Nov. 17, 2020

Reconcile yourself with the earth

Indigenous law researcher John Borrows explores reconciliation and resurgence as keynote speaker at ii’ taa’poh’to’p journey update event Nov. 26
John Borrows
John Borrows

In 2017, UCalgary launched the Indigenous Strategy ii’ taa’poh’to’p to guide us on our path of transformation and to communicate our commitment and responsibility for truth and reconciliation. On Nov. 26, the Office of Indigenous Engagement will host their annual journey update, Towards Transformation, and provide an opportunity to reflect on our collective journey. 

Dr. John Borrows, PhD, an Anishinaabe/Ojibway scholar and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria, recognizes fall as the storytelling season. He describes “Gashkadano-giizis” as the ice freezing over moon, which signals it is time to prepare, gather, slow down and reflect. Borrows says Indigenous ways of tracking the seasons identify natural patterns and tell us what people have historically done on the land at different times.

  • Pictured above: John Borrows

“Patterns are everywhere — there are patterns in ourselves and in nature, and in the work we do with one another,” says Borrows, this year’s keynote speaker for the online event. “Planning comes from identifying patterns in the world around us and in our own bodies.”

He says since it's the season for sharing stories, it's a fitting time for UCalgary to share our story about the implementation of ii’ taa’poh’to’p and to reflect on the patterns that have emerged throughout our educational journey so far. 

Resurgence and reconciliation

Borrows’ work explores two prominent schools of thought in Indigenous-settler relations — resurgence and reconciliation — as a product of finding those healthy patterns that connect us to the earth.

“If we, as human beings, reconcile ourselves with the earth, it will be much easier for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to identify the earth as the source to help correlate how we relate together,” says Borrows. “You can think of yourself as an ally with the fish and the birds and the trees. We are citizens together because we are part of a community that is mutually participatory with the impulse to ensure that it isn’t being hierarchal and neglecting voices.”

Whether you find connection to the earth by performing pipe ceremonies, practicing yoga or studying science is irrelevant — Borrows says we don’t need to live in lockstep, but we do need to find ways to be mindful about how our lives correlate to our bodily rhythms and the rhythms of nature.

Earth teaching and the law

Borrows, a member of the Chippewa of the Nawash First Nation in Ontario, began teaching Indigenous law in 1991, just a year after the first case of Aboriginal and treaty rights was decided following the patriation of Canada’s constitution.

“I was there at the right time and the right place to follow how Aboriginal and treaty rights developed through the courts,” says Borrows. “My masters and doctoral thesis looked at treaties back home on my reserve and surrounding areas, and as I was doing that research, the court started speaking about these things too.”

Throughout his career, Borrows has held full-time positions at four different Canadian law schools. As a teacher, he aims to inspire his students. “The role of a teacher is to create enthusiasm and provide information, so people’s own agency is enhanced and their own ability to participate from different perspectives is strengthened,” he says.

As an advocate of earth teachings, Borrows has taken his students to his and other reserves in Ontario, where they draw out laws from real events and issues. At the annual University of Victoria Indigenous Law Camp, Borrows says students go on the land and learn from elders, youth, waters, plants and animals.

Register now for the ii' taa'poh'to'p journey update

Towards Transformation, the ii' taa'poh'to'p journey update, is an opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon UCalgary’s journey in the three years since the launch of the Indigenous Strategy.

Dr. Michael Hart, PhD, UCalgary's vice-provost (indigenous engagement) will host the event. He'll call on President Ed Macauley and Provost Dru Marshall to share the experience and learnings they have gained as leaders working with ii' taa'poh'to'p. We'll also hear student and staff reflections on ii' taa'poh'to'p and UCalgary’s journey towards transformation.

Dr. Reg Crowshoe, UCalgary senate member and a prominent cultural and spiritual leader from Piikani First Nation will open and close the event — a privilege that is not lost on Borrows.

“I have a great respect for Reg Crowshoe and it feels like an honour just to have him intersect with this event,” says Borrows. “I regard him as one of the wise ones of the earth, and that means a lot to me.”

Register now for Towards Transformation, the ii' taa'poh'to'p journey update, on Nov. 26, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.