Indigenous prof aims to build bridges through education

Indigenous scholar and historian Joshua Manitowabi is harnessing the power of education to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada on the path of reconciliation.

Manitowabi joined the Department of History as an Assistant Professor earlier this year, bringing his perspectives and academic contributions to the curricula at Brock University while supporting future generations in understanding Indigenous Peoples and their past.

“It is our time to share our story, and this revitalization of Indigenous knowledge is happening through education,” he said.

Originally from northern Ontario, Manitowabi is a Potawatomi, Bear clan, member of the Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation, located on the eastern area of Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, sitting on Georgian Bay.

He first came to Brock in 2017 after completing an Honours Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Arts in Anthropology with a minor in Indigenous Studies at McMaster University. Pursuing his PhD in Interdisciplinary Humanities at Brock centred on “Anishinaabek Knowledge and Power on Manitoulin Island,” Manitowabi will defend his thesis in 2024.

In his courses, Manitowabi engages with Indigenous knowledge systems in a “post-colonial” global context and the history of colonization in the Great Lakes incorporating perspectives from other Indigenous and BIPOC scholars. He also examines the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and economies of First Nations.

Manitowabi’s research focuses on 18th-century Great Lakes history, specifically addressing the diplomatic relations of the Odawa people with other Indigenous nations, such as the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples before European settlement.

Interested in interpretations of treaties of the Odawa people and the French and British Crowns, Manitowabi examines how their negotiation skills were transferred to their interactions with colonialists.

“Treaties are not static, they are ever-evolving, and that was understood by the Indigenous people,” he said.

Historical maps and cartography play a key role in Manitowabi’s research. He is developing a digital map of cultural geography showing the many Indigenous groups of the Great Lakes and how colonization affected their movements.

“There is a larger movement happening with this research. It is all around us now —connections are being made back to the land,” he said.

Through listening to Elders, diving into archives and researching maps and colonial records, Manitowabi has uncovered many pieces of Indigenous history embedded throughout.

An example can be found in the historic papers of colonialist William Johnson which reference a “condolence ceremony.” Manitowabi found record and physical descriptions of the specific ceremony that took place before treaty talks, during which there was an exchange of Wampum belts.

“I use information like this for my research; I connect the details back to geographic space, looking at territories and lands, exploring how treaties are connected back to Indigenous places,” he said.

Manitowabi said many Indigenous scholars have paved the way in Indigenous Studies for people like him, notably Ojibwa author, linguist and teacher Basil Johnston and Seneca writer and teacher John Mohawk.

Through transcribing oral histories to written word and developing how Indigenous knowledge is transferred, Manitowabi is thrilled to see traditional oral history being connected back to scholarship.

He is calling on Canadians to look at the future together with understanding and address the need for change in education at all levels to better reflect the history and stories of Indigenous people as well as their importance.

“We need to hang on to our identity, culture and knowledge systems,” Manitowabi said. “Indigenous youth need to live in two worlds, one in this Eurocentric society and the Indigenous world. I am just one person, but I can contribute to the larger puzzle through education and research as an Indigenous person.”

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