to discover what I know or think about ethical space and to interpret text such as ceremony and traditional teachings to broaden this conversation.


Tin can bear fat is a methodology to situate my voice alongside western research methodology. During this journey I paid attention to new applications of hermeneutics, about which Burnett suggests that in order to understand text, one must first find the underlying values and norms in the language of the community. My interpretation of hermeneutics seeks to move beyond definitions of text to include narrative, stories, and oral informants within the intention of giving meaning to indigenous knowledge, which in turn, fosters a perception of traditional teachings and stories as a means to come to truth.


How the sphere, in the opening dream, moved into the hermeneutic model and then morphed into the various teachings of cultures is a statement toward western traditional interpretations of the hermeneutic theory. Work of Burhanettin Tatar regarding Muslim ways of knowing and being is an example of including oral contributions as textual informants to address gaps or potential biases associated with the written form that so often excluded the voices of marginal groups.


The task of hermeneutics is to foster a plurality of possibilities and contextual references. Within this context, it is possible to see a movement toward hermeneutic inquiry as a potential methodology to explore oral informants, such as ceremonies and teachings. Hermeneutic inquiry regards the desired outcomes as a means to create thoughts or ideas, without establishing right or wrong. Hermeneutic applications operate from an assumption that community members or authors understand their environment and function together to disseminate knowledge and build group cohesion through shared stories, narratives, and actions. The evolution of hermeneutic inquiry emphasizes different media available for the concept of data analysis and recording of experiences. The evolution moves from formal models, such as recorded conversations, to more recent expressions of storytelling, including song, dance, and theater.


The model in the dream at the beginning of the chapter utilized the mechanics of the hermeneutic process in order that I might begin to understand how to approach my own research inquiry, particularly how to understand the Counseling Wheel in terms of the teachings and ceremonies. At the core of these teachings was the concept of care, and within this concept was the process between text and individual interpretation, which is then streamed to the broader community. The residency of this knowledge at the core of the Counseling Wheel moves our ways of seeing, knowing, and doing outside of western approaches, which regard the construction of this space as part of the flow between text, individual, and the community. Within sacred and ethical space, we are introduced to new ways of understanding hermeneutic inquiry as part of the flux and flow of all creation.


Nevertheless, the dream does illustrate hermeneutics as a potential hook into expanding upon one’s ethnographic journey, which reveals common cultural understandings through the interplay between individuals and text. Thus, the approach serves to bridge contemporary and institutional forums of inquiry such as used in academia with traditional methods of transmitting knowledge, such as ceremonies and teachings. In this manner, the process serves as an everyday practice to create, disseminate, and sustain knowledge through community conversations.

Within the field of indigenous studies, we often direct our attention toward the scholarship of Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Smith describes her strategy of negotiating a side-by-side relationship “as a significant way of struggle between the interests and ways of knowing of the West and the interests and ways of resisting by the Other….The exercise of recovering our own stories of the past…includes…reconciling and reprioritizing what is present”. The outcome is a series of phases that position the indigenous research agenda, not on the margins but as a separate scope and tactical exercise.


In her analysis, Smith articulates four stages: survival, recovery, development, and self-determination, which are facilitated by perspectives located in decolonization, transformation, mobilization, and healing. She suggests indigenous transformative actions are underscored by values, beliefs, practices, and customs of communities, as an integral part of the design and process. She suggests the term respect is consistently used by indigenous people to underscore the significance of our relationships and humanity. Smith’s work is relevant to my understanding of hermeneutics and the opening dream as both call for research methods that transform the process into a system of caring. Through respect, the place of everyone and everything in the universe is kept in balance and harmony. Respect is a reciprocal, shared, constantly interchanging principle, expressed through all aspects of social conduct.


Building upon this system of caring, Jan Vansina’s assessment of indigenous research introduces oral tradition as process and strategies to engage transformative research practice, such as the Counseling Wheel and tin can bear fat. The process includes eyewitnesses, hearsay, or internal experiences such as visions, dreams, or hallucinations. Vansina suggests these informants are dynamic and behave differently than non-indigenous sources. As a consequence, oral tradition requires attention to details and repetition of the accounts and the delivery, that is, via performance, traditional practices, and adaptation of text.


The relevance of Vansina’s insight into traditional witnessing of historical and community events is an opportunity to contextualize how the community and the researcher see the story as it unfolds from the telling to the reception. In terms of hermeneutic analysis, the engagement between researcher and the story creates an association to the story both as story teller and as witness. Within the knowledge archeology, the witnessing builds coherence between what the researcher interprets and how the community constructs shared meaning, which in turn, strengthens our sense of the story as truth.


Both the indigenous and the non-indigenous frameworks cited above offered avenues to examine text, individual experience, and shared communal knowledge. One might wonder, if hermeneutic and other transformative methodologies appeared as suitable fits for engaging and promoting indigenous thought, why not utilize one of these approaches? My answer returns to the vision at the beginning of this chapter. From this dream I regard the hermeneutic approach as missing an element the dream presented. This element is to grant the sacred its own voice, to avoid studying indigenous knowledge but to demonstrate through the teachings, ceremonies, and stories the essence of indigenous knowledge as its own being. Willie Ermine explains, “Those who seek to understand the reality of existence and harmony with the environment by turning inward have a different, incorporeal knowledge”.


In pursuit of understanding the concept of ethics in terms of philosophical and organizational development, explorations associated with hermeneutic inquiry enter the domains of human nature, natural law, and the foundation of morality. These inquiries appear to speak of one’s relationship to God, spirit, and/or faith but they do not necessarily assume a perspective held by Ermine’s assessment of indigenous knowledge, which is an acknowledgement that within the wholistic nature of creation is its own ethical framework, one not constructed for the sole benefit of human beings and our sense of right or moral placement above all else.


From my understanding of traditional teachings and practices, this knowledge emerges as a life source, shifting and changing as it moves through various indigenous knowledge systems. This exchange process begins with creation stories and teachings as suggested in the chapter’s opening dream and the Counseling Wheel. The exchange is modeled in the practice of tin can bear fat methodology, through the relationship of the angler to his/her environment.


Community activist Roger La Forme[3] (Mississauga) shares a story regarding the exchange between ceremony and everyday practice. I recall my time sitting with Roger in his restaurant in the spring of 2003, as we prepared for an eight-week youth program that included seven days on the land and in ceremony. During our conversation Roger was locating items for the camp, which included a flashlight that needed to have the battery recharged. “Ceremony is much like this [battery] charger,” he chuckled. “When new energy, new vitality is needed in the community, you need to step away and enter a quiet, separate space. But the battery cannot stay in the charger indefinitely; in fact,” another chuckle, “if the battery does, it is not useful to anyone and will eventually be forgotten. We need to bring the community to ceremony and ceremony to the community, because a battery that never leaves a flashlight will eventually go dead, get corroded, or operate on less energy than intended. This is what is meant by intention when we speak of ceremony. Intention involves allowing the resources of ceremony to create understanding and meaning for individuals and our communities”.


         Roger paused and began again, “Just as the light on the charger tells me when the battery is ready to move back into the flashlight, we rely on knowledge keepers to guide the movement of traditional practices within our communities. We sometimes forget this. Or we construct elders’ councils that have no connection to ceremony or the community. It is not a situation of one or the other, the battery or the flashlight, oh, perhaps the battery can be used for another purpose, put to use in another situation but the flashlight depends on, needs, and cannot function without the battery. It is a situation of both the flashlight and the battery taking care of one another and working in an exchange of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity. This is what I think”. He stopped, smiled, and shrugged before motioning for more coffee and changing the subject to the camp preparations.


I am honoured to recall Roger’s words four years after I heard them and embedded them in my memory to be brought forth with tin can bear fat. The analogy of the relationship between the flashlight and the charger is another example of a process that relies on a constant loop, engaging the environment, new information, and personal experience. Much like the angler and her task to harvest fish, the flashlight story includes an observance of trusting unseen informants such as the electrical charge that energizes the battery as well as the seen informants such as the light on the charger, that is, the knowledge keeper.


La Forme’s story also confirms the interconnectedness of the two worlds, the flashlight and the charger, as tin can bear fat does the fish and the angler. Roger’s comments on intention encouraged me to develop my own methodology, which fosters my analysis of indigenous knowledge and enables me to interlope contemporary hermeneutic inquiry as a conscious and deliberate act of an emerging indigenous scholar. As a consequence, tin can bear fat applies this interconnectedness to harvest meaning from expressions of indigenous tradition and wholism as I advance through this work.


Chapter Summary


The title of this chapter translates from the Seneca word, teke’nyaha’, meaning, “to do what needs doing”. I have been told that my work follows in the footsteps of Willie Ermine, who seeks to build an aboriginal scope of knowledge that moves beyond the one-dimensional western research methodologies.


My intention for utilizing tin can bear fat analysis is to move beyond models of empirical knowledge archeology to include concepts of sacred and intangible ways of knowing. Although hermeneutic and transformative methodologies explored in this chapter demonstrate methods to tie together textual relationships, power, communication, and communal coherence, I was unsure how to incorporate things which are unknown. How do I create introspection for sacred space and indigenous knowledge within these methods?


Within the analogy of tin can bear fat this space is regarded as a natural given entity because it is part of all creation. The Royal Commission for Aboriginal Peoples, as cited by Brant Castellano, reports “persons taught to use all their senses – to absorb every clue to interpreting a complex, dynamic reality – may well smile at the illusion that words alone, stripped of complementary sound and colour and texture, will convey meaning adequately”. The silence, the unspoken, the unseen, and the gift of all things connected are why I select to carve out my own space with tin can bear fat analysis. The carving out of this space aligns my work as a wholistic framework grounded by traditional teachings, stories, and ceremonies, in order to answer the question “Is your work clean?”


Within the Counseling Mode, this chapter enters into the attributes of the South as a space of relationships. In this context, my methodology, tin can bear fat analysis, is more than just an analogy for how I move toward carving out ethical space. The relationship between the can as image of contemporary knowledge and bear fat as image of traditional knowledge requires the angler to use both, if one is to know what is hidden below the surface. My relationships and my ability to establish levels of trust with elders, knowledge keepers, and the surrounding environment are integral to when, how, and where stories, teachings and ceremonies are shared.


[1]Lorne Ellingson is a faculty member of Trent University’s Indigenous Studies Program. Lorne specializes in undertaking policy formulation, strategic marketing and business planning assignments, including the development of new businesses.

[2] Here I acknowledge the work of Lynn Gehl, who utilizes the concept of embodied practice as a way of distinguishing learned behaviours and behaviours innate to traditional ways of knowing and being as an aboriginal woman.

[3] Roger La Forme is an Anishnaabe Elder from the Mississauga of New Credit territories and a community activist. He has provided spiritual support to the Friends of Red Hill Valley. La Forme is the founding member of the Fireside Drummers and Singers.



Continue to Next Chapters


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