Sandi’s Book: Teaching Indigenous Concepts of

“Clean Work” to Western Business Thought

Chapters 9-10


9      Katënuwáés - to wash something of my own


Up the hoodoos[1]. It would be several years before I moved to western Canada and connected with these mammoth structures jetting out of the valley floor and before I knew they were called hoodoo. Up to now, I had never seen one. Yet I knew this land, this place, and this urgency. A flood was coming. Not a seasonal run-off but a flood as none of us had seen. We had time to climb to the plateau located on the hoodoos.


I noticed as I made my climb that each of us had a cell shaped box located at our hips. The boxes generated a light force that grew or dimmed according to the emotion of its bearer. As we climbed, our physical and emotional stress would change the colour and brightness of the light emanating from these cells.


I was aware that around me several people were giving up and falling to the floor of the valley. Some people would stop midway as they climbed and the lights from the cells would go out. Almost robotic, they would slump and fall, once the light was gone.


I was aware that others were having difficulty with the climb. If by chance the climber was clumsy and crashed against the hoodoo, her box would explode and again, she would slump against the face of the rock or fall to the valley below.


Every now and then, I was aware that someone was singing, encouraging me to move up and forward. Don’t look back and don’t look down. Move with the earth, find the footholds that the hoodoos had created for this moment.


I reached the top and looked around me. My light was shining from the box on my hip. Many people had made it to the top but so many were still struggling. Immediately, I decided that I had to climb back down and help others to find another way out of the path of the flood. It was not possible for me to continue forward, knowing that others had been left behind. As I stepped over the stone face, to make my descent, I noticed that the light on my hip was several degrees brighter than when I started the climb. I knew at this moment that I was strong enough to do the journey again and again.


Recollections of a dream from October 1970



I am not naive to the hard work that goes into carving out the ethical space or the space between, the space to meet and negotiate a shared ethical understanding. As with any transformation, much like the foregoing dream, the process is a conscious decision. To understand what I think I see, I move along the Counseling Wheel from East to West, forging a sense of the interconnectivity of indigenous thinking as I have come to know it.


The motivation for pedagogies of transformation, hope, and possibilities is one that evolved from thinking and reflecting on visions, dreams, and processes that I describe as magical. As with the shiny face of fasters who return from their ceremonies, the air sparks with people’s energy, their bodies grown stronger and shinier. Their eyes dance through stories and songs. Shy voices become louder. I do not question what I see, smell, hear, or feel. If upon exiting a ceremonial lodge, the northern lights appear as a bear paw in the sky, I see a bear paw in the sky. Okay, sometimes I ask if others see it too. Their validation brings a sense of coherence and relevance to the experience. Their confirmations answer the question “What’s in the can?” and we translate the answer as “all creation”.


From my roots as an organizational theorist, this knowledge emulates systems theory. Systems’ thinking, in terms of cultivating innovative communities of practice, is fostered by unexpected ideas and values that engage stewardship. Western theorists have linked systems theory to organizational change and workplace theory to understand the interdependencies of parts, working together to continually interact with the external and internal environments. These systems are regarded as systems of knowledge and learning. The term social change may be understood as the increased specialization of relations among cultural, normative, political, and economic institutions. In my review of indigenous peoples’ responses to social change, it is my thought that as strategic interloper, indigenous studies should lead the domain of thinking and acting as systems thinkers.


The knowledge offers sophisticated theoretical opportunities for education, business, and change theories. Perhaps a potential hook into interloping non-indigenous theory is the interplay among various components, which have been identified through a model known as the complex adaptive system model for organizational development. The complex adaptive system model is one example of western science as increasingly interdisciplinary, with consideration given to social phenomena, as recognition of an interconnected world with interdependent systems.


Similarly, it is possible to reflect upon chaos and quantum theory with a perspective toward the causality of natural systems and a view that organizations and communities operate as natural adaptive systems. These theories and philosophies engage practitioners to think and talk about patterns of organizational behaviour. The lessons from this engagement provide insight into the self-organizing structures and internal dynamics of organizations. In concurrence, human eco-dynamic theories suggest that integrative systems are representative of work processes, which represent economic practices and promote human and social growth. These areas are ripe grounds for an indigenous theorist to apply reflections on ethical space and the potential embedded within indigenous philosophy to interpret this space. The relevance of this body of work is recognition of indigenous expressions of organizational theory and the movement of western theory toward diverse perspectives that collaborates with the complexity of both indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge systems.


         As noted by Olson and Eoyang, “Transforming exchanges occur naturally in human systems. Sometimes the natural ones are productive and sometimes not”. This reflection acknowledges that collaborative definitions evolve much like symbiotic or highly evolved relationships to co-create the environments in which they live. However, a co-created environment does not necessitate a shared desired outcome, in terms of similar needs or similar roles. In the natural world, co-creation may result in plants improving the soil they live in by dropping leaves or encouraging new plant growth while sustaining cacti to discourage the presence of other relationships. Collaborative and co-created systems require an understanding of relationships from a much larger system view, which illustrates the layers of relationships from micro: individual, local, communal, to macro: nation, worldview, and universal connections.


To me, collaborative and co-created systems are not about controlling the system but rather uncovering parts that may be hidden or unknown. Interloping western scholarship means uncovering ideas that offer to indigenous knowledge scholars similar frameworks to conceptualize wholistic knowledge archetypes. These frameworks demonstrate a movement away from a single person having data toward a community of wisdom keepers. The concept of interloper as an applied theorist fits my personal approach to theory, which focuses on the everyday experiences of people. My definition for applied or action theory is linked to adult learning and development studies and my work as a human resource strategist. In this context, actions are cognitive, experiential, and observable as informants to one’s understanding and learning process. As with the dream at the beginning of this chapter, I will step up to the actions, rather than seeking the safety of higher ground. Instead I venture into the valleys to discover their stories, their experiences, and their relationships to their worldviews.


Some people might wonder why I would identify with the term interloper, which translates as inter meaning “one between or among”, and lopen meaning “to leap”. The term has a notorious past associated with intrusion and acts of imperialism. However, I regard the term as engaging acts of bravery, commitment, and strategy, as one who operates at ground level, similar to my dream, seeking points of entry and methods to bring about change.


When I look at western workplace theory as points of integrating ethical space or to answer the question “Is my work clean?” I challenge myself to see the movement within western organizational theory toward wholistic and organic systems, such as the work of Beer, Allee, Wenger, and others. These theorists illustrate a movement away from knowledge held by a dominant coalition toward social system networks represented by the collective knowledge of the community. As example, Vera Allee’s model of knowledge evolution integrates patterns of data, information, knowledge, meaning, philosophy, and wisdom. The community-knowledge archetype facilitates problem solving more quickly, by building on the experiences of others, articulated as learning communities. Allee’s theory has influenced organizational development and leadership competency development.


Both these western models illustrate interplay among environment, organizational behaviours, processes, structures, people, culture, and the dominant coalition values, personality, and experience. The motivation for sustaining this interplay process means that change is reflected in new policies, structures, practices, relationships, rewards, leadership, and mechanisms that operate within the community. Alongside these tangible changes, the process aims to address the less tangible emotional and psychological components by structuring avenues that allow community members to let go or come to terms with the changes.


When I reflect upon Allee and Beer’s models, I envision efforts to respect alternative voices in opposition to a central authority. Their works hold meaning to understanding the complexity of structure, process, and people, when determined by a specific cultural way of viewing the world. By interloping these models with a concept of ethical space as originated from the Counseling Wheel, I aim to forge an alternative framework based upon the living forces of change itself. Nevertheless, I sense that by interloping these practices, I might suffer a divergence from an indigenous philosophy, and perhaps endanger my footings, as reflected in the dream, causing the light attached at my hip to expire.


My concern is also articulated by other marginalized scholars. A brief look into feminist research agendas offers insight into indigenous-western knowledge integration. As example, frameworks that incorporate multiple realities demonstrate the local events of women’s communities within feminist theory. Examples of this work are found in the scholarship of Helen Longino. Specifically, Longino integrates multiple perspectives into a shared knowledge as multiple realities that express the different sets of relations among objects.


The multiplicities of realities initiate an exchange process between the various other knowledge communities. During the exchange, these other knowledge communities are influenced by women’s historical experiences linked to class, race, and ethnicity. The investigation into the concept of gender as linked to broader power structures uncovers systemic barriers and patterns associated with Other-ed identities. Specifically, the exchange process is examined for blind spots regarding perceptions of women’s knowledge as viewed within standards of knowledge set by the central dominant group rather than by and for women.


Other academic research represents women’s standpoint theory as a privileged insight into the marginalized method understood and expressed by women rather than in comparison between the marginalized and central power groups. The outcome is a rise in feminist ways of modeling the world, which promote a side-by-side emergence of feminist thought. At the core of this side-by-side cosmology is an understanding that the world is balanced, both male and female. One might speculate that a side-by-side view grounded by political-social equilibrium displaces binary discourse and power structures.


The examples on the previous pages illustrate emerging points of view that foster integrative networks at their core and acknowledge global concerns such as the environment, livelihood, and employment. Within these models, scholarship is creating a sense of wholeness tied to social-cultural kinship and balance as the purpose of life. Perhaps we are only able to see these points of integration when we have climbed about the potential threats and imposing dangers, as depicted in the dream.


In my work as an indigenous theorist, the organizational theories propose theoretical development, which requires opportunistic and optimistic approaches to support wider trends as frames of reference to our establishment of new ways of knowledge and knowledge evolution. By tapping into the agency of these wider trends, it is possible to introduce concepts of ethical space and indigenous knowledge as examples of flexible response mechanisms. These mechanisms illustrate adaptable research practices with an aim to contribute to a wholistic organizational research entity curious about lives and experiences.


When reflecting on the potential of ethical discourse as an alternative to organizational scholarship as a means to renew attention to traditional sciences, the Counseling Wheel establishes what is relevant from a practical standpoint. Similar to Kilduff and Mehra’s arguments regarding postmodernism as an intellectual movement rather than as a stage of historical development, the introduction of ethical space to the organizational fields of study creates space for voice, text, and viewpoints which in the past have been ignored. These postmodern and optimistic approaches are useful to organizational theory and organizational phenomena, since they are characterized by plurality of beliefs. In this context, attributes of adaptability, flexibility, and diversity are emphasized versus the concept of consensus, which requires devotion to a unity of thought.


Contemplating the value of these scholastic agendas as strategies, I believe they contribute to broadening the repertoire of methods and resources to transcend the limitations associated with the dualities evoked from a postmodern view. This mix-and-match approach stretches across disciplines and perceived narrowness, to contribute to increasing demands of organizational studies. Consequently, these contributions endorse the breaking down of disciplinary boundaries, challenge conventional wisdom, and give voice to silenced perspectives. I concur with Kilduff and Mehra’s statement, “The practice of research should never be a timid adventure”.


The idea of overcoming our hesitations to interlope or at least to create side-by-side research agendas within organizational and workplace theory embraces a framework that, described by Daft, “includes error and surprise, storytelling, research, poetry, nonlinear decision-making, common sense, firsthand knowledge, and research colleagues”. The proposed craft of research as an organizational analysis process invites business students to assume roles as storytellers and emotional beings. Daft feels that too few investigators approach research with an expectation to be surprised. The concept of building in or allowing for uncertainty seems objectionable to those operating within a scientific framework. In comparison, by allowing for new approaches to wade in alongside western thinking, one engages in storytelling, poetic developments, and cyclical decision-making opportunities that incorporate intuition and feelings as informants. All this is relevant to my journey, as I contemplate the hooks between organizational theory and traditional interpretations for doing, through the latter’s courage to include non-linear and intangible methods of knowing as instruments of research. The importance of including new agendas for western knowledge is to demonstrate an interloping of human narratives. These narratives establish the criteria for knowledge and meaning from community relevance rather than scientific validation of data.


My role as interloper engages these views in order to understand workplace theory and practice from an ethical and indigenous knowledge archeology. These examples fit into theories of practice regarding design, political agency like leadership and employee structures, and spirit-based exchange principles. These scholarships contribute to studies that promote a conscientiousness of social design. Specifically in workplace theory, this conscientiousness calls for organizational designs which provide optimal variety, discretion, and feedback, and as much respect, growth, and wholeness as technology, the environment, and ingenuity will allow.


As to future interpretations of work design, I wonder how the concept of ethical space as understood through the lens of indigenous philosophies such as the Counseling Wheel stands up to radical open-systems theory regarding work. The concepts of effective work in these systems tie motivation, employee autonomy, and task performance to the assessment of the relationships within a new framework that places a greater emphasis on organizations, their internal and external relationship with their environment, and the role of workers. Is this the nature of clean work? Is this the manifestation of doing within an ethical space?


With similar questions, I revisit research into communities of practice (COP) and its basis to illustrate new ways for evolving structures that engage workers in their environment as an ethical framework. Within a community of practice, workers are informally bound by what they do together. A community of practice is thus different from a community of interest or a geographical community, neither of which implies a shared practice. The distinctions, according to the work of Etienne Wenger, are defined along four dimensions: what work is about as understood and negotiated by the organizational members;  how work functions in terms of mutual engagement that binds members together as social collectives; what capacity is produced through the sharing of resources such as routines, sensibilities, artifacts, and vocabulary;  and how the members have expanded on these resources over time.


The ethical space conversation includes explorations into the exchange of relationships, reciprocity, and all creation. Within this exploration, the question “Is your work clean?” takes an investigation into roles and relationships as understood from a community, which includes universal law as wholistic systems thinking. Few workplace theorists and practitioners take the risk to uncover these important connections. As consequence, organizational histories and workplace initiatives hesitate to enter the space between to uncover the hidden patterns that denote the capacities and capabilities of the community and which continuously engage in rituals and practices that establish these patterns as systems of care: caring eyes, caring ears, caring mind, and caring behaviours.


In this context, asking questions engages similar work place theory as Van der Heijden’s themes for views of scenarios and strategic management. Particularly, tin can bear fat as a method of inquiry employs a processing approach to understanding organizations and workplace theory. Van der Heijden says the processing method concentrates on developing procedures that enhance the ability of the organization to mobilize its resources toward greater inventiveness and innovation.


As with my intention for tin can bear fat, a processing scenario creates an effective process of conversation through the relationship between the cognition of the seeker or angler and the environment, which is compared, challenged, and negotiated.  Van der Heijden offers the following as the embedded processes that enhance the cognitive exchange between seeker and environment. Relationships include leadership, links to world and other relationships, access to distribution channels, governments, internal communication and culture, and group identity and commitment.


Through my assessment of van der Heijden’s concept of scenarios, the employment of tin can bear fat analysis, and the invention of ethical space as understood through the Counseling Wheel, I propose a unique competency that moves beyond rationalistic views of predict and control. Instead, I reflect upon organic systems theory that involves a polycentric approach, with room for ideas, environmental feedback, and organizational capacity for perception, reflection, and the development of theories.


To me, the inception of an organic polycentric approach facilitates side-by-side systems of exchange as envisioned by systems of caring. These concepts are the foundational components of indigenous thought and science. The parallel development of ecological discourse emerging within indigenous studies hints at the potential opportunities to co-exist and co-develop new workplace theory. As suggested earlier, the multiplicity and multifaceted nature of wholistic systems and the elements, which facilitate the exchange within these systems, require a lifelong journey to understand. As consequence, we need to advance indigenous praxis among all students at all levels, to foster disciplinary and systems competencies. Within these disciplines and systems, attributes such as harmony, trust, sharing, and kindness represent goals within the circle of life.


I have engaged in discussion about examples of western and indigenous scholarship, which support a position as to why we might care as academics, community leaders, and general public. However, one might ask, “How do I recognize the space which is ethical or the space between? Which is the meeting space of everyday practice? What do I call this space, the theories and practices associated with this space? How do I hook into the Other if I do not know from where I am starting?”


I recognize these questions because I have struggled with them myself over the past several years. I am aware of the potential backlash when writing generically about indigenous knowledge rather than a specific tribal-centric approach or community-centric nationalism. I considered whether my heritage might contribute to conceptual baggage since I might be judged for understating the social and economic impact of hybrid conditions from a biological viewpoint. Thus it may appear that I downplay methods to deconstruct the institutions that have historically excluded aboriginal voices, consequently failing to engage in critical theory of indigenous knowledge views as expected from traditional scholars. It is not my intention to offend by excluding these arguments or considerations. When other indigenous scholars address indigenous knowledge as the potential for sovereignty, I am respectful of their words. I understand the inclusion of their work gives power and voice to aboriginal intellectual discourse. I situate my contribution in the ethical space between indigenous and western theories. My role is to amplify the power and voice of indigenous knowledge as ethical, or sacred space, and to utilize this space as another platform to contribute to indigenous and non-indigenous thinking.


Within a western assessment of my work, particularly my interest in workplace theory, I may be labeled as an integrated studies scholar. I will interlope this labeling to suggest that I am an indigenous scholar whose expertise spans integrated and systems theory, via the informants of indigenous knowledge. In this naming, I place an emphasis on indigenous knowledge as the ideology from which I begin the mapping of connections and patterns of commonalties between non-indigenous and indigenous knowledge systems. This framework engages philosophical principles of all creation, while acknowledging the elements of the systems, structures, individual and group knowledge, organizations, and discipline unique to the cosmic whole.


To act as interloper, I envision the following parallels as understood from a context of ethical space that stems from an indigenous philosophy such as the Counseling Wheel. This context is a means to develop a wholistic theory I may employ. Specific actions involve:


1.     Nurturing next generations with skills to understand the whole picture, the balances and the imbalances;

2.     Engaging in dialogue, communications, stories to pass along guiding principles regarding relationships, connections, and behaviours;

3.     Deliberately and consciously including rites of passage such as ceremonies and traditions to establish tags on trees for others to follow;

4.     Examining each place, connection, and element in relationship to the next and to all creation;

5.     Accepting challenges and barriers as opportunities for change;

6.     Establishing competencies to understand flux and flow; the competencies start at the document level in terms of how we interpret, and move along the continuum to how we define systems theory;

7.     Defining roles and responsibilities that stabilize the moment and provide continuity during times of change; this includes elders, traditional teachings, and mentors as institutional leaders for transmitting and sustaining knowledge;

8.     Operating within a spirit-based knowledge system and exchange model, one that acknowledges informants both tangible and intangible, including prophecies;

9.     Fostering a commitment to care, about the past, the present, and the future.


Throughout this document, I have built upon these elements. However, I am cognizant that operating as an interloper means spending more “time in the kitchen with aunties”, an analogy shared by a friend and undergraduate student at Trent University, Cathy Taylor. She was explaining how knowledge was shared during conversations and tasks with her relatives in the kitchen. She said, “I see a disadvantage that some students have compared to other (Indian) folks who may be situated in their communities for a long time and are looking for their community to support their research. Folks who have not left home have already spent their time in the kitchen with the aunties. Others have to return home and work extra hard, in the kitchen and in the community, to build these relations”.


Chapter Summary


I began this chapter with a personal connection to pedagogies of hope and possibilities. As I shared my dream, I aimed to illustrate a personal commitment to caring and to stepping up to the responsibilities associated with our ability to create change. Within these pedagogies, I acknowledged elements of magic, an energy that might be interpreted as a great peace. The point of this story was to set a pathway for indigenous knowledge as ethical space tied to the moment of creation and new beginnings.


Within the assessment of organizational and workplace theory, I strengthened my motivation for an indigenous framework by including references to chaos theory and complex adaptive systems. Both of these references demonstrated organic properties of transformation, which I believe is the sophisticated nature of indigenous knowledge systems. I used these references to launch into a discussion regarding my role as interloper. In this discussion, western social systems models are provided as examples of potential adaptive networks available to an indigenous interloper.


I regard the concept of interloper as a viable strategy for indigenous theorists. In the same context as feminist theory, indigenous philosophy empowers community members to act. The inclusion of the feminist views and the inclusion of other examples located in organizational and postmodern discourse returned the discussion to issues of power, equity, and wholeness.


I understand ethical space from the Counseling Wheel framework as a space reflective of the self-determination depicted by my own decisions in the dream. This space highlights the in-between spaces that falter from insecurities or uncertainty, or poor eyesight, hearing, thinking, or actions. Within these in-between spaces, we begin to hesitate due to doubt, in ourselves and in others.


However, as with the dream, there are two reasons that compel me to return to the core, the sacred space, in order to carve out ethical space. The first reason is a sight toward the future. This is the gaze when one sits in the West looking across at the East. You cannot help but have your sights on new generations. The second is a reflection inward. As with the dream, my light has not gone out; I believe in possibilities. This is the spirit-based exploration which I followed throughout my work.


Figure 15: Chapters 7 to 10 – Revisited



From this journey, Chapter Ten begins by returning to the center to embody the circle.


10 Conclusion


I was thinking it is too early for my husband to be leaving for work but the weight of the hand next to my head suggested he was up and ready to go. Usually, I open my eyes to greet his departure kiss but I hesitated. In the same instance, I felt Spence shift his weight behind me and I knew he was still sleeping; indeed it was too early. So why did I wake up? Immediately, I felt someone next to my ear. “Open your eyes,” he whispered.


My heart was racing. Who was standing beside my bed and what did he want? Why was my husband still asleep? Did he not sense or hear this intruder?


“Don’t be afraid”. He coaxed, “Open your eyes”. Reluctantly, I opened my eyes. In the time it took for me to open them, the being had moved from the head of my bed to the foot of my bed, next to the door. When I first opened my eyes, he appeared to be very tall but now seemed to fit the proportions of an average man. He was dressed very simply in a buckskin tunic that extended to mid-thigh, very pale in colour. The tunic and what appeared as pants or leggings did not have any fringes. They were completely without character or decoration.


The room was silent as if caught in a vacuum. His voice was gentle but stern. “Remember the mask”, he instructed. I suddenly noticed his face, which until then had been absent from my awareness. Covering his face was a mask. Again, he stated, “Remember the mask”. He seemed to be waiting for me to register its importance and for me to commit the mask to memory. Even today, I am able to describe the mask in detail. “I will”, I answered. With this commitment, he vanished.


After the dream, I sought out elders who could provide me with more details regarding the mask and my visitor. Many thought the mask to be either a corn husk or the false face mask because of my ancestral roots. It is not. At least it is not as I understand the features of these masks.


On two occasions, I have encountered similar depictions of the mask, once, upon entering an aboriginal artist’s home. She had a painting displayed on her wall, depicting a man, his face half covered by a similar mask. She told me the story of her painting and we immediately became great friends. The second occasion involved entering a Ceremonial Lodge. I looked up to discover a pair of similar masks. The elders shared their meaning with me and I have tucked away their teachings as part of the story of the mask.


Upon sharing the mask dream with my mother, she spoke of runners, those who announced events. Upon researching, I found that Twylah Hurd Nitsch confirms my mother’s story regarding runners. Together with the artist’s and elders’ connection to the mask, my mother’s sharing suggests a simple lesson for me, from my experience. I believed what I saw to be true and I was true to this belief by remembering. Without any other explanation, I accept as a personal praxis, belief in possibilities.

Vision Spring 1999

Meeting Artist Fall 1999

Ceremonial Lodge, Spring 2007



The experience shared in the opening of this chapter is an example of an experience where I used caring eyes, caring ears, caring mind, and caring behaviours to create a space of trust and openness. The experience returns our thinking to the space of unknown realities and serves to remind the reader and me that the process of exploring ethical space is one of questions rather than answers. Throughout this document I have drawn parallels between my scholarship and my family’s journey. The parallel I have sketched is another example of caring. Again, the personal story at the beginning of the chapter offers a glimpse that sometimes lessons from the wheel or other teachings are not necessarily made evident. We need to internalize these experiences and to sit with the information for perhaps a very long time.


 I began this document with the words spoken before all else, the Thanksgiving Address. This is one of many teachings, ceremonies, and stories to which I returned as a means to know how far I have come toward my work as clean and my awareness of indigenous knowledge as ethical space, and so I return to this space and speak from the center of the Counseling Wheel. From this vantage point, I am reminded of all creation and my role and duty to the processes that create, transmit, and sustain the life force of relationships of all things. Through the advice of elders, I have learned to speak directly to these relationships and to enter into behaviours of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity. I am reminded to care about these relationships in my everyday practice. The position of caring guides my decisions and ensures that I answer the questions “Does my work help others?” and “Does my work harm?”


The lessons help me to understand the connection among spirit, reason, and action. From this awareness, I introduce tin can bear fat as a personal inquiry to incorporate the hidden landscape, metaphorically depicted as waterbed contents, which engage meaning through the concept of ethical space. I am privileged to uphold through these responsibilities a sense of contentment with the concept of not knowing. The concept of not knowing is equally relevant within the Counseling Wheel because it returns our sense of being to a childlike carefreeness. When I sit in this space of ambiguity, I feel that I contribute to the whole by mirroring for others what they also do not know. For me, this unconditional love is the life force I bring to my work and most important, to my relationships with family, community, and all creation. From the lessons of Bear, I expand my gifts as an angler paying attention to the time of day, month, seasons, and my surroundings. I watch for the spawning of new crop, hoping to wade in and harvest these new beginnings. Through these behaviours, duties, responsibilities, and gifts, I recognize the potential that comes when the bear fat sticks.


When I began this investigation, I chose to use the term ethical to explain the space of intention, the space of caring. My motivation for utilizing the term associated with ethics was to provide a discourse for a side-by-side existence of indigenous and non-indigenous worldviews. My motivation sought to illustrate a movement within western systems toward indigenous knowledge through its association with complex adaptive, wholistic, and organic ways of knowing, being, and doing. I also wished to establish a voice for indigenous knowledge systems, which have emerged from the margins or hidden vantage points, as practices within our institutions and state-nation relationships.


Although the title of this work continues to utilize the words ethical space, I pulled from the literature, teachings, ceremonies, and stories a consciousness to revision the intention, reference, and coherence of this term into one that I regard as relevant to indigenous ways of knowing and doing. For me, I prefer the term sacred space as articulated by the Counseling Wheel teachings. In my review of ethical and spirited-based practices regarding new views of research, I uncovered concepts which engage ethics and sacred/spiritual space. These concepts were filtered and expanded upon an understanding of indigenous knowledge within a wholistic framework, mind, body, and spirit.


Nevertheless the deliberate choice to leave ethical space within the title of this work is awareness that the term ethics, as opposed to sacred, does provide a hook into dialogue between western and indigenous knowledge systems as a commonsense or at least a moral responsibility between state and community negotiations. In transformative change strategies applied within state-nation negotiation, the concept of ethical behaviour arises as a means to facilitate reconciliation efforts and treaty settlements.


I also am certain the crafting of models for justice, education, health, and other governance-sector concerns depends upon the moral merit of state agents and aboriginal leaders to incorporate indigenous concepts. In my review of the First Nations Wholistic Policy and Planning model, Statistics Canada’s Community Wellbeing Circle Plan, and Dockstator’s development of a First Nations Health Strategy, the engagement of indigenous frameworks launched ethical behaviours and conversations to evoke movement toward side-by-side institutions, reflective and operative within a multifaceted socio-network.


Through my investigation into aspects of change, concepts of doing, and scholarships of organizational and workplace structures, I acknowledge specific attributes associated with trust and the observation of these changes, which are influencing the behaviours, policies, and practices of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, at the institutional (socio-economics, governance) and organizational (corporations, academy) levels. As an outcome, indigenous scholarship has the capacity and capability to foster academic competencies that nurture ethical practices. Specifically, we need to expand our sense-making regarding attributes of trust, courage, innovation, adaptability, and fluidity, which foster individual and community sovereignty across fields of study and disciplines. These attributes enable indigenous scholarship to operate within a network versus a linear knowledge archeology. When compared to the teachings, stories, and ceremonies, that is, a space of spiritual values that govern principles of respect and balance, these attributes affirm concepts of wholeness and benefits for all humanity.


Within my own work, I am aware that the inclusion of my dreams, visions, experiences, and creative outlets has changed the way I teach or investigate knowledge. My decision to include these other informants was sparked by Osprey, a bird who resides at Trent University during the spring and summer. The pair nest and raise their young on the banks of the river running through our campus. On June 22, 2007, during my Ph.D. proposal preparations, I was quite overwhelmed. In consolation, I went and sat at the river. As I sat with my emotions, Osprey left her nest and perched next to me. She cooed until I acknowledged her and with that acknowledgement I immediately understood what was missing from my work. I was writing without spirit. How could I possibly engage the breadth of indigenous knowledge as ethical space, if I did not include examples of my own sense of knowing this space as sacred?


My own stories stand in place of stories, ceremonies, and teachings that I left un-described, so they would not appear as merely evidence of my knowledge in these areas. I am aware that any description of experiences passed along from others would not illustrate the intensity and depth of knowledge. I believe my role during times in ceremony or with traditional teachers is secondary. I do not mean to suggest a hierarchal displacement but a division between their and my roles and responsibilities. In this manner, I could not share with you the depth and breadth of these ceremonies and teachings from a first person voice. However, with my own stories, I am able to provide this voice.


My connections to spirit space, as with the 18 days in ceremony, or messengers, as with the old man and the masked knowledge keeper, allow me to explain fully, as if you were there. I share because it is mine to share, with a good mind and a whole heart. I do not fear how you might interpret the difficult or wonderful stories. You will interpret them as you will. I share with you the attributes, competencies, and pedagogy associated with being an organic catalyst.


I have held on to some of these stories for many years. Others are new. When I am invited to speak during the traditional teaching sessions at Trent University, I do not often tell these stories. Perhaps I hesitate because I have yet to determine if I am the grass dancer or the corporate climber, as I navigate this journey. My aim with this work is to step into the role and responsibilities required of operating within the space in between, someone who occupies the skills of both knowledge systems.


When I explored the realms of creativity and creation, I envisioned energy that moved between the lines of vision and reflection, touching down on emotion and bouncing up to new ideas. When I was stuck in my head, Edna Manitowabi[2] guided me toward a dance program as a means to move along this energy. She suggested that when the direct lines between vision and reason are stalled, I could use physical movement and emotional play as another avenue.


Upon revisiting the Counseling Wheel Teachings, I observed the direct line or center axis between vision and reason and the curved line, which circled the wheel from East to West, passing through the South. Within this southern location, I encountered the teachings of emotion, the subjective experience, and creativity. In this Southern space, the paint gun is allowed to explode against a blank wall. No interpretations are required. Perhaps upon navigating all the lessons, traditional teachings, and ceremonies, I will have a 1440° perspective of this explosion, or perhaps not.


When I shared earlier the teachings of the Two Row Wampum, I mentioned it represented a treaty to co-exist side-by-side, the western and the indigenous ways of knowing, doing, and being. I mentioned the blue lines represented the waterways of the two worlds. Many keepers of the wampum will suggest that you cannot stand with your feet in both waters at the same time. You must move from one canoe to the other. They suggest your footing is too unstable if you try to stand in both simultaneously. Similarly, many people suggest you cannot stand within the analysis of indigenous knowledge from a space in between; one risks accusations of hybridity or panindianism. However, I might suggest you cannot move from one canoe to the other unless you step across the gap separating both worldviews. And if you are stepping across the gap, you are very much aware of its presence.


Early in my career, I was a computer technical support person. My job required that I carry computers into remote workstations within a manufacturing facility. Sometimes I would be required to walk a catwalk to locate the pulpit office, in order to replace a computer. As a child, I had to cross a similar structure over a river. The bridge was a swing bridge, so the catwalks of the plant resembled the grid iron of the bridge. When I was a child, I could not cross the bridge without running across. The movement of the water below the bridge reminded me of the gap between the two safety points, the land on either side. When I crossed the catwalk, I had the same fear because of this childhood memory. However, I could not run as I was carrying heavy equipment. Each time I crossed, the waves of fear would surface and I would shake until I was on the other side.


I share these recollections because these same surges of emotion surface when you are stepping from one canoe to the other, as suggested by the wampum knowledge keepers. The competencies of bravery, curiosity, and adventure move you forward. The voyaging in, the operating on the verandas, or the wading in, all involve finding the safe passages or safe footings to interlope and move between indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge systems. As with the snowshoe analogy, traditional teachings, ceremonies, and stories provide these footings. The footings are embedded within these instructions from the universal principles of wholism, community, exchange, and spiritual awareness. Within these principles, I located scholarship and philosophies that promote timeless imperatives and willingness to care that propelled me forward. The wholistic principles demonstrate an embodied wholeness, which connects our everyday practice to all creation. When Stanford Taylor shared that every day is a ceremony, I defined the term embodied wholeness as the responsibilities for creating, transmitting, and sustaining an indigenous knowledge as ethical space in our contemporary world.


As I moved through my analysis, with tin can bear fat, I brought to light concepts of accountability to how we conduct ourselves at the macro and micro levels of our relationships, power structures, institutions, and everyday practice. This accountability opens our ways of understanding knowledge archeology in terms of indigenous knowledge as ethical space and asks questions to create intention, innovation, reference, and coherence to wholistic ways of seeing and doing. Within this context of embodied wholeness, time, space, and relationships translate original wisdom into everyday practices for individuals, family, and community.


As example, when Ernie Benedict stood to address our Ph.D. council in 2007, he spoke about tobacco and wondered about the possibilities to engage in community research regarding this sacred medicine. As he spoke, the old one reminded the committee about tobacco as a gift and its connection to all creation. He wondered how tobacco moved from a sacred gift to a commodity via jurisdictional uprisings and political governance. Ernie proposed that “someone should look into researching these issues. Within tobacco’s meaning is a message of peace, perhaps Peace on Earth”. His choice of the words seemed to me to demonstrate his understanding of tobacco and its connection to the embodied wholeness of all creation.


To me, Elder Benedict’s message represents embodied wholeness through its connection to the past, the present, and the future. His thoughts set the stage for many research possibilities for indigenous knowledge as ethical space. With his words, I envisioned potential research as interdisciplinary, spanning across health, politics, law, gender, economics, international affairs, indigenous studies, and many other fields.


My envisioning looped back to the dream of the sphere. In the dream, the sphere or orb was not separated from the hermeneutic process. Instead, the traditional teachings spiraled and floated within the space held by reference, intention, innovation, and coherence. In this instance, indigenous knowledge embodied the sacred creation stories from various diverse origins. The embodied wholeness was illustrated to me when the orb was passed through the hermeneutic model, which I had been considering for my research.


Figure 16: The Dream Sphere



Figure 16 returns to the dream, which spoke about the Orb or Sphere at the centre of the hermeneutic model. The rationale for advancing tin can bear fat methodology and its story within this depiction, is to reiterate an indigenous expression of exchange that places traditional teachings and ceremony at the center of our awareness and sense of meaning for the community. The figure illustrates a return to the teachings and the journey that has cycled through various experiences and thoughts to advance full-circle into new meaning and understanding with regard to indigenous expressions of economic theory. The fluidity of interchanging the textual components of the hermeneutic model with the creation stories of all humankind suggests an understanding within indigenous communities that we are all connected, already.


You can see within Figure 16, the interplay of power, communication, interpretation, and other elements, as shared throughout this work. An important and necessary attribute of the model as provided in the dream is for this model to include as the source of text, all creation. The revised version, as envisioned in my dream and exchanged with the old one, moves the concept of power and communication beyond aspects of human domain. When I discovered the Orb story in a collection of stories compiled by Leo Sawicki, I uncovered a connection between the orb and various nations’ teachings that manifested through the model during the dream. To me, these connections are living evidence of indigenous knowledge as sacred space. The story of the orb and our duty to reconnect is not without coincidence that it and the dream are placed in my mind and heart.


Where do this dream and teachings take me? Early in my research, I was asked whether I thought my work was clean. The only answer I had was to tell the story of Osprey and her nurturing me as I sat with my emotions alongside the riverbank. Without knowing it at the time, her comforting was a good example of clean work. She had a young one to attend to but she left this little one to come and check on me, to help others. If I return to Doug and Michael’s counsel regarding learning how to fish, Osprey would be one of the beings I would be instructed to watch and learn from. She was in this situation. Her input into this body of work is not a coincidence. She is another angler, who has harvested fish before and is able to set me on my path to finish this work. From these connections, I engage traditional expressions of indigenous knowledge as sacred space because within this framework are my reasons to care and to do clean work.


In my desire to know more about the lessons from this teacher, I have paid attention to stories from others. Recently my father-in-law shared his observation of a hawk sitting on a post in his backyard. He mentioned that Hawk’s head was in constant motion as she honed her focus. Once Hawk found it, she was fixed on the target of her gaze, until she decided to act. I relate to this story and I understand that Hawk is not distracted by all around her. She is instead looking at the availability of resources and the landscape to uncover what is hidden in the grass, by the rock, or just over the hill.


         I cannot recall how far Osprey, Eagle, or Hawk sees ahead. I believe Doug Williams during his Eagle Teachings thought Eagle’s ability was several thousand feet. Alongside this gift, Eagle has the ability to find the rabbit sitting in the grass at this distance. Perhaps another attribute to indigenous knowledge and sacred space is the concept of silence. There is a silence evoked when sitting and watching. One also experiences silence or at least solitude while on a vision quest or in moments of reflection. The line between vision and reflection calls for careful behaviours: listening, watching, experiencing, apprenticing, and creating space, or silence.


I credit my husband with the skill of silence. He has created a garden dojo[3], an outdoor space in which he connects to himself and all creation. In this space, he connects to the land, the inhabitants, the environment, the great lake, and the language of karate. As with my father, my husband is an indigenous man. Through his quietness, he has embraced indigenous knowledge, held sacred by mother earth, as ethical space.


The earth and all creation is the network that binds us all together. From the Thanksgiving Address, I am reminded of these lessons, exemplified by the land under our feet and the space of all creation.


I am Nika'aa këtëöwítha’ yakôkwe, Little Morning Star Woman. I place my name beside this work as a reminder to me, with humility, to assume the responsibility to indigenous knowledge as ethical space, and to the question “Is my work clean?” I am aware from participating in fasting and helping in camps that visions require time to fully comprehend their meaning. Similar to the teachings associated with the Stages of Life, I am aware how it is possible to move from a stage of doing into a stage of wandering. The process is non-linear and multifaceted. Nevertheless the orb was placed in my hands and I will continue to unravel its meaning as a lifelong journey.




Thank you

[1] Hoodoos take millions of years to form and stand 5 to 7 meters tall. Each hoodoo is a sandstone pillar resting on a thick base of shale that is capped by a large stone. Hoodoos are very fragile and can erode completely if their capstone is dislodged (in other words, no climbing allowed).

[2] Edna Manitowabi is Odawa/Ojibway from Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island, head woman for the Eastern Doorway of the Three Fires Midewin Lodge. She is also a teacher, ceremonialist, drum keeper, and grandmother.

[3] My husband studies the Karate of Okinawan Goju-Ryu and has created an outdoor dojo or school, in which to practice his art. The name Goju Ryu was given to the martial art by Chojun Miyagi Sensei. In a text written by Morio Higaonna Sensei, he shares that after 30 years An’ichi Sensei granted him permission to write about this martial art. Approval for the book came after An’ichi Sensei determined that the many versions of “history” were changing the standards, name, and guiding principles of the original art. My husband’s journey into Goju Ryu has introduced him to these old ones and their wisdom. Through his journey, he has come to understand mine. See


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