Dr. Alanaise Goodwill Shares Her Experiences as an Indigenous Psychologist and Educator

June 28, 2018

Dr. Alanaise Goodwill, Registered Psychologist in British Columbia (BC), joined the Faculty of Education in September 2017 as an Assistant Professor in the Counselling Psychology program. She is an Indigenous scientist-practitioner and educator who uses decolonization lenses to mental health practices by addressing serious manifestations of colonial violence. Dr. Goodwill has worked on writing curriculum for the Justice Institute of BC and the University of British Columbia (UBC) and on psychological practices in the areas of identity reclamation, collective healing, and restitution from damaging colonial processes including Indian Residential schools. Between 2009 and 2012, she was invited by the Mental Health Commission of Canada to be on the advisory for child and youth mental health initiatives.

Recently, Dr. Goodwill has engaged in investigating the applications of Indigenous language in the practice of family and group counselling. In 2017, she published an article with Dr. Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla exploring Indigenous notions of what well-being means. Dr. Goodwill has been developing a method of research which has grown from her counselling work and her interest in narrative research where data generation ideas take place within an Indigenous worldview. “I used some of the technology of narrative research, but I used the epistemology of Annishinaabe ways of knowing,” she explained.

The premise of this work is to have a conversation in the Annishinaabe language where participants tell the story of the meaning of well-being. She then invites them to have a dialogue in English. After being immersed in the Indigenous language and then coding the conversation in English, a new way of extracting knowledge emerges out of that practice. “What we know from research is that when someone is speaking in their first language, they get emotionally more connected to the content,” she described. The last step of this process is translation because it is not only about the content, the form of the words and what things mean, it has to do with the relational, the interaction between the listener and the storyteller. “That’s how we make the knowledge, that’s an Annishinaabe way of making knowledge,” Dr. Goodwill explained.

Dr. Goodwill’s next publication on how well-being becomes divine, will present the findings of the study. Dr. Goodwill explained how this article can be useful to graduate and research students who are interested in Indigenous approaches. “Because there are so many conceptual pieces, this article can be used by instructors teaching research methods,” she explained. Additionally, this method was designed to respond to the critique that meaning can be lost in the translation process, “by creating a relational process that actually changes the conditions for the storyteller, so they can access their own knowledge and externalize it in a stepped fashion.” By creating a research opportunity for people to think and experience these things in their first language, it might be possible to pick up on the non-verbal communication, the emotional communication that happens between two people. “You don’t need to be speaking the same linguistic language and you can still read that and, as a counsellor practitioner, I often need to find the words to understand the communication that is happening,” she further described. The idea of the article is not only to expose the colonial practices that informed our ways of communicating but to provide tools that motivate ways of engaging with others in their language where it can still be possible to understand the communication.

Dr. Goodwill explained, “honoring and saying the way that you feel may be steeped in the language you spoke when you were a child.” People with different languages might not be able to speak in a dialogue but it is possible to create conditions where one can think in their language and express in their language and yet still be understood.

Other research by Dr. Goodwill is centred on investigating the experiences of being in gangs. After witnessing the extent of the culture of violence in the prairies, she saw her own positionality as a mother of sons as an opportunity to understand why people go into and out of gangs. Interpreting and reinterpreting her research findings in relation to self-determination theory, Dr. Goodwill made parallels with the motivation of being in and out of gangs described by men in her study. By being in gang, most of her participants’ needs were met, coupled with the sense of belonging and autonomy which are concepts in self-determination theory. One of the findings of this study is the lack of power experienced by the participants while they were interacting with mental health systems. However, she considers the combination of the wisdom from Indigenous and psychology perspectives as an opportunity for change. “As a counsellor psychologist practitioner, I wanted a way for that wisdom to be of service and not doing the reverse of what always seems to be the case.” This work has been recently published in collaboration with her research assistant. “Any time that someone works for me as a research assistant they get co-authorship because I’m very interested in representing students’ efforts in a very power-sharing way,” she added.

Last summer, Dr. Goodwill worked on a quantitative study looking at the experiences of parents and caregivers that send their kids to Aboriginal Head Start BC. After collecting more than 900 responses, she is now in the process of analyzing the findings. She has applied for a grant to be able to involve multiple stakeholders that have been identified across the country to generate a research team which has a very close relationship with Indigenous communities all over Canada. As one of the two lead researchers, Dr. Goodwill sees this work as the reflection of the life-span of services provided to all the Indigenous communities. “It is an interesting initiative because it’s all about how to make research happen and you have a such a close connection to people who stand to benefit from research,” she stated. She reveals that the findings of this project will inform the experiences of these communities, “it’s actually research that informs their very own questions.”