Season 4, Episode 5: Truth and reconciliation: how libraries can change the way we think about colonization
Libraries may be a space for keeping knowledge, but how often do we think about who is creating it? Jessie Loyer is the anthropology and Indigenous studies relations liaison at the Riddel Library and Learning Centre. She’s worked with students to help them develop their research skills but goes beyond that and asks them to think ethically about their sources. In this episode, we explore truth and reconciliation, interconnectedness and how libraries have played into both.
Meg Wilcox (00:00):
I’m Meg Wilcox and this is Teaching Strides — MRU faculty, daring greatly. Libraries are a place where knowledge is kept but also a place where it’s created. And something that gets overlooked is the question of who is keeping and creating this knowledge. That’s something that Jessie Loyer thinks about a lot. She’s the anthropology and indigenous studies liaison librarian at Mount Royal and was a co-lead in building the new Riddle Library and Learning Centre. She joins me in studio now. Thanks for coming in.
Jessie Loyer (00:35):
Thanks for having me.
Meg Wilcox (00:36):
So Jessie, you wear a lot of hats and you have your fingers in many pies. We’re going to talk about a few of those things today, but I want to just start with your research and how it revolves around using the Cree legal perspective in building research relationships. So how exactly would you define or describe that to someone who might be unfamiliar?
Jessie Loyer (00:54):
Totally. So, I’ve been really moved to use sort of a Cree perspective in my work to think about how I’m doing teaching and how I engage in research. And one of the legal concepts and create is “Wahkohtowin.” So it’s this idea that we know our relatives, right? It’s a legal framework for understanding how we relate to each other. And so that’s thinking about relatives, not only sort of our immediate family, but it’s also thinking about it as our relationships to people broadly, the way that work creates relationships, but then even broader, right? So non-human relatives with our environment around us. And so it’s really kind of calling us to be a good relative to all of these components of our life. And so if I think about it in relation to building research relationships, it’s really a move against this idea that you might see a librarian in a one shot, right?
In one class for one assignment. You might see them for 45-minutes while they talk specifically about which databases to click on. And I think that that is a really surface way of thinking about that relationship that could be much broader. And so it’s thinking about, I have an ongoing relationship that I step into with students. So they think they might have a concept of what a librarian is. They will have engaged in other kinds of research in the past. They’re bringing their whole selves to it. And then also when I see them in a classroom, that’s not the last time I see them, right? So I’ll see them again after either for followup or just even casually around, right? That idea that we exist outside of just sort of that individual teaching moment, but that it’s like throughout, right? And it’s a reciprocal process, right? So it’s not sort of like me dumping information into somebody but like, “here are the best databases,” but it’s a process where the research shifts and changes as both of us speak.
Meg Wilcox (02:38):
Well, and I imagine in this case, it’s a shifting role in relationship as you engage as well, right? As students come up through their years and are engaging with new ideas as you get to know these individuals better and your research is changing that it’s sort of this, this constantly shifting.
Jessie Loyer (02:52):
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s not sort of a static process where it’s like, “well, the librarian is the expert, so we’re just going to give you this information.” It’s really amazing to see the way that students’ research shifts incredibly over the years that they’re here. And I’m really privileged to sort of be a part of that shifting relationship. So, yeah, that’s absolutely true.
Meg Wilcox (03:11):
I mean, historically if we look at libraries and the information they held and who they served Indigenous, like traditional knowledge was not a role in, I wouldn’t say that necessarily Indigenous participants were sort of in the conversation at all. And I’m wondering for you as someone who’s gotten into a field where there’s so much work to be done and what pushes you to want to contribute and to make these types of changes?
Jessie Loyer (03:35):
So you’re right, there’s not very many Indigenous librarians. It’s a pretty small field. We basically all know each other, but really I was so lucky to go to library school in BC and I worked at the Xwi7xwa library. So that’s the only Indigenous academic library in Canada and it’s a space that is really focused on that exact idea. The classification system is different and so it doesn’t use library of Congress like we do here. It’s thinking about the way that information is organized differently. And I’ll give you an example, so in our library different nations will be organized alphabetically, often, and so it would be sort of like Beaver and Blackwood would be near each other. But in the Brian Deer classification system, which exists in the Xwi7xwa library nations are organized by geographic kind of location. So it would make sense that all the treaty seven nations, so like Îyâxe, Nakota people Tsuut’ina and Blackfoot people would all be kind of clustered together, which makes more sense in terms of the way that those people have relationships with each other. And so I kind of came up as a student librarian in this space that was drastically thinking about information in a different way.
I was also really lucky to have a lot of mentors. So Jean Joseph is a librarian, she’s a librarian from BC who was one of the, one of the first kind of generation of Indigenous librarians and who did a lot of work. And her focus was really on legal research. So court cases land rights, that kind of thing. And her perspective was that because we have such a gap between the way that Indigenous knowledge works and the way that Western knowledge works, librarians are really there to help bridge some of those gaps. And so with that sort of ethos, that really gave me a lot of focus on what I wanted to do. But yeah, I was really lucky to sort of have a lot of mentors. But I think that when we think about those gaps in the library, there are people doing really amazing stuff. So my focus is on teaching, I think about the way that librarians do their own teaching through information literacy instruction.
But there are librarians that are working on the way that we classify materials. I’m thinking about metadata, thinking about how we do collection building, right? So how do we actually get some of that stuff that is floating out there that is self-published into our collections? And so there’s really wonderful work being done kind of in all aspects of librarianship. But yeah, it’s a, it’s a tough thing to step into, right? You are literally working against an extremely white, extremely female profession, extremely straight professional that really upholds a lot of white supremacy to be honest. And so it’s pushing against that in big ways. And so you can chip away at it as much as you can.
Meg Wilcox (06:27):
What do you think that the library system can take and should take from Indigenous ways of knowing or classification knowledge in general?
Jessie Loyer (06:36):
Right. I think one of the things that has come up again and again is this concept of relationality. And so I even teach this in my classes. And so students often encounter articles in isolation, right? We might, it might be an honest syllabus, right? It might be something that we tell them, “okay, go find this one article.” Or even when they’re doing research, it’s like “slot two articles in.” Right? And so I’m really pushing to think, to have students really be aware of this concept that there’s a whole genealogy around an article. Right? So the reference list tells us a little bit about the ancestors of this article, right? Who’s created it, who’s engaged in it, who’s informed this work, and then whoever has cited that article really tells us about that their descendants, right? And so that’s shifted and changed and how this argument has has moved and where else it’s connected to sort of these pockets of conversations that exist. And so there’s been a little bit more of a push now in people thinking about relationality within libraries and within research, right? We’re not really looking at things kind of as an individual isolation. I think another area that is really helpful is this concept of like an ethic of care.
An ethic of care might inform the way that libraries work. And so we recognize that when we’re engaging in research, it’s not like an objective neutral perspective, right? There’s an emotional component to it, right? If we’re reading traumatic things, if we’re engaging in research that is close to us and we have to think about how it fits into our own lives, even transformative learning, right? This is like a massive shift in the way that we’re considering ourselves. All of that information requires some sort of emotional competence, right? And so there has been a push in librarianship to really think about that. And I think that that’s something that indigenous knowledge, especially from a career makeshift perspective, has really been engaging with for a long time. Right? That you kind of have to bring your whole self to something, right? You’re not just sort of here as like a brain floating in space doing research, but the effects of research are felt on your body. The processes, emotional, all of those, those components. Yeah. And we really see that when we think about the kind of things that we often get students to engage in, right? It’s stuff that’s hard. We get students to research the Holocaust, we get students to research residential schools. These are heavy, heavy subjects. And so there’s a component to that I think we have to take care of each other.
Meg Wilcox (08:57):
And one of the conversations we’re hearing on campuses everywhere is the idea of reconciliation and the calls to action and how that works within a university setting. So I’m curious your thoughts on how work within the library and teaching system there. Is there a role there in reconciliation and how so?
Jessie Loyer (09:16):
Yeah that’s such a good question. I think it’s a good question because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission really prompted us to think about a lot of things, right? There’s been massive shifts in many different areas, but we often like to jump to the reconciliation part of it to be like, “it’s gonna all be okay. We’re all going to be buds again.” And the truth part of it, we’re still really in it, right? We’re still finding out about mass burials. We’re still finding out literally about some of the experiences of certain people or finding out exactly how sort of these places were run. And so the truth side of it, that we still have many questions, libraries and archives, sort of these collections, these cultural memory institutions have an amazing role to play, right? And some of them are literally allowing our collections to be open, right? Allowing people that have literally maybe gone to some of these places to learn about them, right? To remember things, to help them make those connections. And so I really see that in some ways we’re not at the reconciliation point yet. It’s hard to fix a wound that we don’t even know what’s wrong yet.
And so I think that there’s tons more to do on the truth side before we get into reconciliation. And that’s uncomfortable, right? We want it to be okay, we want people to stop hurting, we want healing to happen, but we really have to sit in this sort of uncomfortable place and really reckon with the legacy that we’ve all inherited, right? I mean, we’re here at a university that’s part of sort of this genocidal legacy of education and like we have to make peace with that. We have to think about what that means for us. And so as an Indigenous librarian, I think about that a lot, right? So what are the ways that the collection that I have has been used to oppress Indigenous people? And so it’s a really complex concept.
I think one of the ways that reconciliation happens is for us to really think through what it means for that. The foundational thing that allows us to be here was taken away, right? So we’re here on treaty seven Blackfoot territory and the fact that we can live and work here is because people were literally pushed out of this space, right? So people were dispossessed of this space. And it’s not just sort of like land property, but it’s this concept that like if we’re thinking about that idea of Wahkohtowin right, we’re related to everything around us. We’re literally severing family ties at that point, right? We’re severing ties to like sacred spaces to rivers and saying people only have access to certain spaces. And so, I think the reconciliation part comes with certainly education, but also big reckoning of like, okay, what does this mean that this big thing happened and continues to allow us to work here?
Meg Wilcox (11:59):
But I do think that this all comes back to the concept that we are all connected and that we look at things differently when we see connections with each other instead of seeing each other as within separate bubbles.
Jessie Loyer (12:11):
Totally. Yeah. And I think that’s really important to that connection because sometimes people think about like, you know, it’s settlers and Indigenous people and it’s a much more complicated idea than that, right? There are people that have been brought here as slaves, right? And so that’s another component of this relationship to connection, right? There are people that are here as refugees, like that’s another relationship to space and to land. And so this has never been sort of about pushing out people that were not Indigenous to this place, but it’s thinking about what it means if we trust Indigenous people to think about being the hosts, right? To really have the sort of ability to be able to say, here’s what we think should happen in this space. And so that’s really exciting to think about. But we might be far away from it still.
Meg Wilcox (12:58):
Well thank you so much for joining me, Jessie.
Jessie Loyer (13:00):
Meg Wilcox (13:03):
That was Jessie Loyer, anthropology and Indigenous studies liaison librarian at Mount Royal University. You can find her on Twitter @JMLoyer. Teaching Strides is produced by Hadeel Abdel-Nabi and me, Meg Wilcox, in conjunction with the Academic Development Center at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. We’re proud to broadcast from the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, the Tsuut’ina, the Îyâxe, Nakoda Nations, the Métis Nation (Region 3). We look forward to sharing the stories and experiences of the many people who live, learn and teach in the treaty seven region. You can find us wherever you podcast and at teachingstrides.ca.