Seeing the world as a garden

Royal Roads doctoral student Adrianne Xavier is bringing garden-fresh perspectives to McMaster University’s Indigenous Studies Program in her new role as acting director.

Xavier, an Onondaga woman from the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Territory, is a candidate in Royal Roads’ Doctor of Social Sciences program. A graduate of McMaster’s undergraduate anthropology program, Xavier first returned to McMaster in 2017 to teach a course on Traditional Ecological Knowledge during her doctoral studies at Royal Roads. Two years later, she joined the Faculty of Social Sciences to teach in the Indigenous Studies Program.

Xavier’s unique teaching methods (which earned her an MSU Teaching Award nomination), her community work and her research find common roots in the image of a Three Sisters mound garden, a model of knowledge developed by Xavier.

“The Three Sisters, in traditional Haudenosaunee communities, are corn, beans and squash. They are related back to our creation story, our culture and our communities,” explains Xavier.

A garden, a worldview

In a mound garden, each Sister has a unique role and contributes to the health and wellbeing of the garden. The corn provides structure for vines, the squash vines provide protection from predators and the beans provide nourishment for the soil.

“It’s a synergistic, beautiful process of interpersonal care,” says Xavier. “And I look at people that way. I look at almost everything that way. I see those connections for people in all facets.”

The Three Sisters mound garden model became the basis for Xavier’s doctoral research. As part of her dissertation, she used the mound garden framework to examine the development of Our Sustenance, a food security program she led at Six Nations.

“[At Our Sustenance] I saw people in the community being able to increase their food security, understand themselves better and gain a connection to food, their health, their culture and community, and create pockets of connections. They were coming to share vegetables and recipes and reaching out socially,” she explains.

The community embodied the mound garden system of knowledge with participants connecting and caring for one another, each person playing a role.

Xavier noticed a similar environment when she joined the Indigenous Studies Program, which was one of the reasons she agreed to pursue the acting director role.

“I had found a place to work where people were treating me like I already thought about that system of knowledge, having that connection and ability to care for each other, like in my theoretical framework.”

Xavier sees potential to apply her framework to the entire university.

“Indigenous Studies, for its students, provides structure so they’re the corn. The university-at-large and the funding bodies are the squash, they protect [students] and give them assistance, providing water, or money as the case may be.

“The students are the beans—they are strong, but also young. We see them as important and worthy of being cared for, they are our newest hope for sustaining the future whether that’s food for winter or as leaders in the world.”

While it may take a moment to see McMaster’s potential as a synergistic mound garden, for Xavier, the connection is obvious.

“Because I see the world that way, it’s just how things are. I can’t ‘unsee’ it,” she says.

In a season when community, interpersonal care and relationships are even more important, Xavier and her mound garden framework are wonderful, timely additions to the Faculty of Social Sciences leadership team, says Dean Jeremiah Hurley

“I am delighted to have Adrianne in this new role in the Indigenous Studies Program and the Faculty of Social Sciences,” he says “As the acting director and the Indigenous Scholar-in-Community, Adrianne has the platform and expertise to lead initiatives that enhance the experiences of Indigenous students, scholars and knowledge keepers at McMaster.”

Adrianne Xavier’s appointment began on July 1, 2020.

Republished with permission from McMaster Daily News.

Update: Xavier celebrated the completion of her Doctor of Social Sciences at Royal Roads Nov. 19 Virtual Convocation ceremony.

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