Introduction: Sharing knowledge through storytelling

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February 28, 2019 | 3:47 | 5.5MB | Download audio file

As the saying goes: We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. In this introductory piece, Tosh Southwick explains the ideas behind this audio series. “When something really important happens in our communities, we make a story about it,” she says. “One of the foundational differences between a First Nations and a Western culture is the oral part – the idea that we pass our knowledge orally down the generations.”


Sharing knowledge through storytelling

My name is Tosh Southwick. I am a citizen of Kluane First Nation. I belong to the Wolf Clan. And my current role at Yukon College is Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation.

It means that I have the honour of leading the College on our Reconciliation journey. It means that I get to work with all 14 Yukon First Nations to make sure we’re meeting their education and training needs. And it means that I get to be a member of the Senior Executive Team and work closely with the president to ensure there are First Nation world views integrated into all parts of the College.

I’d been struggling for a few years on how to integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and doing into the College, and seeing a lot of our fellow institutions producing really amazing plans. But the plan piece stuck with me, and I think it’s not really a First Nation way to come up with this very detailed plan with strategic performance indicators and all of these other things.

I think one of the things that hit me was, in our communities when something really important happens we make a story about it, and one of the foundational differences between an Indigenous culture and a Western culture is that oral history part – that idea that we transmit our knowledge orally down the generations. I thought, what a great opportunity to do and look at reconciliation in a different way.

If we’re really going to be true to integrating Indigenous world views then this is an opportunity to look at that a little bit differently. It just sort of formulated that we had this opportunity to really represent all of the different milestones through a story, and build something that we could continue to share because reconciliation doesn’t have a defined start or a defined end. There’s all of these very important pieces, so reflection was just as important as being able to look forward, and I think this project has really formulated around that concept of an Indigenous story representing the important work that has happened.

I think people will take away, I hope people will take away the idea that this is a response from all Yukoners. The Yukon College is only as good as our partners and we have many, many amazing people who have contributed a lot to it.

I hope people will take away that this has really been a journey. This isn’t a light switch that you turn on and off: It’s all of these little steps that have really culminated in some amazing work and in Yukon College being a leader in this field.

I hope people take away inspiration and I hope people take away the idea that it’s good to try things, even if they’re hard. And it’s okay if they didn’t work out, because lots of parts of our reconciliation story are those parts that didn’t work out exactly as we thought they were going to.

And I hope they take away what reconciliation really looks like on the ground. What are some concrete examples of reconciliation. Because sometimes that’s a little fuzzy when we throw out these big words like reconciliation, Indigenization, decolonization. There aren’t always examples behind that and I think this project will show our staff, our students, other people across Canada what our version of reconciliation has been and take that to inspire their own activities.

Lastly, I think it will do something that maybe we haven’t done enough of which is to really hold up Indigenous ways of knowing and doing in terms of it being an oral project and really taking that idea of transmitting knowledge via stories as legitimate and serious.

Storyteller in this episode

Tosh Southwick

Photo ofTosh Southwick

Associate Vice President Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation

“My heart lies in helping First Nation communities. I think I have a desire and hopefully a destiny to make transformative change and I see education as being the tool.”

Tosh Southwick, citizen of Kluane First Nation, is the Associate Vice President Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation. She was one of the first co-chairs of the President’s Advisory Council on First Nation Initiatives, and the Executive Director of First Nation Initiatives and Community Engagement for 10 years, before being promoted to her current position in 2018.

Southwick’s childhood was spent in Burwash Landing, Whitehorse, and Calgary, AB. She graduated from F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse with a high school diploma, but then discovered she needed two years of upgrading before she could apply to university. It was devastating news that made Southwick question whether she wanted to get a degree. So, she spent years working in a series of jobs before coming to Yukon College with a renewed motivation and finished the necessary coursework in one year.

Southwick went on to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology. She studied at Yukon College for the first two years, and then completed the degree at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. After graduating, she returned to her traditional territory of Burwash Landing where she worked with her First Nation while it was ratifying its land-claim and self-government agreements. There, she learned about governance and the importance of self-determination.

Southwick became involved with the College after her family moved into Whitehorse so her children could attend school. While working full time, Southwick went on to earn her Masters of Education from the University of British Columbia, graduating in the spring of 2018.