Professor Kevin Flynn of the University of Saskatchewan’s department of English showed a serious lack of judgement in his controversial article regarding the policies of an aboriginal pipe ceremony to which he was invited.
After reading in the invitation email that women during their “moon time” were discouraged to participate in the ceremony, Flynn took it upon himself to write an article in defence of these seemingly excluded women for the Sept. 13 issue of On Campus News. However, prior to writing the article, Flynn failed to question any aboriginal women participating in the ceremony to get the inside scoop.
A member of faculty at the university neglecting to research his opinion before writing on a topic as sensitive as this one is unsettling to say the least. Further, a male professor traipsing his under-researched thought train into feminine matters is doubly ignorant.
Along with the fact he wrote in favour of assimilating Caucasian societal values into aboriginal traditions — which is behaviour smacking of the ignorant attitude that led to the advent of the Residential Schools — Professor Flynn seems to have hit the money for offending a culture.
That said, Flynn was contrite after receiving copious amounts of enlightening feedback on his piece from all sorts of people, including aboriginal women on campus and leaders in the aboriginal community showing him the error of his ways. He quipped during an interview with CBC radio on Sept. 19 that “you learn something new every day,” after stating that he had done “very little research” before he wrote in a brusque and unapologetic tone.
He states that he wrote in this tone of voice deliberately, in order to encourage debate and introduce the possibility to adapt ancient traditions to more modern views on acceptance for all groups and genders of people.
The pipe ceremonies in question are a crucial part of aboriginal culture. Aboriginal peoples use the holy tobacco plant to communicate with the Great Spirit, cleanse themselves and solidify deals and agreements among each other. They participate in these sacred pipe ceremonies in order to get closer to their creator through the use of ritual tobacco smoking.
This ancient practice was used as a means of communication between the first European settlers and the Aboriginal peoples who lived on the land when they arrived. The settlers occasionally dishonoured the practice and used it to manipulate Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
Though Professor Flynn meant well and only raised the issue out of dislike for exclusionary behaviour anywhere on campus, he wrote from an ignorant perspective that is arguably more damaging to the Aboriginal peoples concerned.
Unbeknownst to him, the guidelines that Flynn received in his email have been put in place out of respect for women during the time when women are considered most spiritually powerful because they have the potential to bring forth life.
The request that women not participate during their “moon time” was for the reason that their powerful physical state could interfere with the proceedings, not because they would deem the sanctified objects of the ceremony “filthy,” as Flynn suggested.
There has been an outpour of adverse reaction from the students and staff on campus following the publication. Heather Magotiaux, Vice President of Advancement and Community Engagement at the university, sent a mass email to all students and staff on the morning of Sept. 19 regarding Flynn’s article, apologizing for the insensitive language used.
“Universities value freedom of speech, even when that speech reflects a perspective that conflicts with institutional values. All members of our community are equally free to express their views, although I would hope we would each do so in a spirit of respectful debate and with the goal of deepening our own understanding,” Magotiaux said.
Professor Flynn sought to ignite debate with his strong wording and controversial statements, which he undoubtedly succeeded in doing. However, a man in his position within the campus, should have chosen a less provocative route and approached the issue more delicately.
Photo: Jordan Dumba/Photo Editor