Island content, authors featured in new Indigenous health journal

Turtle Island Journal

TORONTO – University of Toronto graduate students and advisors have founded ‘Turtle Island Journal of Indigenous Health’ (TIJIH), a peer-reviewed academic journal about Indigenous health whose inaugural issue featured three stories with connections to Manitoulin Island.

“Our hope is (creating this space) would make it more comfortable for those who are hesitant right now or who don’t see their voice in academia … we wanted to change the narrative and certainly promote different ways of doing Indigenous health research,” said the inaugural issue’s co-editor Hiliary Monteith, who worked alongside co-editor Sharon Tan.

“We wanted to inspire people to pursue something they may have doubted themselves about, but also allow for people in (health) and outside the field to rethink what research can be and what’s publishable,” added Ms. Tan.

The journal is based on a holistic understanding of Indigenous health “and its many interconnected contributing factors such as the land, culture, healthcare and education,” stated a description of the project’s scope. 

It exists through the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health within the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. The journal serves to amplify Indigenous voices, present scholarship rooted in traditional ways of knowing and act as a conduit for exchanging academic knowledge with Indigenous communities and the public.

‘Heartwork’ is the title of this first issue; Ms. Monteith said a lot of thought went into finding a name that would represent the genuine intentions of the team to learn about decolonial processes.

The idea of the journal emerged in November 2018 and its first call for submissions happened in April 2020. It is a Turtle Island-focused companion to the ‘International Journal of Indigenous Health.’

Dr. Angela Mashford-Pringle, an Algonquin who is associate director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute, understood the value of such a project. Both Ms. Tan and Ms. Monteith had met her during their education and they became the co-editors through an ‘organic’ process.

Roughly one-third of the journal’s core team is Indigenous and neither of the two co-editors identifies as such. They told The Expositor that this sparked hesitations about assuming the roles but they accepted them because they felt they could work to create spaces for Indigenous voices and demonstrate allyship.

“Moving forward, of course we want to see Indigenous peers in leadership roles,” said Ms. Monteith. “We feel very strongly that Indigenous voices should take the lead and should be what’s heard. Because we’re in a leadership role, our focus is on how we privilege (those voices) and make sure those voices are heard.”

The list of Indigenous people in western academia remains somewhat limited and the co-editors said they hoped the journal would encourage more Indigenous people to pursue higher education.

Anishinaabe-kwe artist Chief Lady Bird has created visuals in several locations throughout the journal. The team included this to normalize art within academia, a topic that does not receive as much scholarship, as well as to create a narrative as one reads through the journal. 

The journal’s mission includes bringing knowledge and perspectives back to communities through gatherings and mentorship networks between scholars and community members.

“In light of COVID-19, we had to cancel our community practice events. What we wanted when we published issues was to make a virtual space where people are able to connect with one another, celebrate authors and contributors and so forth,” said Ms. Tan. “We hope to do them for our next issue.”

Although the journal is presently based at the University of Toronto, the co-editors said other schools and communities will oversee future issues to ensure diverse voices can contribute.

One of the journal articles in this issue involves a study in partnership with M’Chigeeng and two authors of other articles have Island roots.

Amy Shawanda

Amy Shawanda

Wiikwemkoong citizen Amy Shawanda, of Murray Hill, is featured in the journal’s inaugural issue for her study on knowledge within dreams. She spoke at a Canadian Indigenous/Native Studies Association conference about the role of dreams in Indigenous scholarship and how it contrasts with Western research methods.

A visiting scholar at Trent University spoke about holographic epistemology and Native common sense; this inspired Ms. Shawanda to further pursue the topic. Holographic epistemology refers to knowledge from three aspects of nature—physical, mental and spiritual.

“Creator always has a plan for us to show us the way, so when I saw (TIJIH) was releasing its first issue, I thought I’d submit what I had based on that presentation. They liked it,” she said.

Scholars gave her plenty of feedback during the peer review process and her academic colleagues also offered insights. Many described it as ground-breaking work.

“One of the things I really like about TIJIH is I’m able to use more plain language as opposed to academic language. I did that specifically because I wanted to reach communities for young students and elders to read and comprehend without the garbled academic language,” said Ms. Shawanda. The journal’s co-editors said they were pleased to hear that many authors felt flexible in their word choice because accessibility of language was one of their main intents.

Ms. Shawanda was able to use Anishinaabemowin both within the article and in its title—a choice that fellow Wiikwemkoong citizen Joshua Manitowabi also made for his entry.

“The way they created this journal was through community consultations and speaking with elders. It’s been such a great and positive experience; everyone on the team has always been supportive and asking for ways they could help move the work along,” she said. “I felt safe submitting my ideas on dream knowledge to them.”

Ms. Shawanda’s own creative process was also rooted in community. She completed much of her writing for this article at the kitchen table back home in Wiikwemkoong where she consulted with her mother Nancy Shawande and got help in some of the translation process.

Dana Hickey

Dana Hickey

Anishinaabe-kwe researcher Dana Hickey of Dokis First Nation conducted a study in partnership with M’Chigeeng, based on her master’s thesis about Indigenous theoretical explanations of power. She worked closely with M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige and interviewed 15 people from the Sudbury and Manitoulin areas. Elders and M’Chigeeng community members helped guide the research process.

“In order to do Indigenous research, you must engage in community-driven and community-based practices that have a positive impact on the communities as well,” said Ms. Hickey. “In terms of a community partner, we were looking for someone who in their positionality embodies the idea of what power is—the chief of a First Nation was ideal.”

Through the study, she found that relationships were central to discussions of power because all power structures involve connections between people. Other main topics included Indigenous languages, sacred sources of power, Indigenous women, abuse of power and Indigenous knowledge.

She said seeing Indigenous research methodologies gaining acceptance in western academia, albeit slowly, was promising. This, she said, may lead to re-evaluating established theories and uncovering knowledge that has been overlooked through conventional research methods.

“I’m not saying western science isn’t amazing and not saying that any way is necessarily superior to any other. What I am saying is there’s other ways to find evidence that point to solutions, and that’s what western epistemological thinkers need because in many ways they’ve hit the brick wall with the limits of their thinking,” said Ms. Hickey.

The topic was challenging and she spent a full year on data analysis to ensure she presented her findings fairly and accurately.

“(Research in Indigenous communities) needs to reflect Indigenous values such as transparency and humility. If you start with that and follow it all the way through, people will feel safe and welcome,” said Ms. Hickey.

She said it was significant to have a publication that is respectful and accountable to Indigenous partners.

“It’s not just a journal; it’s a community of knowledge. That’s very important for students, especially Indigenous students, because we know about the structural oppression that we face when we’re navigating (academia),” said Ms. Hickey.

All of the Manitoulin-connected authors in the journal’s inaugural issue agreed that breaking into the publishing world is a significant challenge, especially for graduate-level students and even more so for those who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour. 

Having published work is often key to getting accepted into PhD-level programs and this journal could foster many academic careers.

Joshua Manitowabi

Joshua Manitowabi

For his entry, Wiikwemkoong scholar Joshua Manitowabi studied how Indigenous peoples across Canada have worked to reclaim their education systems in recent decades.

He said the past 20 years especially have brought great advancements but promising proposals often do not reach implementation. Mr. Manitowabi serves on First Nations with Schools Collective’s research team and said the group had developed extensive curricula for on-reserve students before the Ford government cut its funding in 2018.

“Some leaders of the collective said they’d continue to do it anyways as volunteers. We’re lucky to get people who are passionate enough and who believe in it,” he said. “We need to keep thinking of how we can keep moving forward and not be so dependent on government funding. It’s time to take affirmative action and utilize the tools we have in our communities to move forward.”

Like Ms. Shawanda, Mr. Manitowabi incorporated Anishinaabemowin into his research. He said the people who have advised him, including auntie Joyce Pitawanakwat, Lewis Debassige and Dominic Beaudry, encouraged him to use the traditional language. He fact-checked his language with elders back home to ensure he presented his messages in the best possible way.

Mr. Manitowabi credited Wiikwemkoong citizen Shanna Peltier for being part of the team that ultimately led to the creation of this journal.

“The whole vision of the journal itself was to have an actual journal for Indigenous people, founded by Indigenous graduate students at the master’s and PhD level,” he said. “Even though it’s focused on health, it reaches out to the four aspects of health—spiritual, mental, emotional and physical—that we as Anishinaabe people view as the holisticness of health.”

He said having more Indigenous research in higher education might inform all people better about treaty rights and the relationships between the Crown and Indigenous peoples.

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The co-editors said they hope the journal will come out two to four times per year, depending on the process of working with the other communities and schools for future issues. The next call for submissions will open in the coming weeks, they said.

To read the journal for free and for more information, visit or search for “Turtle Island Journal” on social media.