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Dr. Cathy Martin

Dr. Cathy Martin

Independent consultant / First Nation consultant

December 2021

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I'm Dr. Cathy Martin. I'm from Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation and am currently an elected member of Council in my community. I work for the First Nation Education Administrators Association, a national organization in Canada. I am also a mother of five children, and I have five lovely grandchildren.

You have a PhD in Educational Leadership and Curriculum Instruction. What was the topic of your dissertation?

At the time I was a speech language pathologist, and I did a lot of work with psychologists and children with dyslexia. I was fortunate enough that the Eastern Shore School Board adopted a methodology for teaching reading to all students using a kinesthetic approach where you use mouth movements to teach associations with letters, as opposed to only sound association with letters. It is a multi-modality approach to reading. What I found in my research was that using that approach increases the reading scores of all children in general. I was able to incorporate that in my work with students who had difficulty learning to read and to educate teacher assistants who facilitate reading remediation.

Can you tell us more about the First Nations’ principle of OCAP, which represents a different way of approaching ideas of knowledge and ethics in research?

OCAP is Ownership, Control, Access and Possession of knowledge. We use OCAP for anything that involves the collective, because the information obtained through research studies doesn’t necessarily belong to the individual, it belongs to the community; the ownership of the results stays with the people. They may or may not grant access to that knowledge to outside agencies for use for other studies. OCAP is not yet a legal requirement, but I see that educational institutions are leaning towards respecting its principles.

First Nations peoples have had decades and centuries, really, of people coming into their communities, taking knowledge for their own purposes, for financial gain, for whatever it is, and without consent, and Indigenous people sometimes don’t even hear back from the researchers or get a copy of the research, so there's a lot of mistrust. It's about relationships and connecting with community—which is an important value for Indigenous peoples—in order to gain trust to do research in their communities. And you have to respect that if they say “no,” then it’s a “no”—and it's “no” as a collective, as opposed to an individual not consenting.

How, would you say, can the knowledge produced in more institutional academic settings be reconciled with the knowledge that reflects Indigenous worldviews?

In terms of education in an Indigenous community, we have to respect traditional knowledge and knowledge holders. They did not gain their knowledge in academia, from books, research, tests and such. They've gained it from years and centuries of listening to oral stories, going out into the woods. They can tell you about the environmental behaviours of animals and about the plants, and it's all related in time and spirit. Oftentimes academic research leaves out that component. But with Indigenous communities that is very deeply ingrained. So, it's not just the academic knowledge of “OK, this is the life span of a bear and the patterns of sleep and hibernation,” and all these things. It's much more than that. It's the interconnectedness that is felt—and I say “felt” because from young childhood you are taught to make those connections and that there are other living beings, the human being is not superior, you are just part of this natural world, so you give respect, and you build relationships spiritually with your environment. So, it's a very different perspective on knowledge. I think there's place for both and there's value in both.

What projects you are currently working on?

I am involved in many volunteer projects in my community. For example, I am the forerunner of a community-based project to build a homeless shelter based on our Mi’gmaq values of inclusivity and that every human deserves a place to sleep, eat, shower and to be included—the inclusion is key. As we are faced with a housing crisis, we gathered together and addressed it as a community—with zero government funding. We raised enough money in one year to purchase a house for the conversion to a shelter. It was a 100% grassroots initiative by the people for the people, it's being run voluntarily. It speaks to our culture—that we do take care of each other.

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