Pollinating Mediums

At a deeper epistemological level, we share with Indigenous researchers an understanding of knowledge as a process that honours diverse ways of knowing integrating body, mind and spirit.1 This is the approach our collaborators take to their work with soil, plants and food preparation: Dianne drawing on her embodied knowledge from years working the land to find new ways to regenerate the soil with mushrooms and woodchips, Chandra giving us the sensory experience of making cornbread at our 2019 gathering.

We locate our collaborative process within the field of arts-based research, an approach that honours other ways of knowing, artistic modes of inquiry, and alternative forms of cultural expression.2 Central to all artistic expression is story – all of the pieces of the online platform are drawn from oral sources, people telling their food stories grounded in their own contexts. As collaborator Fulvio concluded: “This is the strength of the Legacies project – gathering life histories of real people in specific places.” And when together, we always shared stories in a circle, another symbol of collective knowledge creation, counter a western notion of knowledge as a product, even commodity, attributed to one person, considered an ‘expert’.

Photography and video were key tools in documenting the activities of our storytellers, and feeding back to them their ideas and practices in edited form, as videos and photo essays. Some commented that it helped them understand their work in a new way and they felt their knowledge and experience valued.

The camera could both enable and inhibit communication, depending on the circumstances. We never brought out the equipment during our first visits, and only after agreeing on the themes and sites for documentation. Still the set up and testing of multiple cameras and mics required time and patience. Some, like Dianne, became so accustomed to the filming that she would stop us when a passing train threatened a good sound recording, or call us to document her experiment of growing mycelium to regenerate the soil on her farm.

We hired a Haudenosaunee videographer to film the Thanksgiving Address and contracted Red Door Productions at Six Nations to edit all Haudenosaunee videos. The videos of Black Creek Community farm involved black filmmakers in documenting the multi-racial project. All videos and photo essays were vetted with the people appearing within them, before going public.

Alex filming Serena in cornfield

In two cases, we gave cameras or microphones to young participants and instructed them to film relevant activities in their communities. Often the young people made their own videos with cell phone technology; Chandra and Rick’s daughter Olivia, for example, produced a short video of the corn processing workshop Chandra offered in her kitchen, and presented it to us at the end of the day. In Mexico Fulvio and his sons got so used to the cameras and the visual methodology that now they are developing their own series of educational videos around medicinal plants in Spanish. This is one way that our process continues, especially as we are now creating a new piece based on the coronavirus pandemic. These local productions are supported by monthly zoom conversations of all partners, with Alex offering online technical support.

We made a conscious effort to promote intergenerational and intercultural dialogue by editing photo essays and videos to juxtapose collaborators from different places, ages and cultures. We also asked them to comment on each other’s stories, moving beyond a singular perspective and honouring multiple voices. Finally, we invited commentators with knowledge in a certain theme area to offer reflections at the end of those stories. Our hope is that this dialogical approach will encourage you the reader/viewer to enter into our conversations collectively, critically and self-critically. We encourage you to add your own experience and opinions to the discussion, and ultimately to act upon new ideas and deeper understandings.

The multi-media package privileges the visual and digital – video and photographs allowing us to tell stories in ways not limited to words. For younger people, the multiple digital forms speak in a language that many already dominate. But we are also challenged to ‘decolonize the digital’ by offering frameworks and promoting processes that challenge dominant knowledge systems, and honour Indigenous ways of knowing. In A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online, Jennifer Wemigwans returns to Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s classic Decolonizing Methodologies for a list of 25 projects or methodologies that can offer a framework for how online Indigenous knowledges can contribute to Indigenous resurgence. While Legacies stories are not limited to Indigenous voices, the 25 projects speak to the kind of process that went into creating Earth to Tables Legacies digital pieces as well as how we hope they will be used: from reframing to connecting, from negotiating to envisioning.

There are many examples of digital technology feeding cultural renewal and education, multiplying voices of Indigenous peoples, marginalized communities, and food activists of all ages. But there is also a risk of becoming more disconnected from and destructive toward physical environments. Starblanket and Stark warn that “these technologies are transforming our approach to living in-relation, ….and we forget the unique benefits of being situated physically in relationships.”3 This contradiction in the use of online tools has been accentuated by the coronavirus pandemic, with self-isolation and physical distancing pushing many to revert to creating and communicating through digital web-based software.

  1. “Indigenous knowledges are holistic and relational, interconnected and interdependent systems that encompass knowledge of the spirit, heart, mind and body (Abolson, 2011; Cajete, in Kovach, 2009). Quoted in McGregor et al. Indigenous Research.
  2. Susan Finley. “Arts-Based Research.” In A. Cole and G. Knowles (eds). Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2008.
  3. Gina Starblanket and Heide Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark. “Toward a Relational Paradigm: Four Points for Consideration, Knowledge, Gender, Land and Modernity.” In Michael Asch, John Borrows, and James Tully. Resurgence and Reconciliation: Indigenous-Settler Relations and Earth Teachings. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018, 198.