On the Mic with Mike #2: Reconciliation through research with Dr. Jonathan Dewar

In this episode of On the Mic with Mike, CIHR President Dr. Michael Strong sits down with Dr. Jonathan Dewar, the Executive Director of the First Nations Information Governance Centre. The two discuss culture, community, and Indigenous scholarship.

Transcript

Dr. Michael Strong: Hello, and welcome to this edition of “On the Mic with Mike”. First off, what a wonderful reception we’ve been having from them. I love all the feedback you’ve been giving us. We’re looking forward to getting out to many different places across Canada, to have these conversations. It’s important for us to hear from you, so thank you very much for doing that.

Today, we’ve got a real treat for you. We’re going to be having a discussion around First Nations issues, and particularly as they relate to health research. Jonathan Dewar is going to be joining us. I’ll tell you a little bit more about that in a minute. We’re going to be heading up to the offices. Let’s have a cup of coffee and have a conversation around this. We’re going to explore what it means for us, to be really dealing with Truth and Reconciliation, as we move into to research realm, and such. So listen, join me, come on in, and we’re going to have a cup of coffee and a conversation.

Welcome to the First Nations Information Governance Centre. Today, we’re with Dr. Jonathan Dewar. Jonathan, we’ll talk in just a minute, but first, I do want to say thank you for allowing us to be on these traditional lands of the Anishinaabe. I think it’s a real honour, so... And in joining us today, we are looking forward to this. As you know, as we’ve said in some of these videos, this is really about kind of understanding, where did you get to where you are? Your career has taken an amazing path. I want to have a look at it, kind of talk a little bit about that, and then see how you’re going to move things forward.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Sure.

Dr. Michael Strong: So maybe, let’s just start with you introducing yourself, and tell us a little bit about your pathway, because it is fascinating.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Sure. So, my name is Jonathan Dewar, and I’m the executive director here at the First Nations Information Governance Centre. The most recent job, and one I think is an interesting career trajectory... I’ll tell you a little bit about that. So I’ve been here for about 18 months, and it’s exciting work. I think we’re going to loop back to some of the work that I do here, with an amazing network of people across the country, who really do all the real work. I sign papers. You may be familiar with that kind of role.

Dr. Michael Strong: Very much so.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: So, how did I get here? Well, I mean, people who have heard me talk about my work, or have read some of my work... Because, the story that I tell really, is central to the work that I’ve done, because “positionality”, or that subject positioning, for me, as a researcher, is really important, and so, most of my positioning starts with a very personal story of how I came to be interested in First Nations issues, in particular, but Indigenous issues broadly as well, in this country, and internationally.

So, I grew up knowing that my maternal grandmother was connected to a First Nations community, through her father, my great grandfather. That’s the community of Wendake, in Quebec, the Huron-Wendat Nation. But my grandmother, and her siblings, were a product of their time, and so, the connection to culture and community had been severed in their lifetime. So, my mother and her sisters didn’t grow with that connection to culture and community. And so, I think you’ll find that that’s very typical of a lot of people like me, of mixed heritage. You know, they have found their way to these issues in a very personal way, and then some people have very heartbreaking stories of why that connection to culture and community has been severed. Residential schools, the 60s scoop, dispossession, displacement, enfranchisement, you know, all of these issues. And so, parts of those are my story, as well as my family’s story.

But I was lucky, in my generation, that I grew up with my family openly talking about my great grandfather, and how proud we were of him. Yes, the stories always started with he grew up on the “res”, and he left the “res”, and then became successful. But, by the time I came around, and I’m the youngest of all my cousins, my family talked quite proudly about what he’d accomplished, and so, he came to work for Louis St-Laurent, the Prime Minister.

Dr. Michael Strong: That’s quite good, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: He was his driver, when he was a lawyer. He later became his personal messenger. So, back before e-mail, well before e-mail, he delivered messages for Mr. St-Laurent. And then, when Louis St-Laurent became prime minister, he went to the Hill with him, and he was known as “the Indian on the Hill”.

Dr. Michael Strong: So how long ago would that have been?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: So my great grandfather retired from that position in 1955 or 56, at 70 years old, so that’s quite a while ago.

Dr. Michael Strong: And he would have been there, then, during that time period, when a lot of the health policies and such, were being formulated and enacted.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Yeah, no. I won’t make a claim that my great grandfather was actively involved in decision-making.

Dr. Michael Strong: No, I understood. But, he would’ve been there during that time.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: He may have been at some of those meetings, or outside some of those meetings, but because he had that role, my family talked very proudly about him. So, unlike a lot of families that were... There was a certain degree of shame, about the disconnection from culture and community, of not knowing how to connect. I was lucky that in my family, we were proud of that connection. Now, what it meant was, nobody really knew anything, and I became interested as a child, naively, and did all the stereotypical things that young people do when they want to connect to something. Whether you are Italian-Canadian, or Scottish-Canadian, or French-Canadian, or in this case, connected to a First Nations in Canada, you have some romantic ideals, and you explore those things, which became threads in some of the work that I did do. But, I explored it through popular culture, and later the arts, and in particular, literature.

So, my academic career was, it’s started out, I was a literature scholar, and did a Masters degree in creative writing, and I focused my reading interests and my writing interests, on exploration of culture and community. And again, early on, 25 years ago, I did it I think, naively. I came to know many people who helped me along the way, I made many wonderful discoveries, figured out appropriate ways to enter it into the discourse, and be part of a community meaningfully, and then some of those things that I learned did drive me to say, “I don’t think this is the right path”. This academic path that I’m on, I don’t think serves my interests, which includes now interests in serving community, being accountable to community.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, how far does that actually go back then, in your thinking, right? So, a lot of individuals we talk to... This is something that you know, I wasn’t even 10, or 11, or 12 yet, I was beginning to realize this was an area of interest for me. Literature and the arts, is almost like a fine line, it’s an acquired taste. But it sounds like you had an interest really early on in this. How did that come about?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, I mean, you could turn to literature and art more broadly, it is a way in. And because I loved to write, because I loved to read as a young person... I was very fortunate to have parents who were very supportive of that. That was the way in. But still, that naive entrance into this idea of “oh, I have learned something through this creative work”, I think creative works are an avenue for me to explore connection, to explore how artists are using their art to explore that same theme, and then, how audiences are drawn to those works, perhaps, on similar journeys.

So for me, I was in my mid to late teens when I sort of made that connection, and I actually went off, I did my freshman at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, and I was enamoured with the idea that that was an institution that had originally been built for the education of American Indians. I had intended to be there, in part, as a Native Studies scholar. I ended up, circumstances, financial actually, brought me back to Canada. I finished my undergraduate degree in literature here, making a conscious effort to try to work Indigenous or Native literature, as we called it back in the early 1990s, Native literature, into what I was doing, and I did not find many avenues for that, at the University of Ottawa. What I found was, when I went out into the world, to conferences, and those sorts of things, or book-oriented events, I started to meet this incredibly lively, incredibly thoughtful community of Native, and non-Native, or Indigenous, and non-Indigenous scholars, working on, working to advance, Native literature, and that’s where I felt like “ok, this is connection that I can follow, and I can learn from people”.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, my impression, and really that’s all it is, and in talking to my colleagues, some of my First Nations colleagues and friends, that that’s a much richer culture now than it would have been 30 years ago, say. But is the journey any less difficult, for a young person now, wanting to fall... Particularly in the arts, right? Arts, literature, expression, video, whatever it might be. Is it any less difficult now than it would have been in your day?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: So, there’s part of that question I can’t answer. I couldn’t tell you, first of all, I’m not young anymore. But, I can imagine that they are ways that it is easier for young people today, because there are more avenues. Just look at our Canadian institutions, post-secondary institutions, Native studies, Indigenous studies, Aboriginal studies, they have proliferated over the years. So you can, unlike my experiences in undergraduate, where I couldn’t find any courses, I couldn’t find the content, in a more mainstream literature program. I think the opportunities are much more available now. Now, it may be easier in some ways, but I would never say that someone’s personal journey, to discovering how they’re connected to community, is easier. We now have social media. We didn’t have that, when I was young. Perspectives that need to be part of these conversations, can happen in an instant, on social media. That can be difficult. People had been openly criticized, and perhaps rightly so. It is a part of being a member of a community, whether a discreet Indigenous community, or some larger community of interests. You have to be open to that criticism.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, you’re raising a very interesting point there, which you’ve done a couple of times now. “Community”. And I think of, certainly for myself, my colleagues who are not Indigenous, not First Nations, community is a thing, a concept, we struggle with, to really understand for. So, when you’re talking about community, whether it’d be small local community, family community, a larger First Nations, Indigenous community, a whole community, what do you mean?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, so this is a part of... You’ll see a lot of people like me, when we do our “positionality” thing, we necessarily use very specific language about how we talk about connection. So, I’m very proud to say that I’m connected to my grandmother, there’s no disputing that, and her connection to a community is real. But, her connection to that community is not my connection to the community. So, I would never make a claim to be a member of that community, of a citizen of the nation, because I am, you know, two generations solidly removed from that connection.

So, they use the language of diaspora, they use the language of “mixed identity”, as opposed to a First Nations identity. I think these are things people have to think through, and be part of the way they critically position themselves. So, for me, I’m comfortable saying I’m a person of mixed heritage, a First Nations heritage, a specific First Nations heritage is part of that, but I’m very clear what it means to be connected to a community. So, when Indigenous pokes me, they ask “hey, where are you from?”, and, especially for First Nations folks, they’re looking to know which community, or communities, people are very tangibly connected to.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, it’s a geographic?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, you are from “a Nation”, you are from a community under that nation context, you’re with this community as opposed to that community, but people are also looking to know: Are you connected as a member, are you connected as a citizen? And what that means for the conversation can be different. For researchers, that is very important, because if you’re from a discreet community, discreet identifiable community, and you choose to work with your own community, the relationship is very, very different. I think it can be extremely rich, but also fought with challenges. But, if you’re not from that community, even if you are First Nations, you’re not from there. It’s different. And you need to position yourself differently, you need to think differently, and you need to think where the accountabilities and the authorities are.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, if you’re a young person right now, thinking about... This is really awesome. I can have an opportunity to become an Indigenous scholar. Large, right? I don’t have to lose my sense of community to do that, is that what you’re telling me?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: I hope not. I think we’ve come a long way. I think young and old people... There are people on journeys late in life. You know, national news, in the last several months, has been the 60s scoop issue, so those people who were adopted out, and are quite late in life, in some cases, some friends of mine, making those connections. So, they’re on journeys that I have found myself on, a much more profound journey that I found myself on, but they’re on those journeys, perhaps in their 40s, 50s, 60s. So, young people yes, but it’s not exclusively young people.

But, they are journeys to figure out what it means to connect, and it can be extremely challenging. I think we have to give people a lot of space for that, but accountability, ultimately, has to be there at the end of the day.

Dr. Michael Strong: Jonathan, this has been fantastic. I want to thank you so much for sharing it with me.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: My pleasure.

Dr. Michael Strong: We could go on for another hour or two, maybe we will some day. But, thanks for sharing all of that with me, I really appreciate it. Take care.

Listen to the full interview

Listen to it here or on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music or Spotify.

Transcript

Dr. Michael Strong: Hello, and welcome to this edition of “On the Mic with Mike”. First off, what a wonderful reception we’ve been having from them. I love all the feedback you’ve been giving us. We’re looking forward to getting out to many different places across Canada, to have these conversations. It’s important for us to hear from you, so thank you very much for doing that.

Today, we’ve got a real treat for you. We’re going to be having a discussion around First Nations issues, and particularly as they relate to health research. Jonathan Dewar is going to be joining us. I’ll tell you a little bit more about that in a minute. We’re going to be heading up to the offices. Let’s have a cup of coffee and have a conversation around this. We’re going to explore what it means for us, to be really dealing with Truth and Reconciliation, as we move into to research realm, and such. So listen, join me, come on in, and we’re going to have a cup of coffee and a conversation.

Welcome to the First Nations Information Governance Centre. Today, we’re with Dr. Jonathan Dewar. Jonathan, we’ll talk in just a minute, but first, I do want to say thank you for allowing us to be on these traditional lands of the Anishinaabe. I think it’s a real honour, so... And in joining us today, we are looking forward to this. As you know, as we’ve said in some of these videos, this is really about kind of understanding, where did you get to where you are? Your career has taken an amazing path. I want to have a look at it, kind of talk a little bit about that, and then see how you’re going to move things forward.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Sure.

Dr. Michael Strong: So maybe, let’s just start with you introducing yourself, and tell us a little bit about your pathway, because it is fascinating.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Sure. So, my name is Jonathan Dewar, and I’m the executive director here at the First Nations Information Governance Centre. The most recent job, and one I think is an interesting career trajectory... I’ll tell you a little bit about that. So I’ve been here for about 18 months, and it’s exciting work. I think we’re going to loop back to some of the work that I do here, with an amazing network of people across the country, who really do all the real work. I sign papers. You may be familiar with that kind of role.

Dr. Michael Strong: Very much so.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: So, how did I get here? Well, I mean, people who have heard me talk about my work, or have read some of my work... Because, the story that I tell really, is central to the work that I’ve done, because “positionality”, or that subject positioning, for me, as a researcher, is really important, and so, most of my positioning starts with a very personal story of how I came to be interested in First Nations issues, in particular, but Indigenous issues broadly as well, in this country, and internationally.

So, I grew up knowing that my maternal grandmother was connected to a First Nations community, through her father, my great grandfather. That’s the community of Wendake, in Quebec, the Huron-Wendat Nation. But my grandmother, and her siblings, were a product of their time, and so, the connection to culture and community had been severed in their lifetime. So, my mother and her sisters didn’t grow with that connection to culture and community. And so, I think you’ll find that that’s very typical of a lot of people like me, of mixed heritage. You know, they have found their way to these issues in a very personal way, and then some people have very heartbreaking stories of why that connection to culture and community has been severed. Residential schools, the 60s scoop, dispossession, displacement, enfranchisement, you know, all of these issues. And so, parts of those are my story, as well as my family’s story.

But I was lucky, in my generation, that I grew up with my family openly talking about my great grandfather, and how proud we were of him. Yes, the stories always started with he grew up on the “res”, and he left the “res”, and then became successful. But, by the time I came around, and I’m the youngest of all my cousins, my family talked quite proudly about what he’d accomplished, and so, he came to work for Louis St-Laurent, the Prime Minister.

Dr. Michael Strong: That’s quite good, yeah.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: He was his driver, when he was a lawyer. He later became his personal messenger. So, back before e-mail, well before e-mail, he delivered messages for Mr. St-Laurent. And then, when Louis St-Laurent became prime minister, he went to the Hill with him, and he was known as “the Indian on the Hill”.

Dr. Michael Strong: So how long ago would that have been?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: So my great grandfather retired from that position in 1955 or 56, at 70 years old, so that’s quite a while ago.

Dr. Michael Strong: And he would have been there, then, during that time period, when a lot of the health policies and such, were being formulated and enacted.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Yeah, no. I won’t make a claim that my great grandfather was actively involved in decision-making.

Dr. Michael Strong: No, I understood. But, he would’ve been there during that time.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: He may have been at some of those meetings, or outside some of those meetings, but because he had that role, my family talked very proudly about him. So, unlike a lot of families that were... There was a certain degree of shame, about the disconnection from culture and community, of not knowing how to connect. I was lucky that in my family, we were proud of that connection. Now, what it meant was, nobody really knew anything, and I became interested as a child, naively, and did all the stereotypical things that young people do when they want to connect to something. Whether you are Italian-Canadian, or Scottish-Canadian, or French-Canadian, or in this case, connected to a First Nations in Canada, you have some romantic ideals, and you explore those things, which became threads in some of the work that I did do. But, I explored it through popular culture, and later the arts, and in particular, literature.

So, my academic career was, it’s started out, I was a literature scholar, and did a Masters degree in creative writing, and I focused my reading interests and my writing interests, on exploration of culture and community. And again, early on, 25 years ago, I did it I think, naively. I came to know many people who helped me along the way, I made many wonderful discoveries, figured out appropriate ways to enter it into the discourse, and be part of a community meaningfully, and then some of those things that I learned did drive me to say, “I don’t think this is the right path”. This academic path that I’m on, I don’t think serves my interests, which includes now interests in serving community, being accountable to community.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, how far does that actually go back then, in your thinking, right? So, a lot of individuals we talk to... This is something that you know, I wasn’t even 10, or 11, or 12 yet, I was beginning to realize this was an area of interest for me. Literature and the arts, is almost like a fine line, it’s an acquired taste. But it sounds like you had an interest really early on in this. How did that come about?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, I mean, you could turn to literature and art more broadly, it is a way in. And because I loved to write, because I loved to read as a young person... I was very fortunate to have parents who were very supportive of that. That was the way in. But still, that naive entrance into this idea of “oh, I have learned something through this creative work”, I think creative works are an avenue for me to explore connection, to explore how artists are using their art to explore that same theme, and then, how audiences are drawn to those works, perhaps, on similar journeys.

So for me, I was in my mid to late teens when I sort of made that connection, and I actually went off, I did my freshman at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, and I was enamoured with the idea that that was an institution that had originally been built for the education of American Indians. I had intended to be there, in part, as a Native Studies scholar. I ended up, circumstances, financial actually, brought me back to Canada. I finished my undergraduate degree in literature here, making a conscious effort to try to work Indigenous or Native literature, as we called it back in the early 1990s, Native literature, into what I was doing, and I did not find many avenues for that, at the University of Ottawa. What I found was, when I went out into the world, to conferences, and those sorts of things, or book-oriented events, I started to meet this incredibly lively, incredibly thoughtful community of Native, and non-Native, or Indigenous, and non-Indigenous scholars, working on, working to advance, Native literature, and that’s where I felt like “ok, this is connection that I can follow, and I can learn from people”.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, my impression, and really that’s all it is, and in talking to my colleagues, some of my First Nations colleagues and friends, that that’s a much richer culture now than it would have been 30 years ago, say. But is the journey any less difficult, for a young person now, wanting to fall... Particularly in the arts, right? Arts, literature, expression, video, whatever it might be. Is it any less difficult now than it would have been in your day?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: So, there’s part of that question I can’t answer. I couldn’t tell you, first of all, I’m not young anymore. But, I can imagine that they are ways that it is easier for young people today, because there are more avenues. Just look at our Canadian institutions, post-secondary institutions, Native studies, Indigenous studies, Aboriginal studies, they have proliferated over the years. So you can, unlike my experiences in undergraduate, where I couldn’t find any courses, I couldn’t find the content, in a more mainstream literature program. I think the opportunities are much more available now. Now, it may be easier in some ways, but I would never say that someone’s personal journey, to discovering how they’re connected to community, is easier. We now have social media. We didn’t have that, when I was young. Perspectives that need to be part of these conversations, can happen in an instant, on social media. That can be difficult. People had been openly criticized, and perhaps rightly so. It is a part of being a member of a community, whether a discreet Indigenous community, or some larger community of interests. You have to be open to that criticism.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, you’re raising a very interesting point there, which you’ve done a couple of times now. “Community”. And I think of, certainly for myself, my colleagues who are not Indigenous, not First Nations, community is a thing, a concept, we struggle with, to really understand for. So, when you’re talking about community, whether it’d be small local community, family community, a larger First Nations, Indigenous community, a whole community, what do you mean?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, so this is a part of... You’ll see a lot of people like me, when we do our “positionality” thing, we necessarily use very specific language about how we talk about connection. So, I’m very proud to say that I’m connected to my grandmother, there’s no disputing that, and her connection to a community is real. But, her connection to that community is not my connection to the community. So, I would never make a claim to be a member of that community, of a citizen of the nation, because I am, you know, two generations solidly removed from that connection.

So, they use the language of diaspora, they use the language of “mixed identity”, as opposed to a First Nations identity. I think these are things people have to think through, and be part of the way they critically position themselves. So, for me, I’m comfortable saying I’m a person of mixed heritage, a First Nations heritage, a specific First Nations heritage is part of that, but I’m very clear what it means to be connected to a community. So, when Indigenous pokes me, they ask “hey, where are you from?”, and, especially for First Nations folks, they’re looking to know which community, or communities, people are very tangibly connected to.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, it’s a geographic?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, you are from “a Nation”, you are from a community under that nation context, you’re with this community as opposed to that community, but people are also looking to know: Are you connected as a member, are you connected as a citizen? And what that means for the conversation can be different. For researchers, that is very important, because if you’re from a discreet community, discreet identifiable community, and you choose to work with your own community, the relationship is very, very different. I think it can be extremely rich, but also fought with challenges. But, if you’re not from that community, even if you are First Nations, you’re not from there. It’s different. And you need to position yourself differently, you need to think differently, and you need to think where the accountabilities and the authorities are.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, if you’re a young person right now, thinking about... This is really awesome. I can have an opportunity to become an Indigenous scholar. Large, right? I don’t have to lose my sense of community to do that, is that what you’re telling me?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: I hope not. I think we’ve come a long way. I think young and old people... There are people on journeys late in life. You know, national news, in the last several months, has been the 60s scoop issue, so those people who were adopted out, and are quite late in life, in some cases, some friends of mine, making those connections. So, they’re on journeys that I have found myself on, a much more profound journey that I found myself on, but they’re on those journeys, perhaps in their 40s, 50s, 60s. So, young people yes, but it’s not exclusively young people.

But, they are journeys to figure out what it means to connect, and it can be extremely challenging. I think we have to give people a lot of space for that, but accountability, ultimately, has to be there at the end of the day.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, you’ve now had the second phase of your journey, right? So you’ve all you training under your belt, but now you’ve had a really fascinating journey, I mean. You’ve really not sat in one spot, and really built this massive dossier of experience, integrated your arts experience into that, and now have an opportunity to change landscape. What’s that like for you, and how did you get there?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, it took a while. So, I mentioned doing a literature degree, then choosing to do a creative writing Masters degree, where I was able to bring in issues from my own personal exploration, issues of what it means to use the arts to explore connection. I took that work into a PhD in Indigenous literatures, and took it quite far; comprehensive exams, well into the writing, and I just realized you know, though I found a wonderful community of artists and scholars, and they were very supportive of me, I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer. I didn’t see myself as a literature professor, as the immediate next step. My wife and I had to opportunity to move up to Iqaluit, Nunavut. And so, we did it. I got involved with local theatre there.

Also, my wife and I decided to start a family, so, I got a government job. I worked for the Office of the Languages Commissioner in Nunavut, under the future premier Eva Aariak, who’s an incredible, inspiring woman to work for, that I learned an incredible amount from. Then, a job at the federal government opened up, and I moved on there. Then, a job here in Ottawa, at the National Aboriginal Health Organization opened up. I became the director of the Métis centre, which was interesting. Person with mixed heritage... Mmm, not Métis. It was interesting to be able to go and work from Inuit issues, to then working on Métis issues, and, specifically, Métis health issues. And I think the bridge into that work was, I talked to them, as I am talking to you here, about my interests in the arts, and how exploring connections to culture and community, for me, was about... I didn’t necessarily use the language of healing at the time, but certainly health and well being.

And here I was, at a national health organization, that helped lead the inquiry into, what does it mean for First Nations, Inuit, Métis, to be engaged in health and well being, and that’s really where the fire was lit. I knew that I wanted to pick up the academic work that I had begun to leave, but also make a contribution in this large organization context, where there is an accountability built in. So, you have an organization that is governed in a particular way, and if it’s governed well, then the lines of accountability, back to community, in the case of that organization, First Nations, Inuit and Métis, can be very strong. And so, I just felt that yes, this is a contribution I could make. I think some of my gifts, Elders have told me, were in helping people collaborate, and so, in leadership roles, this was the first significant one.

Leadership roles, I think, became part of what I aspired to be a part of as well. Yes, I still wanted to keep the arts stuff up, and I was struggling with “how do you do that”. And then, the next big opportunity presented itself, which was when a woman I had long looked up to, passed away. Gail Valaskakis. She was the original director of research at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. So, she passed away, and I found myself in a conversation with the executive director, and he invited me to take that role. It actually took me several minutes after he broached it in conversation to realize that he’d said that. It was an incredible opportunity, but it was very daunting as well. Ultimately, I did decide to accept the offer. So, very humbly, I went in to continue the work that Gail had started, at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, helping to lead the research and evaluation efforts for this unique organization, that was created coming out of  “RCAP”. So, one of the few “RCAP” recommendations.

Dr. Michael Strong: What’s “RCAP”?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: So, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), which was struck in 1991, concluded in 1996. That report had 440 recommendations. They were called recommendations in that report. Only a small handful had been acted upon. The residential schools part of those recommendations, I think we can say, were meaningfully, and not insignificantly, acted upon by the government of the day. In 1998, there was a statement of reconciliation, a policy document called “Gathering strength”. Within that, there was a fund that saw the creation of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Its mandate was to fund community-based initiatives, that responded to the legacy of physical and sexual abuse, in residential schools. To support the funding of those programs, there was also a research component. So, research in what healing meant, researching other foundational issues around that, and then, doing the other research that needed to be done, to support what communities were doing. Evaluation was a big part of it. So, I got to do that for five years.

Dr. Michael Strong: Did you do research into that area as well, or?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Absolutely, but the principle job was managing the existing research projects. And then, because the landscape changed, in 2007, with the implementation of the Indian residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which saw an extension of the Healing Foundation’s mandate for an additional five years, it created an opportunity for us to do new research as well. So, because the landscape had changed, and introduced into that landscape were elements of compensation for survivors, we knew one of the key questions that had to be asked was, “If people had been engaged in healing for a few years, or a few decades”, and you introduce something as significant as compensation, where you are required to tell your story, perhaps multiple times, in order to get the compensation, what does that do to people on healing journeys? 

Dr. Michael Strong: So, it’s a fascinating area that you’re starting to delve into, right? Traditionally, so you know, within the CIHR, we talk about excellence in research, an important phraseology for that. But it has a confined phraseology. It talks about my experience, with regards to... What we expect to investigate. That is not the same thing, right, as talking about... When we’re talking about healing, when we’re talking about lived experience, when we’re talking about communities and your experience in it. And, of course, I do get a lot from young people who are thinking about this, and coming from an Indigenous background saying, “I want to do this research, or I’m already involved in it”, but, what do you mean by research? Right? It is narrative? Is it qualitative? How do you collect the vision, the history, the Elders? All that knowledge is passed, and has had an impact. So, how do you do that, as you’re going forward with this? It’s a different world.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: So, mixed methods is absolutely the way to do it. So, we had a very focused quantitative approach to research, especially on the evaluation side of the work that we did. It was, by necessity in some cases, quantitative. We were counting the numbers of people, or rather, we were helping projects, count the number of people who had participated, who had indicated success in this or that, but we also did a lot of qualitative research. So, those mixed methods approaches, I think, are absolutely essential.

Now, I’m an arts, humanities, social sciences guy, but I love to work with data scientists, and I love to work with statisticians. And so, I think we’ll come back to this, but that’s much closer to the work that I’m doing here, at the First Nations Innovation Governance Centre. But I’ll tell you, there is a thread of the arts through all of this stuff, because, I mean, First Nations folks in particular, look at well being from the perspective of being in balance, so the different parts of you. Whether that’s for the circle with the four quadrants, that many people would be familiar with, whether it’s four parts, or more than four parts... Like, whatever the permutation is of that vision, the idea is to be in balance, and, we certainly learned at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in some research that I’ll tell you about in a second, that the arts are a central part of being whole, as an individual, as a community, as a Nation, as a people.

So, one of the things that we found at the Human Foundation, one of the first things I discovered, when I started the job there in 2007, as I was pouring through all the quarterly reporting, that projects had done was, they mentioned the arts everywhere. And so, I looked at the reporting templates that we used, where we required people to report in specific things. We didn’t ask arts-based questions. So, I looked at the funding documents. We didn’t create opportunities for people to... There wasn’t an arts stream in the funding approach. So, I went like, “eureka”! I mean, I think we’ve hit on something that we already knew, but I’m seeing it in this Aboriginal Healing Foundation context.

So, I pledged to my boss, Mike DeGagne at the time, and later the board, decided here, that we should really study it. I think this is a significant finding. And so, sure enough, when we did a largely qualitative study, to interview a large number of projects that we were working with in funding, we asked them “why? Why are the arts so prominent in what you do?” And, we heard that message that, “it’s what we’ve always done”. The arts, from our distinct world view perspective, not necessarily “les beaux-arts”, from a western perspective, but the arts have always been part of our culture, our community, our language, part of our families, part of how generations interact with each other. So, whether you’re thinking about singing, drumming, dancing, bead work, you know, pictographs, all of that stuff was absolutely integral to the life’s blood of a community, the life’s blood of an identity in a nation context. And you know, when European people came here, new elements were introduced. So, there has been a thread of incredible art-making, from time and memorial here, in these lands that we call Canada, and it’s always been connected to health and well being. Now we know, the main finding from that project was, when given the opportunity, Indigenous communities will overwhelmingly, 87%, overwhelmingly choose to include the arts in their healing modalities.  

Dr. Michael Strong: So, that’s fascinating. You know, when we look at the mandate of the CIHR, it’s embedded within the CIHR Act, opening paragraph, our primary responsibility is to change the health of Canadians through research. It appraises in a few different ways, but there’s a couple of deliverables in there with that. And this concept of the arts, right... We’re starting to see it now in more non-traditional medicine as we would see it, and that’s not to imply First Nations, or Indigenous, or otherwise, but to look at... You know, the individual had a stroke, or a hemispheric lesion of some sort, will we look at the arts as a way of sort of bringing them forward with that. And yet, what I’m hearing and seeing is a much broader base of the arts, that this is actually “intrical” to how we do look at the health of an individual.

So, I’m going to ask you a very tough question here, but maybe not. So, if we’re going to look at a vision and say, “listen, we have a responsibility for the health, not just of us, but our children’s children, coming down the road”, and the learnings that we would get from our First Nations colleagues is that, that cannot be done in the absence of arts. It’s such a key component of the key quadrants that you’ve described for that. How do we get there? Over time, what do we do with our children coming forward right now, to say... And that’s my children, your children, right? How do we get them to say, there is a part of healing, and there’s a part of health, that would not be found into the science that you and I, or I would sit down, write down, “here’s the equation”, but this is actually so core. Where do we start, and how de we bring that to the table? 

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, there’s lots of ways to approach that. I mean, creative thinking is creative thinking, whether your crunch numbers or you mix colours. I mean, I think there’s something to it there, there’s something uniquely, inherently human, and, these will be the connections with the arts. So, that’s one element for sure. But, one way to approach is, in my firm belief, whenever you say the words “STEM”, you know “STEM” education, it needs to be “STEAM”.

Dr. Michael Strong: Ah, interesting. Put an “A” in the middle of it.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: The “A” has to be in there, I think. I think even our best scientists, our best engineers, deserve to flex that creative muscle. And so, I would love to see, I would love to see rounded people. Rounded approaches to education. That’s one thing. But, there’s also very scientific ways of looking at the arts. So again, to return to that Healing Foundation research that we did, three of the major findings that we found were that, in those projects that we looked at, that included the arts, there was the finding that art making is therapeutic. Just, you know, children making art, the stroke patient trying to draw something, or working with clay, or something like that. It’s just therapeutic. We know that, there’s international literature from around the world that says art making is therapeutic. Then, there’s the arts in therapy.

So, creative arts as therapy, wall arts therapy. That’s the western modality. Again, there’s a huge international body of literature around that, and then, there’s the last finding that for Indigenous people, I think it’s safe to say around the world, holistic healing necessarily includes the arts. And, that is something that I think the respondents of this study, and many people I’ve spoken to would say, that’s a finding that comes from time and memorial. That’s something that they’ve always known, something that will always be there.

So, there are a lot of ways to look at that question, but I do think that the need to separate out art making from the sciences, I think that’s a bit of a fool’s errand. Some of my favourite people are scientists, and they like to go to the movies, they like to laugh, they like to marvel at beautiful things, and they like to talk critically about how those beautiful things came to be. There, we’re at the same table, having meaningful, intersecting conversations.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, kind of following along that, prior to coming into this role, I was the dean for the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, and, when I first started, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) brought forward its calls to action. Collectively, as deans, and that was across the country, we definitely saw that there were very specific issues in there, that spoke to us, about what we needed to do, in trying to move these things forward. It didn’t speak to us in terms of what we’ve been talking about, this more holistic approach, the role of the arts, the history of really medicine and healing, as we go forward with this, and so, we really grappled with that.

So, I’m going to flip the question to you. Put yourself in the position of somebody who now has the opportunity to really think about, “how do we train the next generation of healthcare providers”? And that’s Indigenous providers, First Nations, non-First Nations. How do we really start to bring these worlds together, to recognize that there really is a holistic approach, to how we do this. And how we do this science, kind of written at large, science as to really proving, and making sure we’re doing the right things, in moving forward. So, put yourself in those shoes for a moment, and think, with all the things you’ve learned in your experience, even bringing some more of it into it, how would you do that?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, I talked about the landscape changing, in 2007, with the settlement agreement. Within the settlement agreement, one of the components was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. So, that was another one of those that introduced something into the landscape, that for residential school survivors, and those people affected intergenerationally, really changed the landscape, but it also changed the landscape for Canadians. Yes, there was the work that the TRC did, going across the country to bring survivors, Indigenous communities, and non-Indigenous communities, together, at national, regional and local events. That was very important.

They also came out with an interim report, a final report, and, with the final report of course, the 94 calls to actions. And they were calls to action, not recommendations. They learned that from RCAP. Calls to action, not recommendations that can sit on a shelf. 

So, the landscape did change, and I think that the 94 calls to action contains very practical calls, for different sectors of Canadian society to act. So, you’ve made reference to the ones about educating people who work in the health field, and I’ll come back with that in a second. But I mean, the other thing that I think we need to acknowledge is, people can’t start with the 94 calls to action. You actually need to start with the report, because what Canadians need to do; and I didn’t have the benefit of this when I was in elementary school, or high school, and I’m guessing you didn’t either, we weren’t taught a full, thorough, which works in all versions, of Canadian history. We were told a sanitized version, a version that was from a particular perspective, that left perspectives out. First Nations, Inuit, Métis perspectives, of course, are central to that. So, if people are going to start with the TRC... People have to start somewhere. But people need to start with the report.

Dr. Michael Strong: Read the book first.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Read the book that covers the history, then come with a greater understanding of the richness of those calls to actions, so that when you then get, whether you’re a lay person, or whether you are someone like you, in your position, running a Canadian institution, looking to act on specific calls to action, or the big principles that we might say, surround the calls to action, I think you can be much more concrete. So, when those calls to action are concrete, I think it behoves institutions, the people running those institutions, to follow where the TRC commissioners meant to lead you.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, it’s a bit of a road.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Yes, you must do a better job, ensuring that the students who end up in undergraduate programs, professional programs, graduate programs, have a foundation in the true history of the peoples that they will be serving, broadly speaking, and whether they’re going to be focused, whether their careers are going to focus on Indigenous communities, as mine has, or, Indigenous people, may be part of the communities that they work with and for. You need to know the history, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves, you have to do the work.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, it’s very interesting that you raise it in that fashion. I think one of the true privileges I have in this job that I have right now, is that it’s an opportunity to expand that knowledge base far beyond what I had before. So, yes, read through the original documents, then looked at the calls to action, and tried to understand how they enter data. To be fair, it wasn’t truly until I had a chance to meet Elders, to talk with them, to talk with Indigenous scholars, to go to the communities and try to get a sense for, “what does it mean for this to... really on the ground”. And, by no means when I say that I have a fluency in it right now, because I do not have one, but I have a greater understanding that I’m never gleaned, even for the want to working at it, to try and understand it.

So, is it enough? It’s a great start, but I agree with you entirely. But, if those who are really invested in it, in saying “yes, we must do this, and we understand why”, I would be the first to say that I really didn’t appreciate why, until I had the opportunity to be there, and listen to scholars. So, is this something that we can do alone, or is this something that we really have to be saying, this is a Canadian community, this is an ecosystem. We got here through some really bad decisions, got it, and the only way we’re going to get out of it, is to do this as a unified, and really understanding it.  Is that a fair kind of view? 

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Yes, wouldn’t it be great if that’s how contact happened 500 years ago? I think we have the opportunity to do what you’re talking about, and I think leadership, and so, I refer to the federal government, and also First Nations leadership, Inuit leadership, Métis leadership, are talking about the need for... So, this Premier Minister is using to language of Nation-to-Nation relationships, for First Nations, government-to-government, Inuit-to-Crown. I think that’s great rhetoric. But, it’s a really good example of what I found in my research.

When I finally went back to do a PhD that I would finish, I did Indigenous and Canadian studies at Carleton University, and I was able to focus on the role of art and artists, in healing and reconciliation. In that work, the findings that came out of my work were, for reconciliation to be truly effective, you need to have symbolic action, along with substantive and systemic action. So, if we were to say that there were principles overarching the TRCs caused actions, some of the things that they concretely call for are symbolic; changing names and building monuments, those are symbolic. Those things have to also be substantive, and where possible, systemic.

So, moving away from that example, let’s look at the institution that you run. There needs to be systemic change. I think we’ve seen some efforts at substantive contributions to reconciliation, so dollars put forward, to allow for research in Indigenous, or co-created, co-developed priorities. I think that’s wonderful. I think we can do better. But, in terms of systemic change, these are buzzwords right now, and hopefully, there can still be meaningful work done, regardless of the fact that they’ve become buzzwords. But, decolonizing institutions, I think, that’s a theme that we can embrace.

Dr. Michael Strong: And what is so, and I hear that word a lot. I think I understand it, which usually means I don’t. So, what do you mean?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Well, the first I think that Canadians have to do, Indigenous, and non-Indigenous Canadians, is we have to acknowledge what it means to be beneficiaries of ongoing settler colonialism, because that, I think for me, is the best way to explain how... The kinds of privilege that many of us occupy, whether we are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, but certainly somebody like me; many layers of privilege. One of those elements of privilege is, I benefit from settler colonialism. So, the systems that built this country, and displaced peoples, I would argue that that is ongoing. I think many of my Indigenous colleagues would argue that that is ongoing, and I think it behoves us as a population, to acknowledge that we are beneficiaries of that ongoing settler colonialism.

So, that means the institutions that have been built here, are built on settler colonialism. So, what can we do to institutions, to strip away the negative elements of that influence. In a perfect world, we might say, “let’s start from scratch, and let’s build institutions from the ground up”, that we don’t have to decolonize. But, we don’t have to “indigenize”, the other term that you probably heard repeatedly. Decolonization is not just about Indigenous peoples. I think colonial systems are not good for many people. I don’t think they’re good for women, or people on the gender spectrum, you know, outside those binaries. I don’t think they’re good for people of colour. I don’t think they’re good for new arrivals to this country.

So, I think it needs all of us to do the work of decolonization, and I would argue that everyone can do that work. And “indigenization” is different. Only knowledge holders can do “indigenization”, so you and I can’t lead indigenization. We can create the spaces, where the rich conversation can happen, and ultimately, I think “indigenization” doesn’t mean anything, until a community has defined what it means for that community. So, it’s as if a CIHR community could come together and say, “we need to develop definitions, for what it means for us, to do decolonization, and if appropriate, if guided by the right people, in the right way, how we do indigenization”.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, that leads to... Are knowledge holders, by definition, Elders?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Not necessarily. I mean, we usually default to that, but this is where the Indigenous 101 that most people have, is simply not good enough, because you need to go much deeper. For this First Nation, yes, that might be an appropriate context. For this First Nation, it might be a starting point to understand how knowledge holders in that community are considered, but, you know, headmen, the people that are put forward to be... Headmen or women, the people who are put forward from a political, big P or small p political context, may have a Council of Elders, may have a Council of women, may have a Council of youth, young people, advising them.

Dr. Michael Strong: And that would be the knowledge holders for that demographic, or the community?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Yes. The reason why this organization that I currently work for has this vision... So, we envision that First Nations will achieve data sovereignty, in alignment with their distinct world view. The reason we have that vision, is for exactly the complexity that I am talking about. It is that researchers who are going to have a relationship with First Nation communities, need to understand that, yes, sure, there are some commonalities, but ultimately, they are distinct world views, there are distinct First Nations here, who are as diverse from each other, as anyone else in Canada, from whatever corner of the globe. And so, I think that’s what people need to understand. If you are going to talk about who are the knowledge holders, you need to know what community, how many communities you’re talking about, because many communities can come together to form some larger community. Community can be defined in many ways.

But, the first thing you need to understand is, while the nomenclature can be very helpful, it can also be a hindrance. So, we’ve now made of Aboriginal, Indigenous, and these are collectives now, that in the Canadian context are meant to say First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. Well, why not use those terms? And wherever possible, why not look forward to the Nations, the Crees, the Micmacs. I think if people know to go to that level of specificity, that level of detail, I think you honour everybody, in that approach.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, we’re going to do a cycle back right now. So, I was recently in the north, in an Inuit community. I saw a beautiful example of the kinds of artwork that young people are doing, right now. You wouldn’t recognize, and certainly, in my eye, initially, as being this is uniquely Indigenous, or Inuit art. But clearly, it had become a mechanism by which a group of very troubled youth, were now using, and learning the arts. They were learning welding, metal work and such. Now, they were so successful, it’s now going to start to be expanded, and your response is exactly where I’m going with all of this. So, we have a real issue of First Nations youth right now, and in the middle, you’re doing all the oneness and such, but, they’re devastating. Do you see the arts as being a necessary avenue to start that healing process?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Yes, absolutely. So, in the case of youth, and their particular issues or struggles, the arts can be an essential element. So could sport. So can education. So can many things. Because you asked about the arts, I’ll tell you about the arts.

So, when I was up in Iqaluit, not long after I arrived in 2001, some people approached me and said, “hey, we hear you’re a literature and theatre guy. We’re interested in developing community theatre here, and we think we can get some money to do a feasibility study. Would you help us do that?” So, yes, wonderful, right? This maybe what I’m looking for, as I’m struggling with what to do with a PhD in literature, that I may be moving away from. This sounds very practical. I can get behind that. Well, the feasibility study showed that yes, this community desperately needs the arts, but it doesn’t need Shakespeare in the park, although that can be a part of it. What it needs is, youth needs something to do. Youth needs something that allows them to explore culture and community, and youth need an opportunity to work through the issues that they put on the table, as the ones they want to work through.

So, that became the focus of the company that we started, and over several years, we did a lot of programming, and when we asked youth what they wanted to do, we thought it was going to be drum-dancing, and throat singing, and we did do some, but it was often hip hop dancing. It was often rapping. So, well outside of my comfort zone, but it was incredible to be able to do that. Yes, we put on a beautiful, main stage production eventually, that was an Inuit legend, Nuliayuk, and it was a fantastic experience. But, elsewhere in Nunavut, you saw a circus troop develop. You know, elsewhere in Nunavut, you saw the development of well, not connected... I’m not saying inspired by the unintelligible, but elsewhere in Nunavut, filmmaking, cutting edge filmmaking.

So, I think there is the arts as therapeutic. You’d have to be exposed to it. I wouldn’t say that what we were doing was in any way art therapy, but also the opportunity for the arts as an avenue for learning professional skills. Showing up on time is an important life lesson, for young people. And so, you sign up to be in a play, you are part of a team, you’re part of a collaborative process, and so, there are all kinds of intersecting things that we can talk about here, but, yes, it is wonderful when you see this take root in a community. And people get behind it. And again, if you are successfully running something like that, something like what you describe, somebody has invested in that, somebody has probably changed the systems to allow for the funding to flow better.

Dr. Michael Strong: And you know about that group? It was the teachers.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Fantastic.

Dr. Michael Strong: Yes, they really stepped it up. So, I’m going to ask you a question that I’ll have to ask everybody. It’s used to be out of the left fields. If you watched any videos, you might have seen the left field coming. If you had an opportunity right now, to talk to anybody. Doesn’t matter what era, what time. Who would it be, and why?

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Oh wow, great question. Well, I’ll lead back to the start of the conversation. I never got to talk to my great grandfather, so, I would start there. I long wondered if I would be able to do some creative work that would really sort of explore what his life was like, and what in meant to leave a community, what it was like to end up on Parliament Hill. I’m more of a space creator than an art creator. I think that was a humbling experience. But again, you find out what your gifts are, and you apply it to your strengths.  But yes, If I had the opportunity to sit down, and interview my great grandfather, I would love to do that. I would love if my grandmother could join me, and I would love if it my mom and her sisters could join me, my cousins.

Dr. Michael Strong: So, you’re really talking about your community.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: Yes, and his connection to that discreet Nation, that discreet community, was his connection. And, I would love to know how he got to where he was, and maybe there are regrets. Maybe not going back was a hardship for him. I know he lost touch with his brother. He didn’t see his brother again after, I think, until they were in their late teens.  And I’m told that was true of many people of that era. They left communities. Our Mohawk friends, just south of here, many of them went. They moved on to high rises, and building, you know, North America’s greatest cities. Like, a lot of them didn’t find their way back, and I think that generation... I’ve heard the stories, I’d love to hear it from him.

Dr. Michael Strong: Jonathan, this has been fantastic. I want to thank you so much for sharing it with me.

Dr. Jonathan Dewar: My pleasure.

Dr. Michael Strong: We could go on for another hour or two, maybe we will some day. But, thanks for sharing all of that with me, I really appreciate it. Take care.

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