Spotlight: John Borrows

June is National Indigenous History Month which is an important moment to honour the history, heritage, and diversity of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada.

John Borrows is a 2006 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow. He is Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria Law School and is an internationally recognized scholar in the field of Indigenous Legal Traditions and Aboriginal Rights. Professor Borrows is Anishinabe and a member of the Chippewas of the Nawash First Nation on Georgian Bay.  Professor Borrows has been at the forefront of Indigenous legal education initiatives in Canada, having developed programs of research and teaching at the University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria.

John Borrows shares the Foundation’s belief that diversity is essential when examining knowledge and people’s lived experiences.

“Nuance is sacred, to be aware of the danger of the single story. We understand ideas and practices live along a spectrum. It is not always either/or, or dichotomous when we think about the work of diversity as the work of letting us be different from one another in a way that does not draw on stereotypes. We could have people from across the political spectrum, from diverse communities, privileged people, less privileged people, spiritual, and non-religious across a spectrum of diversity.”

“We need to have the freedom to be different from the types of what it means to be Canadian, but also different from one another within our racialized or gendered or Indigenous communities, whatever the case might be. That nuance and that being aware of the danger of the single story is best implemented by ensuring that we draw knowledge in from diversity and that we go out into the community.”

The Foundation’s programs are taking positive steps in this direction, committing to the inclusion of different forms of knowledge in its leadership training program.  By including different knowledges and ways of knowing, the members of our community are benefitting as never before by learning new things. Notably, the highlight of the Institute of Engaged Leadership in Yellowknife in fall 2019 was a day-long visit to Dechinta, where learning from the land provided an enriching and essential experience.

In addition, the Foundation’s new Policy on Language: BilingualismPlus supports and encourages Scholars to learn First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages and commits to familiarizing all Scholars with these languages through its programs.

As a leader in his field and public educator, Professor Borrows places high importance on learning from the land, and on family, which together help him navigate life with confidence.

“I try to be someone who encourages others around me because I really appreciated being loved. I also love the land, our territories. How beautiful when you think about the small birds, the rivers and the trees, the changing of plants when they go into the seasons, with their leaves and flowers and their fruits.

“This is also wrapped up as Anishinaabe peoples’ Seven Grandmother and Grandfather teachings which are laws that are found in our constitution, that encourage us to try to be with other people, and to be with the land in these ways and these constitutions. They are like laws, standards, principles, authorities, criteria, measures, traditions, precedents. Those laws are things like humility, bravery, honesty, wisdom, truth, respect, and love.”

The Foundation asked John Borrows what is on his reading and podcast list lately:

“There is something called the Penguin Little Black Classics book series and so I have been reading Nietzsche, Guy de Maupassant, Thomas Hardy, the classic I’d say, and I am also reading the Qur’an and the Bible, and Thomas Merton, I like that kind of wisdom literature. I also like psychology: a book called The Body Keeps the Score, a fabulous book that talks about trauma as being something physically located and as well as a psychological process, and it is inter-generational. Wonderful book about trauma and recovery.”

“In terms of what I am listening to, I really like The On Being Project, a podcast created by Krista Tippett.”