Lynn Gehl, who resides in Peterborough, Ontario, is known across Canada as an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe who is an advocate, artist, writer, and an outspoken critic of colonial law and policies that harm Indigenous women, men, children, and the land and water.
Lynn was born in a Scarborough, Ontario hospital during a spring moon where, due to colonization, grew up in what she calls “the slums of Toronto”. She is the fifth child in a family of eight children. Her mother was French with Indigenous ancestry whose first language was French and who attended a Catholic residential school; her father was an exiled Algonquin Anishinaabe, originally from the Ottawa River Valley, and was pretty much an abandoned child due to the imposition of colonial understandings of marriage, chastity, and child rearing.
By the time Lynn was three years old, she had several eye surgeries to correct what medical doctors diagnosed as a “lazy eye”. The surgeries failed and her poor vision persisted. As a result, the developmental milestones, such as walking and riding a bike, were delayed, and especially the skill of reading; though, she believes, this contributed to her oral and critical thinking skills. More recently Lynn discovered that her vision loss was actually caused by a cranial nerve issue, not a muscular issue that surgeries could repair. Thus, the surgeries, she feels, were abuse by the bio-medical system.
In search for understanding her place, and the Algonquin place, in the world, Lynn attended community college studying chemistry, and then for 12 years she worked in the environmental field as a chemical technologist, testing water for toxic organic pollutants. It was during this time when she realised that western scientific knowledge and technology, while powerful ways of knowing, were not changing human behaviour and ending the pollution. Something was amiss.
It was through Lynn’s life experiences and her education that she has discovered the sophisticated nature of Indigenous knowledge.
Eventually, while in her thirties, she learned how to read and write beyond the primary school level. After meeting Nik, her partner, Lynn resigned from her position and began university, taking one course at a time, as she was such a slow reader and had way too much to learn. She began in psychology, and then, seeking deeper understanding beyond science, she moved to anthropology. Anthropology directed her to Indigenous studies, where 13 years later, she graduated with a PhD. During her graduate studies Lynn was successful in obtaining the Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Scholarship.
Since completing her doctorate in 2010, Lynn has focused her time and energy on knowledge production, publishing in both in academic and community-based venues. She has four books published (two were fund raisers and no longer available), 17 academic journal publications, and over 120 community publications in such venues as Peterborough’s own Journey Magazine, Anishinabek News, Muskrat Magazine, rabble, Canadian Dimension, Huffington Post, Policy Options, and more recently Canada’s History Magazine. She also blogs, has several video productions, and has participated in over 20 television and radio interviews, most recently with CBC’s The Current.
Lynn’s Art Work
Her 2014 book, based on her doctoral work, “The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process” was published with Fernwood Publishing. Her 2017 book, “Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit”, explores her journey deeper into Indigenous knowledge and was published with the University of Regina Press. In this way, she is an accomplished scholar and writer.
It was through Lynn’s life experiences and her education that she has discovered the sophisticated nature of Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous knowledge, she now knows, is not primitive; rather positivism — scientific, legal, and historical — will always be an inadequate human creation. Lynn now understands that it is crucial for people to nurture their relationships with the natural world. She is now firm in her belief that humans must begin with teaching children the correct songs, dances, and prayers versus national anthems that usurps genuine agency.
In April 2017, Lynn was successful in defeating Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s unstated paternity policy, which denied children Indian status when a father’s name was not on their birth certificate, when the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled the sex discrimination in the policy was unreasonable. This effort took more than 30 years!
Lastly, Lynn understands all too well that children denied mother love fail to become fully human. She argues it is deplorable that Canada’s policies, inherent in the Indian Act past and present, continue to interfere with mother love.
By Melodie McCullough