Land as Body: Indigenous womxn’s* leadership, land-based wellness and embodied governance




Gilpin, Erynne M.

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As many Indigenous voices and teachings reveal, individual practices of leadership are an everyday commitment to cultural resurgence and actualize within the personal spaces of the home, kitchen table, garden, birth-room and familial relations. Individual enactments of leadership are further determined by personal sense of agency derived from feelings of personal wellness, community well-being, relational balance and alignment of the mental, spiritual, emotional and physical selves. Healthy environments, including territories that encompass Land and Water, are essential for overall community wellness. This issertation examines emergent themes of Indigenous wellness, governance and gender to broaden current definitions of Indigenous governance and leadership towards a gendered, storied and embodied understanding. Countering the notion that governance and wellness are separate entities within the field of Indigenous Governance, this paper draws the Indigenous body into focus as a crucial site for self-determination in what I define as embodied governance. In doing so, we situate the Indigenous body within a self-determination framework that brings together critical Indigenous studies, Indigenous governance and culturally grounded wellness practices. Utilizing narrative inquiry, storytelling methods, relationship based models of accountability, this research project included the guided conversations of 17 self-identified Indigenous Womxn between 21-60 years of age from 10 different Nations, to explore: definitions of leadership in their everyday lives, the conditions for their personal wellness and community well-being, and finally, how these notions are predicated upon meaningful relationship to Land/Waters. My research defines wellness and well-being within the Cree-Michif framework of Miyo-Pimatisiwin (personal wellness, self-care, healing, internal balance) and Miyo-Wîchêtowin (care for others, accountability and belonging, kinship, relational governance, external balance). These concepts inform what I define as an embodied governance framework of self-determination to engage in ongoing efforts of personal, community, Land/Water-based healing for the purpose of protecting the future of generations to come. The final analysis celebrates and honours on-the-ground practices of embodied governance by focusing on rooted examples of creative resurgence, Land-Water based healing practices and a focus on an emergent theme of embodied birth and reproductive governance. These learnings support that determinants of individual leadership must be supported by a sense of personal wellness contained by relationship to Land and Waters. The dissertation begins with a critical examination of the colonial underpinnings that sabotage community healing, wellness and traditions of governance as derived by relationship to home Lands and Waters. In this way, I aim to interrupt the predominant trope of the Indigenous body or community as continuously in crisis. Instead, this paper situates Indigenous healing practices as radical sites of governance. This dissertation argues for the reconsideration of self-determination as embodied governance, which begins with the body as a site of regeneration, resurgence and renewal.



Indigenous voices, governance, wellness, self-determination