Trent Fox and Elders
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
His column, Îethka Voices, was a popular feature in the Cochrane Eagle. He was a specialist in Stoney Nakoda language, oral history and culture, and within a breath of completing his doctoral thesis at the University of Calgary. The son of esteemed Stoney Nakoda Elder Tina Fox, and a longtime inspiration to me, Trent Fox passed away of a heart attack in his sleep June 8. He was 47.
I’d like to pay special honour to Trent this week by drawing attention to a personal transformation he experienced in recent years while doing his academic work among Stoney Nakoda Elders at Morley. (By the way, he often used his language’s word Îethka – pronounced approximately ee-AY-thkah – for “Stoney Nakoda.”)
In many conversations with me while pursuing his academic interests, Trent shared how he became increasingly aware of how the Western academic approach to research carried with it the ever-present danger of being disrespectful of the very Elders and Knowledge Keepers whom he was attempting to honour in his academic work.
“Being western-educated and not having access to oral histories until recently, I can honestly say I was not as respectful as I should have been,” Trent said. “I believed those with Western education had higher status. Now I see and appreciate that those with Îethka knowledge have superior knowledge that I’m just learning.”
He lamented his own lack of cultural awareness. “My inquiry and working with Elders sure put me in my place.”
He became especially aware of his cultural shortcomings while teaching university courses in the Stoney Nakoda language. “I realized I didn’t know half of my dialect and very little on culture. Mom had been advising us, her children, to start learning from the Elders. She saw how Western paradigms had affected us,” he told me.
“Knowledge Keepers spend a lifetime learning from their Elders. For the Îethka, this knowledge is still passed down in the Îethka dialect of Nakoda, and so not affected by language loss. Story telling is like poetry, told in a way that makes one remember. And it is in families who are cultural and traditional where this knowledge is strongest and where children still speak our dialect….
“I am but an apprentice still learning. Western education undermined my worldview. It was only by turning to Elders that I began stepping into the Îethka worldview.”
© 2023 Warren Harbeck