Jessica Pulis and Alex Hollenberg win SSHRC Explore Grant

Drs. Pulis and Hollenberg were recently awarded a SSHRC Explore Grant – the only Explore Grant awarded at Sheridan College this year. Their research, in collaboration with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Peel-Halton, Ellen House, the Vanier Centre for Women and the Grand Valley Institution for women, will collect a narrative of women’s lived experiences as they participate in traditional Indigenous ceremony and healing practices at the Sacred Grounds.

The Sacred Grounds was created with the common goal of providing federally and provincially sentenced women opportunities to engage in holistic rehabilitation as a way to better facilitate a safe and successful transition back to their families and communities. The Sacred Grounds, located on land donated by Elizabeth Fry Peel-Halton at Ellen House in Brampton, Ontario, includes; a sweat lodge, sacred gardens, and sacred fire. Federally and provincially sentenced women are encouraged to access the Grounds and participate in ceremony that reduces negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions in their lives and, further, helps women make connections with others and nature.

Within the spirit of Indigenous social justice and feminist research and reciprocity, this research does not aim to draw correlations between participation in the Sacred Grounds and a reduction in recidivism (as a measure of ‘program effectiveness’). The researchers acknowledge that corrections is a colonial institution so it is difficult to conceptualize how effectiveness can be operationalized in this setting and within Indigenous ceremony and practice. In other words, there may not be explicit measurable outcomes. Rather, a collection of stories about the Grounds and about the women—their lives and their journeys—will be gathered to explore common themes in the women’s lives and the role the Grounds may or may not have in their journeys. The choice of oral storytelling is not arbitrary; rather, insofar as storytelling is a central means of constructing and transmitting shared values within and across multiple Indigenous communities, our methodology comprises an attempt to serve participants through a restorative research practice rather than impose settler ideologies upon them. In other words, the stories we collect from women will begin to communicate significant counter-narratives of resilience and regeneration in the face of oftentimes overwhelming systemic discrimination.

The research will unfold in a series of conversations with the women over a period of approximately three months and will engage in a data collection process that is equitable, inclusive and allows for a mutually beneficial research collaboration. The stories the women tell can become counter-narratives of resilience and reconciliation: accessing the Sacred Grounds may support the women as they navigate from corrections to their communities and to their families. The women collaborate to tell their own stories in their own words and engaging in in the collection of stories is a way to share oral histories and values within and across Indigenous communities. Women will be asked to give permission to share stories with Elizabeth Fry agencies and Correctional Services Canada in support of creating and providing all federally and provincially sentenced women with opportunities for holistic rehabilitation and, in particular for Indigenous women, rehabilitative experiences that are culturally relevant and authentic.

Congratulations to Jessica and Alex, and good luck with this exciting project.