Widening the Sweetgrass Road: Re/Balancing Ways of Knowing for Sustainable Living with a Cree-Nishnaabe Medicine Circle
Dockstator, Jennifer Sue
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A Cree-Nishnaabe Medicine Circle, as I have learned about it through twenty-eight years of ceremonies, guides this learning journey of an Indigenous way of knowing as it applies to the theory and practice of sustainability, a strategic ideal established to negotiate the complexities of human-nature relationships and balance social, environmental, and economic priorities. The pursuit of sustainability today has been approached primarily from within the dominant Western, neoliberal worldview. In this dissertation, I uphold Indigenous ways of knowing as equal to Western knowledges. If life as we know it is undergoing significant changes due to climate change and stress upon natural limits to Earth’s life-supporting systems, how can Indigenous ways of knowing contribute toward humanity’s adaptation to these changes? The Cree-Nishnaabe Medicine Circle, as I have come to understand it, provides the methodological basis for my dissertation. This distinctly Indigenous framework privileges an Indigenous approach to assessing the above question and comprehending a way forward. As a non-Indigenous woman, I share how I have been able to situate myself within an Indigenous framework to examine dominant approaches to sustainability (distinct from customary practice using a Western methodology). The following questions are explored to provide context and propose a way forward: What is the dominant Western approach to the current pursuit of sustainability? What are fundamental Indigenous and Western viewpoints underlying their respective worldviews? How does a Cree-Nishnaabe Medicine Circle provide insights and instruction for living in respectful balance with Creation? The main thesis of this dissertation is that Indigenous ways of knowing integrate holistic perspectives and time-proven wisdom essential for sustainable, relational living, which have endured in learnings of “the Sweetgrass Road,” the miyopimatisiwin (also translated as "the way of the good life" or "the way of an exemplary life"). Metaphorically speaking, “widening the Sweetgrass Road” is one intent of my dissertation, sharing learnings of the Medicine Circle so more people can "walk this road" and appreciate the depth of meanings contained therein. By combining insights and re/balancing Indigenous and Western knowledges, I propose a way forward around four themes: raised consciousness, shared responsibility, universal equity, and braided movement.