Elder Albert Marshall from Eskasoni First Nation

PORT HAWKESBURY: The Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) has taken a giant step in reconciliation by being the first learning institution to adopt the two-eyed seeing philosophy, all while appointing the architect of the movement as the Elder Advisor of the college’s School of Environment and Technology.

“Elder Marshall will be our consultant; when we need advice on programming, when we need to make sure we’re doing it right, because we want to make sure we do it right,” Waddie Long, a faculty member with the Natural Resources Environmental Technology program said. “This is something we’ve been talking about for many, many years; you don’t start a program and then go out and ask an Elder if we did it right, you start from the very beginning with an Elder.”

During a small, non-formal function on Oct. 14, at the Strait Area Campus, Long advised Elder Albert Marshall, along with his late wife Elder Murdena Marshall, were the two who fundamentally established the philosophy of two-eyed seeing in 2004.

“This is a big day, this is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time,” Long said. “For me personally, to sit here in this theatre surrounded by the Indigenous art, to see a diverse audience, to have an Elder who is a rock star and to have him here at our campus signing an agreement; in the spirit of truth and reconciliation is a big day.”

The Mi’kmaq word for two-eyed seeing is Etuaptmumk.

“Two-eyed seeing and our understanding of it is that we have to look at the world with one eye on Indigenous ways, traditional ways and traditional knowledge,” Long said as he addressed the environmental studies students who were in attendance. “And another eye in Western science, and they can actually come together and be beneficial.”

He indicated while there are lots of examples where traditional knowledge has had answers that science couldn’t find, the seed from Marshall that was planted 17 years ago, is now growing and flourishing all over the world.

“There are colleges, universities and communities all over the world that are trying to take this approach, to the benefit of everybody,” Long said. “It’s taken root which is so nice to see after so many years; when I bring up two-eyed seeing to people, I hear more of ‘Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that,’ than ‘No, I’ve never heard of it.’”

He suggested while there’s still a lot of work to be done to teach people what the philosophy is, at least the term is holding strong within our vocabulary.

“I’m just honoured and privileged to have Albert here, to sign the agreement with NSCC,” Long said. “Elder Marshall is going to guide us through our approach of two-eyed seeing, to keep us on track, to make sure what we do and say is right, and to get his advice when we need it.”

Marshall signed the agreement alongside Leif Helmer, the school manager of the School of Environment and Technology.

“As NSCC moves to adopt the two-eyed seeing approach into our work within, natural resources and environmental technology, but also within our new coastal technology program and some new forestry programs we’re developing within the next two years,” Helmer said. “We want to build a two-eyed seeing approach into a lot of work that we’re doing.”

An ex-inmate of Canada’s residential school system, Marshall has long worked passionately and tirelessly to promote Mi’kmaq language and knowledge along with cross-cultural understandings, reconciliation, and healing.

“I’m an indeed honoured. Two-eyed seeing is very much inherent in our ways of thinking,” Marshall said. “As an Aboriginal person, I see everything from my Aboriginal lens; I constantly use the other lens and seek other perspectives and add them to mine to have a better opportunity of meeting the challenges that we may face today.”

Marshall, who is from Eskasoni First Nation, is a leading environmental voice in Unama’ki (Cape Breton) and is a highly regarded spokesperson for Mi’kmaq natural resources and environmental issues.

“Its history in the making,” Marshall said, “Not just because I’m here, but this is the first time, in my humble opinion, a learning institution has officially endorsed this concept of Etuaptmumk or two-eyed seeing.”