First People’s Post-Secondary Exchange: Michelle Smith, Pasha Partridge, Morgan Kahentonni Phillip


In this multi-year project, the artists and researchers practiced Indigenous and decolonizing research methods. They used a youth-driven participatory and community based approach that involved collective decision making, talking circles, filmmaking and community building to better understand the needs and challenges of post-secondary learners and to validate indigenous ways of learning and teaching. They created an extensive guide about their methods, that is published on their website. One collective decision the group made was to forego filming the story circles. The story circles offered an important space for participants to process their experiences and a space of collective listening. Following the story circles, participants determined if they wanted to document an experience on camera. Once the stories were filmed the group explored how to best honor and share the stories on the website. They wanted to organize the material by theme but also honor the integrity of an entire story. To address these values, they decided to create a space on the website to feature the uncut stories and another space where the stories could be navigated by common themes.


For the First People’s Post-Secondary Exchange team, collective decision making was key to the process of a participatory approach and was integrated into each step. For example, participants could partake in a story circle and later decide if they wanted to film their story. Another method of sharing power through the research process was to analyze the interviews through a “strength-based approach” rather than a comparative framework. This method of focusing on strengths was an effective tool to rethink the process of knowledge creation.


In this conversation Michelle Smith, Pasha Partridge, and Morgan Kahentonni Phillip discuss the goals and the outcomes of the five-year collaborative project, First People’s Post-Secondary Exchange. Healing was integral to this multi-year project that involved 22 communities, 10 nations and that generated over 100 video stories. The group used talking circles, filmmaking and community engagement as methods to better understand the needs and challenges of post-secondary learners and to validate indigenous ways of learning and teaching. In this conversation, the three women discuss the importance of creating an ethical and safe space through the sharing of food, the attentiveness to languages, the foregrounding of shared decision making, and compensating participants for their involvement. They speak about their approach to decolonized research and filmmaking as well as turning points for them in the process.

Michelle Smith is an award-winning Métis filmmaker, media artist and educator born and raised in St. James, Manitoba. She uses diverse media and participatory strategies to explore issues around Indigenous identity and resurgence, education and intercultural experience. She has directed and produced numerous documentary films and interactive media. She led and taught in the Journeys First Peoples Transition program at Dawson College in Tiohtiá:ke (Montreal) for four years. She is a founding member of the Dawson First Peoples Initiative, Indigenous Education Council and Intercollegiate Decolonizing Network and teaches Cinema-Communications at Dawson College. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Education at McGill, with a focus on Indigenous educational sovereignty. 

Morgan Kahentonni Phillips is a Kanien’kehá:ka woman (Wolf Clan) from Kahnawake and a citizen of the Haudenosaunee/Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. Morgan holds a BA Honours in Anthropology, an MA in Social & Cultural Anthropology from Concordia University and a PhD from the Department of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE) at McGill. Her research interests include Indigenous well-being, diabetes prevention, resilience, community-based participatory research, Indigenous research methodologies, and health promotion.

Pasha Partridge is an Inuit and Mohawk artist and filmmaker. She completed her DEC at John Abbott College and started her studies in Education at McGill. Pasha was a research assistant and a filmmaker within the project.