Visual storyteller reconnects community to wisdom and kinship

Lana Whiskeyjack wins a Community Scholar Award for her work as a researcher and educator.


In honour of her collaborative, community-engaged approach to research Whiskeyjack is the recipient of a 2024 Community Scholar Award. (Photo: Alex Pugliese)

Lana Whiskeyjack sees connections in everything she does — connections that push her to question and commit to the roles she holds as a community leader. Notably, she feels ties to those women she calls her belly button connections — matrilineal ties to her mother and grandmother, both members of Saddle Lake Cree Nation.

“My grandmother has been the biggest rock in my life and I continue to walk with her teachings to keep her spirit alive,” Whiskeyjack says.“Through the wisdom, stories and medicine that she passed down to her grandkids and children, she was an incredible human being.” 

Whiskeyjack’s grandmother pushed her to learn as much as possible while in school and to travel the world so that she could come home and share her knowledge and experience.

Whiskeyjack now aspires to continue the work of her grandmother — a midwife and medicine woman who held great authority as a matriarch in her communities — through her Indigenous-centered research grounded in ceremony and art as an associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.

Reconnecting to wisdom and kinship relations historically disrupted by the impacts of settler colonialism is at the forefront of Whiskeyjack’s work. Her work is also directed at supporting Two-Spirit Indigenous youth and imprisoned women to gain access to culture and land-based knowledge. 

Whiskeyjack taught with Walls to Bridges, an innovative national education program, and in collaboration with the Edmonton Institution for Women, unites incarcerated students with campus-based students to build community while taking university level courses.

Through her work as the initiator of tapahtêyimôkamik, or the Humble Lodge, Whiskeyjack connects and strengthens relationships between Indigenous 2SLGTBQIA+ youth, community service providers and Elders to facilitate inclusive cultural ceremony and rites of passage.

“I am working on reconnecting to the land, to the Cree language and to the culture of being a human being of this land again,” says Whiskeyjack.

In honour of her collaborative, community-engaged approach to research Whiskeyjack is the recipient of a 2024 Community Scholar Award, one of three U of A Community Connections Awards.

The Community Scholar Award recognizes a person that excels in bringing their scholarship into the community with work that positively affects people’s lives. 

With a doctorate from Blue Quills — the first Indigenous run educational center in Canada — Whiskeyjack situates herself within the Cree language and worldview as an important part of her ways of teaching and being. 

“Coming from a First Nations accredited institution is significant,” says Whiskeyjack. “It greatly impacts where I teach from because in that school, we prioritize Indigenous ways of knowing and being.” 

Students in Whiskeyjack’s classrooms benefit from her ancestral teachings that guide the learning environment from a spirit-first approach. 

“In our Indigenous worldview, we are taught that we are strong, wise and intelligent only through the relationships we are connected to,” says Whiskeyjack. “That means more than our human relations, that means our relationship to the land, to trust, our kinship connection to the plants, to the animals and to the waters.”

As a professor, Whiskeyjack also enjoys reading student papers and seeing the transformative effect art can have to help students think differently in practising knowledge from an Indigenous worldview.

“What I look forward to, in teaching, and connecting with diverse communities, is that I can contribute to this world by being a better auntie and contributing to another person being a better relative.”

The University of Alberta Community Connections Awards recognize the incredible contributions made by faculty, staff or students, who have dedicated their time, energy and resources to making our community a better place. We recognize people who work alone or in groups, in our communities near or far from campus. Lana Whiskeyjack will be honoured with her Community Scholar Award during a public ceremony from noon to 1 p.m. Monday, May 13 at Edmonton City Hall. RSVP to attend.