Author Spotlight

Dr. Felicia Mitchell

Dr. Mitchell photo

Water insecurity and COVID

Dr. Felicia Mitchell is a descendant of the Chickasaw Nation and the Chickasaw Freedman and an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. Her research focus is on the social determinants of health of Indigenous peoples. The majority of her energy is spent on environmental change and the impact that this change has on Indigenous peoples’ health and wellness, in particular from a relational perspective. Dr. Mitchell’s article: American Indian Water Insecurity in the Era of COVID-19 is in the recently released JISD Special Issue: Indigenous Communities and COVID-19: Impact and Implications.

In her early social work career Dr. Mitchell practiced in Arizona and Kansas, both states with large Tribal Nations that continue to experience water insecurity. She saw firsthand the challenges communities faced accessing safe water and the impact this had on wellbeing and began to amplify their stories and advocate for sustainable solutions to support health and wellness. As a graduate student, Dr. Mitchell focused on water insecurity, but found that social work did not immediately see the importance of water security. A turning point in mainstream social work came with the reporting of water issues in Flint, Michigan. Her colleagues began to see interconnections between water, health, and social justice and the role of social work.

Dr. Mitchell shares “water insecurity is pervasive and like a spider web is connected to multiple determinants of health. If you don’t have water security it impacts physical, mental, and financial health.” Accessing water can take significant economic resources resulting in financial and time burdens. While these challenges existed pre-COVID-19 they have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Right now, a prevalent public health message is “wash your hands!” Dr. Mitchell asks, “how ethical and equitable is it to tell a community that does not trust their water or has to purchase and haul their water that this is a “simple solution” to preventing transmission of COVID-19?” She asserts that water security is a social justice issue that requires sustainable resources to achieve equity. However, a bright spot in these inconsistent expectations and public health messages is the spotlight that has been shone on water issues facing many Tribal Nations, including the Navajo Nation, for generations. She hopes that this media attention can be a catalyst to support equitable infrastructure to ensure water security. To catalyze this energy, Dr. Mitchell urges the importance of keeping water security in the forefront of the public’s mind, “We need this narrative going until we find solutions. Hopefully my research and writing are adding to this. It is clearly a social justice issue and social work has a role in advocating for change.”

Dr. Mitchell gets excited when she finds social work students who are interested in environmental social work. She would like to inspire students to recognize the role that they can play in this ongoing issue. Advice she would like to share with young scholars is the importance of finding their voice and telling their story,

This may sound cliché – but follow your passion and use your voice. I received the opposite advice as a student – in particular around the use of Community Based Participatory Research and in my focus on water. So, my advice is to listen to what people are saying but then critically examine where they are coming from. Ask, why they are giving you that advice? In particular, pay attention if this doesn’t feel right to you. Look critically at what is offered and ask– what do you need to do to feel good about your work? Stay with your passion – that is what will motivate you and keep you going.

Dr. Mitchell hopes that her work sparks connections for people, and in the telling of her stories she is able to provide a perspective that motivates advocacy and commitment to stand up for water security.

Dr. Kathy Absolon

Author Photo

In part through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, stories and testimonies of the injustices and crimes of residential schools for Indigenous peoples have been documented. For Dr. Kathleen Absolon, there was another part of these stories to be explored: “In the stories of the residential school, we have been looking at violence and impacts, but we have been healing from that. There are also stories from your mom, stories of survival, sneaky stories [stories of survival]…. not only stories of suffering.” These stories began to tap on Dr. Absolon’s consciousness:

Tap tap tap. I hear something.

“Who is that?” I ask. 

Tap tap tap

I hear it again. 

Is it coming from within me? 

I listen.  Tap tap tap…  I listen closer.  (Absolon, 2020, p.1)


The poem above is presented in Absolon’s (2020) newest publication with the Journal of Indigenous Social Development. “It is really the memory of the stories that we carry. We all carry these stories through our memory. Sometimes the tap is so quiet and sometimes the tapping can’t be ignored. They need to emerge and have a life so we can remember the amazing people we come from.” In “Close to home: An Indigenist project of story gathering” she describes the methodological framework used for her “personal and decolonizing Indigenist search project” (p.2). Inspired by her own mother’s resilience, resistance, strength and determination, Dr. Absolon was interested in capturing the other side of the residential school story; how did the children survive in school? What were their strategies, ideas, and outlets of expression in the face of such oppression? Her mother agreed it was time for these stories to be shared.

Close to home is a project that took place over many years, with still more work to come, including filming the stories and co-creating films with her mother. The films retain the voice and storyteller, says Absolon, versus watering them into interpretations of the searcher.  Creating space for storytellers voices is one of the benefits of creating films.  Gathering stories from our kinship and communities also represents an opportunity for Indigenous scholars to explore concepts of re-searching our own roots. Indeed, Dr. Absolon encourages Indigenous scholars, especially those new to the arena, to continue to work on finding their roots, discovering what grounds them and who they are to anchor their search in discovering their Indigeneity. Finding your anchor, Absolon shares, “brings up a stronger sense of worldview and relationship, and helps to ground scholars and searchers in their ethics, vision, focus.”

Kathy Absolon (Minogiizhigokwe – Shining Day Woman) is Anishinaabe kwe who is a community helper, knowledge seeker, educator, researcher and writer. Kathy is a member of Flying Post First Nation Treaty 9. Her passion for wellness among her peoples and the restoration of Indigenous knowledge in Creation has been one of the driving forces in her life work as an Indigenous wholistic practitioner in child welfare, Native mental heath, youth justice and community work.  Her academic and cultural work has been in restoring, reclaiming, re-righting Indigenous history, knowledge, cultural worldviews and making the invisible visible.  She promotes this through Indigenous research methodologies and published “Kaandossiwin, How we come to know” (2011).  She has authored other works in wholistic practice, social inclusion, reconciliation, community healing and wellness and Indigenous knowledge. Her most recent project is in gathering stories of resistance and resilience from her mother, a survivor of the St. John Anglican Residential School in Chapleau, ON.  Currently, Kathy is an Associate Professor in the Indigenous Field of Study, Faculty of Social Work and the Director of the Centre for Indigegogy at Wilfrid Laurier University.  

Dr. Darrel Manitowabi


For Dr. Darrel Manitowabi, understanding Indigenous health through Anishinabe mino-bimaadiziwn has been a major focus of his career. Dr. Manitowabi presents mino-bimaadiziwn as a theoretical concept that contributes to an understanding of Indigenous health and well-being, particularly through examining the links between Indigenous experiences and perspectives and the ongoing experience of colonization. Rooted in values of Anishinabe peoples and places, Anishinabe mino-bimaadiziwn refers to the holistic experience of good health. Indigenous concepts, terminologies and ideas have always been central to Dr. Manitowabi’s work. Articulating the practices of mino-bimaadiziwn, the behaviours and actions of expressing and experiencing mino-bimaadiziwn, are more important for Dr. Manitowabi than any definitions or descriptions of the concept. Behaviour reveals the unconscious ways that people express mino-bimaadiziwn. As he shared, I am interested in documenting a reality as it exists rather than how people want the world to be.” Similarly, Dr. Manitowabi offers the following advice to budding Indigenous scholars: “be open to the fact that the existing literature does not adequately reflect your own experience and to invest your own energy and time to address that gap; other disciplinary perspectives can’t see what’s in front of them and it takes a different perspective and viewpoint to expose those perspectives.”

In “We Stopped Sharing When We Became Civilized: A Model of Colonialism as a Determinant of Health in Canada”, Dr. Manitowabi, along with Dr. Marion Maar, offers insight into how well-being is affected by socio-economic factors at the individual, community, nation, and service systems levels. Understanding the impacts of socio-economic investments in Indigenous communities over the last 50 years becomes increasingly important as more and more health disparities emerge for Indigenous peoples. Through the theoretical framework of mino-bimaadiziwn, this paper reveals the need to further understand colonialism as a social determinant of health. Importantly, the authors argue, “Based on our model community programs must focus at the same time on good health/mental health as well as bolster self and economic self-determination in order to support good health, mino-bimaadiziwn” (p. 16). Read the article here.

Dr. Manitowabi is an Associate Professor in the School of Northern and Community Studies, Laurentian University, and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies, Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury, Ontario. He holds a cross-appointment in the School of Indigenous Relations, Laurentian University and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Human Sciences Division. He is an Indigenous anthropologist with research interests in medical and applied anthropology and has published articles on Indigenous gambling, Ojibwa/Anishinaabe ethnohistory, urban Indigenous issues, and Indigenous health. He is 3 Fires Anishinaabe and his home community is the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and he currently resides in the Whitefish River First Nation.

Read the article here.