Josie C. Auger

Relationality, Reciprocity and Research: Cree Academic Dr. Josie Auger’s Wisdom Seeking

“Many things can happen to each of us and along the way, we have to believe in ourselves. We have to believe that we're worthy of being on campus and attending classes… believing that we're worthy is really important,” shares Dr. Josie Auger, an associate professor at Athabasca University, a mother, grandmother and auntie. 

Auger is a member of Bigstone Cree Nation, where she lived for a few years growing up before moving to Edmonton, then Wabasca for her senior year. She learned difficult lessons about how First Nations youth are treated in school and why completion rates are low. After high school, she took a year off to work and decide what she wanted to do. Completing a one year program in native communications led her to work in media briefly, until her mother passed away. 

The loss was unexpected and tragic and reflecting on how her mom wanted her to go to law school, she felt called to continue her post secondary education. Auger hoped what she learned would benefit herself, her family and community.  “I decided, rather than doing stories on other people, I wanted to be part of the change that needs to happen in our communities.” She went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Native studies, a Master of Science degree in population health, and a PhD in Public Health Sciences.

She worked as a counsellor in her territory, at a time when the MMIWG inquiry began and members of her own community were missing, too. When she was done with her assignment there, she moved into the city and started working for the university. She studied the impacts of sexual boundaries being crossed and interviewed Cree women.

Working at the university, she also studied the impact of the pandemic on Indigenous learners, worked on architecture projects, and researched water, Indigenous evidence and research and exploration. Additionally, Auger organized a two-day hybrid event on culture and research ethics and launched a podcast. “It's really important to continue to stay connected to your land, your culture, your belief system, your language, so that you can bring that with you. It's a part of you as you move forward in your research journey,” she asserts.  

The podcast she launched talks about cultural values and ethics and the nature of Indigenous research methodologies which are both quantitative and qualitative. It’s also based on an Indigenous worldview and it seeks to expand the field based on the work of Indigenous academics who have led the way in these methods. “When we consider that research is ceremony, we have our own protocols in which we approach research. We may be taking our protocol to the elders, and asking for blessings and asking for support from our nations as well. Using this approach as wisdom seeking helps because it goes back to connection, relationality and being accountable.” 

In the context of research, it’s about ensuring it’s not a one-way street. “Following those principles of relationality, that it's relevant to the community, that it's respectful, it's responsible, and there's reciprocity, that it's not just helicopter research… and there's no benefits to the community. We don't believe in that. We don't want that when we're practicing Indigenous research methods and wisdom seeking,” she explains.

Illustration by Shaikara David

Auger talks about how these methodologies cast community members as co-creators of research and the podcast addresses the concept of bias. “In indigenous research methodology, the concept is relationality, that we are in relationship with all of these things. So bias becomes a distant memory of trying to be removed from the research subject,” she elaborates. She hopes that students will find time and space to read about Indigenous research leaders and benefit from their teachings in a comfortable learning environment. 

Along the way, she’s learned what a culture shock moving to the city to attend university can be, from navigating transit and the city streets to the language barrier when English isn’t your first language. Extra support with academic writing becomes essential, along with grace in deadlines and more resources. She recommends Indigenous students connect with Indigenous student centres to find what they need and to have a place to talk about their experiences. 

Having a daily gratitude practice is something else she recommends, along with knowing who you are. She says, “We are resilient people. Some people don't like to use the word resiliency, but we are capable. We are kind people, we're honest people, we're caring people who share, and we are determined to achieve our goals.” 

To balance her mental health, she lives a healthy life and has stayed connected to Cree culture. “Some of the things that I think are important are to listen to the creation stories, the teachings, and to find culturally safe places where you can begin to have that decolonizing mindset,” she reflects.  “It's not just about what you're learning, it's also about how you're learning, and how you come to know the importance of connection because it's also an emotional journey,” she continues. 

"Being grounded, and knowing who you are as an Indigenous person is really important, because we don't want to be isolated."

Connection is something she’s learned is so important, especially when difficult experiences lead to anxiety, fear and depression. “When you start to work through those emotional issues, and connect to other people, other beings, whether it be our fireside chat, whether it be the grandfather rocks, or whether it'd be our medicines, that importance of connection helps us to ground ourselves,” she advises.  

In closing, to inspire Indigenous students, Auger speaks to the importance of balance and knowing your limits. She recommends adding things that brighten your day to your daily routine, listening to podcasts, engaging with people, maintaining a schedule, getting good sleep and nourishing yourself with good food. Engaging in traditional practices like gardening, canning, harvesting herbs, fishing and hunting is something else she suggests. “Don't forget who you are and build on that. You're worth it,” she urges. 

While many things happened to Josie Auger along the way, she learned to believe in herself, that she was worthy of being on campus and going to class. Thanks to her confidence in her value, she’s been able to practice and raise awareness of Indigenous research methods, centering Indigenous knowledge systems and creating hope for Indigenous students that there’s a place for them in academia, too.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
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  • Province/Territory
    Alberta
  • Date
    March 12, 2024
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