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VOCALIZE: A Natural and Cultural History Project

June 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Emily Ford, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

“VOCALIZE” attempts to share the Natural and Cultural History of the Loon through multiple ways of knowing. This project blends Indigenous Education and Scientific Study through the following list of topics, in order to create an ecological and social learning platform for all: Etymology, Art, History, Biography, Archeology, Astronomy, Taxonomy, Phylogeny, Poetry, Geology, Mapping, Natural History, Anthropology, Biology, American Literature, Conservation Studies, Storytelling, Indigenous Education and Pedagogy, and Place-Based Learning.

The multidisciplinary nature of Natural History allows both cultural and scientific knowing to be shared and valued. The Common Loon (Gavia immer), is not only the focus in this project, but also provides a lens to investigate Environmental and Social Justice, especially as it pertains to North America’s Native First Peoples. The Loon’s hauntingly visceral “call of the wild” has spoken to humans throughout the centuries, and offers a vessel for silenced cultural perspectives to come to light.

Within the project booklet, you will learn about the appearance, habits, and vocalizations of the charismatic Common Loon. Dive beneath the water, and you will also experience the emotions, voices, stories, and values held by the Loon. As we observe and interpret the Loon’s being, we must also recognize the human context of engaging with nature. “VOCALIZE” serves as an example and call to action for all readers to be open minded, aware, and inclusive of diverse human experience and beliefs.
It demonstrates the importance of listening to and valuing every voice, including the voice of the Earth, as we come to realize our interrelations.

For example, I examine the word “vocalize,” often used to describe the loon’s various calls. In English, “Vocalize” means to articulate, or to sing vowel sounds, and comes from the root ‘call out’, or ‘cry.’ I pair this with the many Ojibwe definitions, in order to value their language and roots of their words. This serves as an example of how language is a form of power, and it is important to present more than just one perspective. I also use this word to reiterate the layered metaphors of indigenous oppression throughout the project. A loon’s call in the night comes out of the silence, and echoes with a wounded mournfulness, yet stands strong in people’s memory of wilderness and beauty. Paired with these concepts, I also include scientific studies of the four loon calls and their adaptive uses for communication.

Similarly, I investigate the bird’s many names. Loon’s scientific name is Gavia immer, from Scandinavian roots. In Ojibwe, “Loon” and “brave” are the same word: “Maang.” I then share the creation story of the loon, from astronomy, to Indigenous creation stories, to evolution and archeology.  

My poetry is scattered throughout the booklet to reinforce the subject topics and include my own reflections and voice. This poem follows the investigation of our naming of the loon and its vocalizations, as well as a discussion of layered metaphors about the power and oppression of language use. Accompanying the poem is art by Ojibwe artist Jackson Beardy who fought as an activist, educator, and artist, for the rights of Canada’s First Peoples and the revitalization of woodland cultures.

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