Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Richmond, Chantelle

2nd Supervisor

Luginaah, Isaac


3rd Supervisor

Jacobs, Clint


Walpole Island Heritage Centre


This is a dissertation based upon the Customary Ways Dataset, which is comprised of 50 interviews given by Elders from Walpole Island First Nation, in 2010. The over-arching, community-designed research question that guided this dissertation was: How do the Elders of Walpole Island describe their relationship to the land? To answer this question, I co-designed a mixed-methods analysis that included traditional methods from the Social Sciences, including Grounded Theory, to establish emergent themes, and some simple statistical analysis using Chi-square and crosstab analysis. I also utilized methods closely related to the Humanities, deploying Story Mapping, Close Reading and a Digital Humanities technique of using Natural Language Processing.

The main contributions of this dissertation are:

1) These are 305 Indigenous Stories, and not 50 interviews. This dissertation demonstrates that Elders were telling stories, and not giving interview answers, as the means by which they describe the ways they engage in a relationship with the land, and how they describe the ethical boundaries of this relationship.

2) Intergenerational knowledge can be shown to be statistically relevant to the complexity of the stories told by Elders within the Customary Ways Dataset.

3) A local description of Indigenous Knowledge emerges: Indigenous Knowledge at Walpole Island is not conceptual, but rather is a participatory knowledge of motion that occurs both through listening to the motion of the land and the act of telling about this motion through stories. Thus, we must begin to recognize stories are both the form of, and the subjects of Indigenous Knowledge.

4) A new definition of listening emerges wherein listening is a process that occurs through land-based participatory activities. This thesis demonstrates that hunting is listening; basket making is listening; gathering medicine is listening; fishing is listening. What is common across all of these forms of listening, is that this type of listening informs the Elder’s relationship with the land, and the stories they tell. Thus, storytelling is listening to the land, which allows the Elders of Walpole Island to practice Ezhi-anishinaabebimaadiziyaang mii sa ezhianishinaabeaadisokeyaang[1]

[1] The way in which we live, that is the way we write (make) stories. I learned this concept from the work of Margaret Noodin, in her work Megwa Baabaamiiaayaayaang Dibaajomoyaang (Anishinaabe Literature as Memory in Motion, p.183, 2014).

Summary for Lay Audience

This is a dissertation about what it means to listen to the land under one’s feet and what it means to tell stories about that listening, within a corpus of 50 interviews given by Elders of Walpole Island First Nation. This research demonstrates that it is through the connected activity of listening to the land and telling stories that a very special type of knowledge emerges. What emerges through this research is that the knowledge shared by the Walpole Island Elders, through the stories they tell, is best described as a participatory knowledge of motion. What becomes clear is that this participatory knowledge of motion is the connection between the practice of listening to the land, and the telling of stories about what was heard. Ultimately, at Walpole Island, this participatory knowledge of motion has created a complex network of living stories that are shared within the community, and across generations. This research uncovers that no story contained in the interview dataset exists in isolation, but instead each story lives in a network of interrelated stories: it is the networked nature of these stories that is a critical feature of both their resiliency and efficacy. That is, the participatory knowledge of motion practiced at Walpole Island maintains the system of ethics and practical knowledge that has literally created an Anishinaabe world. That is, the Elders live their ethics through the stories they learned to tell, from the practice of listening to the land. Through deep observation and recognition of the fact they are deeply part of the cooperative balance of creation, the Elders tell stories that allow them to collectively create an Anishinaabe world; a world that is constructed with the reciprocity and participation of the plants, animals, rocks and waters. And, it is through these stories that the Elders literally give life to their political and social systems. The Elders demonstrate that by living through stories, they demonstrate that the telling of stories guides the practice of collectively imagining and creating the very communities and worldviews that they inhabit.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.