Q and A with the experts: The role of Indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated globally on August 9. It marks the date of the inaugural session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982. In keeping with this year’s theme, University of Waterloo historian and anthropologist Talena Atfield, answers questions about the roles of Indigenous women in preserving and transmitting traditional knowledges. Professor Atfield is a member of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation of the Six Nations of the Grand River.
How do Indigenous women engage in the transmission of cultural knowledges?
I can speak to the transmission of knowledges from my experience as a learner of Hodinohso:ni histories and culture. For Hodinohso:ni peoples, the importance of women in the community is inextricably tied to the land. This relationship began in our creation story with sky woman, who plays an integral role in shaping Turtle Island. Furthermore, the clan system, which is enshrined in our Great Law, defines Hodinohso:ni kinship as being organized through the women’s line – meaning descent flows from our mothers. The Great Law also defines clan mothers’ roles, as an inherited position of responsibility. Some of the most important aspects of the role of clan mothers is to protect children, ensure community decisions consider the coming generations, and advocate for, and protect the land. All people have importance in the community, and there are many ways in which different knowledges are transmitted.
Some of the ways in which Indigenous women transmit important cultural teachings is through artistic practice. In decorating rims of pots, in the creative manipulation of wefts in basket weaving, in beadwork, quillwork, and tufting designs, in painted images, as well as through various teaching methods. Hodinohso:ni black ash baskets, for example, can be regarded as mnemonic devices that carry important cultural stories and teachings. Different weft shapes such as shell weave, faces or popcorn weave, and thistle weave can prompt teachings about the importance of shells such as wampum, the importance of acting in the interests of the generations to come, and the important teachings of plants like the thistle plant, for example. In its youth it rough and prickly, but it becomes soft and gentle as it ages. The weaves of some baskets can also prompt teachings of the creation story and our place in the world through the sky dome motif.
What barriers do Indigenous women face in the transmission of traditional knowledge?
Early and ongoing governmental legislation imposed detrimental barriers to the health and success of Indigenous women, which have impacted Indigenous women’s abilities to fulfill important roles in transmitting teachings to subsequent generations. The Indian Act (1876) dictated that any Indigenous woman who moved off-reserve or married a non-Indigenous or non-status Indigenous person would be removed from her community band registry and would be forced to leave her community. This marked the beginning of the MMIWG2S epidemic. Further legislation in the Indian act, including Bill C-31, which did not fully address the gender discrimination against Indigenous women, and Bill C-3, which continues to impose blood quantum rules on Indigenous women and their descendants, perpetuates the alienation of Indigenous women from the support systems of their natal communities. Legislative efforts to terminate Hodinohso:ni sovereignty through the imposition of band council structure has been argued by Theresa McCarthy (2016) to represent a direct attack on women’s leadership roles and contributions, given the matrilineal, clan-based system of the Hodinohso:ni Nation. The imposition of a colonial governance system over the Hodinohso:ni traditional governance system erases and ignores the important roles Hodinohso:ni women hold in maintaining balance and equity in Hodinohso:ni communities and further diminishes the roles women carry in transmitting important cultural knowledges. Lastly, Residential schooling further removed Indigenous children from their language and cultural responsibilities and values, creating more barriers to the transmission of community knowledges for coming generations. The multi-pronged approach to Indigenous erasure in what is now Canada specifically targeted Indigenous women as carriers and transmitters of their cultures to future generations.
How can people support Indigenous women’s initiatives?
Organizations such as the Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada are engaging in artistic reclamation and regeneration efforts by providing training for Indigenous women through events such as the Indigenous Women’s Art conference. The reclamation of artistic practices is an important tool for community, family, and individual healing. These practices connect us to previous generations through practice-specific knowledge such as where and when to harvest materials, the physical movements of creation, and the stories that accompany creating activities. Furthermore, new generations learn storytelling through their artistic practice and, in turn, learn how to read the art of previous generations.
The Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada is an Indigenous-led organization that supports and promotes Indigenous women in the arts. There are many ways to support artists through this organization, including purchasing directly from artists through the auction, as well as options to donate and participate in activities for Indigenous women and their families.
Talena Atfield is an Assistant Professor in History at the University of Waterloo. She is a member of the Kanien'kehá:ka Nation of the Six Nations of the Grand River. Previously, she was Curator of eastern ethnology at the Canadian Museum of History.
New diabetes monitor can detect glucose levels using breath
A next-generation diabetes monitor that analyses breath might soon mean no more needle pricks to check blood sugar levels.
The device uses gas sensors to measure breath instantly, then links via Bluetooth with a program on a mobile device to give a readout.
Distinct biomarkers in exhaled breath carry a subtle signature that the device picks up before the app uses a deep learning algorithm to produce rapid individual results.
Nathalia Nascimento, a postdoctoral researcher in the Cheriton School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, and a team of researchers and health professionals are developing the new health-tech through a startup company called OrientaMED.
“It’s about the size of a mobile phone and also has a detachable mouthpiece,” Nascimento said. “We’ve developed it through a series of prototypes and are getting set for clinical trials.”
The researchers had initially investigated the use of gas sensors to identify various diseases through breath before being encouraged to focus on diabetes specifically since there is nothing of the kind in the field.
“There are many possible uses for the same technology,” Nascimento said. “So many people are living with diabetes and have to go through an uncomfortable daily routine. Our product is hopefully going to make things a little easier.”
The fledgling company has already received support from the European Union, Brazil and health-tech companies. Nascimento said they are now looking to form a partnership as they begin controlled human trials of the product ahead of release to the public.
“We know it will take about six months to do the trials, then another six months to go through the regulatory review process,” Nascimento said. “We’d realistically hope to be able to manufacture the device and start to get it into the world in the next year or so.”
Even ahead of any public release, the new technology is creating excitement. The team has been involved in several startup contests and was recently the winner of the Waterloo-sponsored Concept 5K Challenge. The competition was the culmination of the term end and the largest event for Velocity student participants.
Along with Nascimento, the OrientaMED was founded by biotech researchers Jullia Moraes Nascimento and Rheyller Vargas.
Participants needed for weight loss study
A message from the Metabolism, Exercise Training and Sex Differences (METS) lab.
Are you looking to lose weight? We are recruiting participants for an exercise and weight loss study. Researchers from the Metabolism, Exercise Training and Sex Differences (METS) lab in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo are seeking sedentary, overweight males and females aged 18-45 years for a research study investigating whether the addition of two nutritional supplements to an exercise regime can improve the effects of exercise training on ‘high-quality weight loss’.
‘High-quality weight loss’ is weight loss where you lose the most amount of body fat while maintaining muscle mass. It is important to induce ‘high-quality weight loss’ because maintaining muscle mass during weight loss can help prevent weight regain. We will also determine if these supplements induce greater gains in muscle strength, aerobic fitness, and insulin sensitivity compared with exercise training alone. We are recruiting both males and females for this study because there is evidence that females have a harder time losing weight and that insulin sensitivity doesn’t improve as much in females in response to exercise training, so by recruiting both males and females we can determine the effectiveness of the intervention in both males and females.
If you choose to take part in this trial you will be asked to participate in a series of preliminary testing (4 visits), followed by a series of training sessions (36 visits), then post-testing visits (3 visits) and have blood samples, ultrasound measurements, and a body composition scan taken prior to, and after the training and supplementation period. Training will take place three times a week and will consist of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and 30 minutes of resistance exercise. Aside from the potential for weight loss, there are many benefits to participating in this study including: 1) getting information about your aerobic fitness, strength and body composition and seeing how these outcomes improve with training, 2) receiving a personalized training regime that is tailored to your fitness level and that will be adjusted throughout the 12-week program based on your progress, and 3) receiving supervised training from qualified personnel so that you learn proper exercise and lifting techniques. In addition, participants will receive a $100 gift card upon completion of the study.
If you are interested in participating in this study or have any questions, please contact Jennifer Wilkinson, Department of Kinesiology at 905-414-7897 or email@example.com. We encourage all members of the community to participate, so please tell your family and friends as well.
Backpack Challenge supports children and families
A message from the University of Waterloo Special Constable Service.
The Waterloo Regional Police Service has challenged the community to take part in its fifth annual Backpack Challenge to help support children and families in need.
From now until August 24, 2022, please consider donating one of the following:
- New Backpacks;
- Lunch Bags;
- School Supplies; and
- Gift Cards.
The University of Waterloo Special Constable Service (SCS) is accepting donations as part of this campaign. There is a drop box in the SCS office (located in the Commissary Building) that is accessible 24/7.