Thoughts About Dreamwork with Central Alberta Cree

Jayne Gackenbach

(NOTE: This is an early and much longer version of a chapter which eventually appeared in 1996 entitled "Reflections on Dreamwork with Central Alberta Cree: An Essay on an Unlikely Social Action Vehicle". In Bulkeley, K. (Ed.). Among all these dreamers: Essays on dreaming and modern society NY: SUNY Press.)


Contents

Introduction

Dreamworker

A.   Workshop Facilitator With Ravenwoman; A.1. Ravenwoman's Experiences With Dreams;       A.2. Workshops Cofacilitated With Ravenwoman

B.   Writing About Central Alberta Cree

C.  Research on Central Alberta Cree

Teacher

A.   Dreams in Lecture/Discussion

B.  Dreams and Homework Assignments

C.  Dreamwork in the Classroom

Personal Involvement

Dreams and Social Action Among Natives

A.  A Course in the Spirit for Indians

B.  Finding the Middle Ground and Conclusion

References


Introduction

For almost 15 years I worked primarily at a Midwestern universities department of psychology. When I was put up for full professor the colleague who was nominating me said that although I deserved to become a full professor he "wished I hadn't done the research I had done." That is dream research. Would that this was an unfamiliar theme in my professional life, but exempting my colleagues, who also thought this was a scientifically valid if not important subject to investigate, most of those I came into contact with both professionally and personally thought dreams were "interesting" but not to be taken seriously. Thus when I moved with my family to Canada it was with eager anticipation that I took a job teaching two psychology classes at a nearby native college. I knew little about Natives but I had heard about the deep reverence with which they held dreams. Although I was right in general in my assumption about their attitude towards dreams it has been a long haul to this validation. Simply put, being around Natives is not being with Natives.

The first day of class at Yellowhead Tribal Council began my introduction to these remarkable people. Normally, students try to size up the new professor but their nervousness easily gives way to a quick, almost giddy laughter. Not so at Yellowhead Tribal Council that fall morning three years ago. Thirty somber faces greeted me. I would NOT say they were rejecting or angry so much as withdrawn into a firm "we'll see" stance. After two solid hours I finally got a hardy belly laugh from them. Never has the laughter of a group of students felt so appreciated by me.

In the ensuing years I have become increasingly involved with Canadian Aboriginal people. Dreams play a central role in all of my relationships with these people.

My first contact was that of a teacher. Over the last three years I have taught primarily Cree, but also Ojibway and Blackfoot, at two all Native Colleges, Yellowhead Tribal Council and Blue Quills Native College, and in mixed Native/white classes at two community college settings some distance north of where I live in Edmonton, Alberta. Although there is the occasional Native student when I teach on the University of Alberta campus it is rare which is not surprising when you consider this University of about 30,000 students has only about 125 Natives enrolled. I quickly discovered that to teach Natives you have to go to them.

I have primarily taught Developmental, Introductory, and Social Psychology but have also taught Personality and most recently an upper level special topics class on altered and higher states of consciousness. By now I have taught about 300 Natives, many more than once.

There are two other areas where I have become involved with Natives in Alberta, as a dreamworker and personally. As a dreamworker I conduct workshops on dreams with a Cree woman both for whites and for Natives through the University of Alberta and Bearwoman and Associates, the latter is a Native consulting agency. I have also conducted some research with my students on the relationship of dreams to waking autobiographical incidents and am currently working on a book about the death of a Cree woman.

Personally I have become deeply involved with the extended family of the Cree woman with whom I do workshops. This involvement is primarily as a sort of surrogate grandmother to two of her great-nephews but also as a close personal friend to her niece (their mother). Finally, on a deeply personal level my own dreams have shown a marked increase in animal, Native and elder imagery.

Dreams play an important role in all three areas of my involvement with Aboriginal peoples. I will discuss the way that dreams have become the common thread of my relationships with these people starting with my two professional roles and finishing with my personal relationships. I will then consider how my work with dreams and Natives serves as a social action vehicle.

The most obvious level of dreams involvement with the Cree is as a dreamworker, that is as a professional whose focus is on dreams. This includes being a workshop facilitator, writer, and researcher.


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