Monday, July 17, 2017

"Expanding Knowledge Through Dreaming, Wampum and Visual Arts"

Sometimes you start reading something and you just know it is going to speak to you.  The article "Expanding Knowledge Through Dreaming, Wampum and Visual Arts"  by Dawn Marsden was like that for me.  I started out sure that here was learning contained inside.  It started with a lovely prayer, leading us to the right mindset to read this paper and also giving us a sense of the writer and how they ground themselves.  I really appreciated that.

From this start, the article discusses the role of dreaming and how this way of learning should be integrated into the research process.  Marsden uses the concept of convergence from counseling theory where knowledge is formed from information that comes together from a variety of sources.  She extends this way of knowing into her research paradigm by focusing on the relational aspects of how information from different areas come together to produce knowledge.  She contrasts this with
quantitative validity, where validity is determined by a critical mass of believers.

She extends this concepts to encompass three relational domains that are the basis for validating knowledge, the personal, internal and external.  Knowledge is tested by experiencing and questioning the resonance of the knowledge received with the base of knowledge that is already known from previous experiences in each of these domains.  This creates a space to resist the dominance of knowledge from texts.  All knowledge meets in the same space.  As an example she refers us to the Elders where there is a life of inclusion and connection.  I have personally seen this many times where Elders move easily between their "professional" and spiritual knowing.

Marsden shares her experience in starting her PHD and feeling like she was coming out and exposing herself by asserting an indigenous world view in that space.  I can sympathize with that feeling.  Each time I bring a story or an indigenous way to the office it feels exposed.  It is not the "Rational"  or "business" way.  But from my experience I have seen over and over the power for both for me and for others in bringing teachings into these spaces, .  For me, this process is an important part of reconciliation.  We are still here.  We are not a quaint echo of the past, but a vibrant source of solutions for our joint future.

During the same period, external to school, she was spending time talking about beads and their role in telling stories, demonstrating community solidarity and in recording agreements.  In a dream, she was shown how the Wampum could be a model for a research methodology which could show the links between past, present and future as well as community, academia and self.

She describes it as "a Wampum Research Model which wove together significant and complex strands of influence and relationships within my research".  The top row of beads represent the messages of academia, the middle is community and the bottom is the self.  The intermediary beads, in black, are "the research questions which change according to the language most preferred at each stage."  The black beads give the structure, pulling the bracelet together and connecting all the knowledge.  These can also be thought of as the questions that get posed prior to the next iteration of the pattern.  The paper explains the model with an example, highlighting the increasing precision and integration of the thinking as the pattern is reproduced. 

After I read the article, I worked through my own question using this methodology and found it a very helpful way to think about an issue.  I was able to tease out different strands and see how they were influencing each other.  I adapted to model so that the three levels were personal, family and community/work.  I felt like this model helped me to achieve a greater understanding of the issue and was also a useful visual reminder of the thinking process.  .

Marsden notes that the creation of the wampum reflects the sharing that goes on in the research relationship and that a representation (bracelet) could be shared with those who were working together as a reminder of the relationship created and the implied shared meaning.  Continual wearing of the wampum could also be an invitation to further ponder the positives and negatives of the patterns being developed.

She finishes by asking us to remember the long relationship between beads and humans and some of the ways these have been used to connect to knowing and being, such as the use of beads for prayers.  She notes that, "if we can re-integrate Wampum and other beading and weaving tools back into our institutions of knowledge, and into our psyches, we will be well on our way back to rebalancing who we are as human beings."  This statement strongly resonates with me.  Both as a theme I have explored many times on this blog, but also as a marker of our slow awakening to the value of women's hand work and recognition that it contains knowledge and teachings while also being a link to our ancestors and those yet to come. 

Marsden finishes by speaking again about how dreaming can help us gain perspectives on our lives that are beyond our current comprehension.  She finishes by challenging us to create intellectual spaces in academic institutions for, " re-validating and restoring these ancient tools, these holistic processes, especially in fields edging into qualitative research where the boundaries and laws of the physical world do not apply.  Reduction of our humanity into concrete categories, through isolated observations, does not produce a knowledge base founded on the reality of our holistic human condition."  I am an economist and I love my quantitative models, but, I know these are not real and  real people needs something else.  I really appreciated how this wampum model brought together rigorous thought with a space to recognize that we are humans acting in particular spaces and shaped by many influences. 

I am thankful that Dawn Marsden shared her knowledge and these teachings.  I am excited to apply this model to my work and life.  I am reminded that I need  to listen more closely to my dreams.  Sometimes sleep becomes just a lost time of productivity,y but I am going to try and value it as a space of knowing .

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