The gift of multiple perspectives: Mi’kmaq Elder advances two-eyed seeing
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Elder Albert Marshall is the recipient of the 2022 Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award
Albert Marshall’s concept of two-eyed seeing encourages the understanding and use of Indigenous ways of knowing alongside mainstream (Western or Eurocentric) knowledge, as a means of improving health and wellness for all people.
In one of his many publications on the subject, the Mi’kmaq Elder explains it as, “learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous ways of knowing and from the other eye with the strengths of Western ways of knowing and to using both of these eyes together.”
Two-eyed seeing (in Mi’kmaq etuaptmumk, meaning the gift of multiple perspectives) has garnered national and international recognition as a way of bringing together diverse but symbiotic worldviews in addressing shared issues and concerns related to human health and wellness.
In recognition of his tireless work for the advancement of Indigenous well-being, Elder Marshall is the 2022 recipient of the Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award. This award acknowledges and celebrates Indigenous physicians, physicians-in-training, Elders or Knowledge Keepers in Canada who epitomize a zeal and devotion to Indigenous rights and the dogged pursuit of justice for Indigenous people in Canada.
Spirit, co-learning, reciprocity and humility
As an example of his impact, Elder Marshall was consulted extensively on the inclusion of two-eyed seeing in the five-year strategic plan developed by the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in 2016. Two-eyed seeing was also featured as a key concept highlighted in Canada’s Fundamental Science Review in 2017.
“Elder Albert has devoted his life to ensuring that the principles of spirit, co-learning, reciprocity and humility that shape two-eyed seeing are embedded into every facet of our existence,” says Debbie Martin, PhD, the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples’ Health and Well-Being at Dalhousie University.
She adds, “…for many Indigenous Peoples, we cannot separate the health of Indigenous Peoples from the health of our environment, or from the ability for Indigenous Peoples to advance economically and socially. These aspects are all inextricably linked to health. Thus, Elder Albert’s efforts have fundamentally shaped our understanding of health and well-being, not just for Indigenous Peoples, but for all people.”
A holistic approach to health research
Michael J. Dunbar, MD, FRCSC, director of research for Dalhousie’s Department of Surgery, has worked with Elder Marshall as co-investigator on research around surgical access to care in Canadian populations experiencing health disparities.
Elder Marshall’s “leadership has been instrumental to our research team in helping identify and understand the relevant research questions around access to care as well as variability in outcomes, most importantly in terms of a holistic approach to include social, emotional, cultural, and spiritual wellbeing as important determinants,” says Dr. Dunbar.
Elder Marshall and his wife, the late Elder Murdena, developed and promoted two-eyed seeing in Canada and abroad.
“I know this journey has not been easy,” says Cheryl Bartlett, CM, PhD, professor emerita at Cape Breton University and a colleague of Elders Marshall and Murdena in advancing two-eyed seeing. “For one thing, Elder Albert is an ex-inmate of the Canadian residential school system, yet he has never tired of providing the requisite and repeated explanations about why two-eyed seeing is urgently needed.”
Transformative insights create lasting benefits
While Elder Marshall — a nationally and internationally sought-after speaker — is widely recognized and celebrated for his work advancing two-eyed seeing, he is also well known as a humble and thoughtful person.
“What perhaps strikes me most, however, is that despite all his success and influence, Elder Marshall remains the most kind and humble person I know, with a generosity of spirit and knowledge that is unprecedented in my experience,” says Dr. Dunbar. “As a founder and champion of etuaptmumk, Elder Marshall has broadened the landscape of how an entire generation approaches research and health care, to the benefit of a collective society that allows room for all perspectives.”
Elder Marshall’s contributions “have shaped everything from environmental decision-making to health research to economic development,” says Fred Wien, CM, PhD, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University. “His deeply thoughtful insights around how to engage both Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of knowing have been nothing short of transformative and will reverberate for years to come.”
 Bartlett, C, M Marshall and A Marshall. 2012. Two-Eyed Seeing and other lessons learned within a co-learning journey of bringing together indigenous and mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. 2(4): 331-340.