Meet Jocelyn Marshall: Knowledge-Keeper, Educator, and Inspiration

By Monica Allaby, Posted on October 26, 2022

The Common Ground Project has introduced Community Forests International to some remarkable people over the last 18 months. One of these people is Jocelyn Marshall, who works as Indigenous Relations Advisory in special projects at Ulnooweg.

Jocelyn is a knowledge keeper and Band Council member from Potlotek First Nation, who grew up surrounded by her culture and language. She says, “My parents and grandparents stressed the importance of language and taught [my sibling and me] who we are as Mi’kmaq people.” 

Jocelyn lived with her grandfather, who regularly had friends and family visiting him from across Unama’ki. She fondly recalls, “As a child, my family taught me that when the adults are sitting at the table having tea, you don’t interrupt them.” When she was old enough, Jocelyn’s grandfather gave her an important role: “When I was at a certain age, I was able to make and pour that tea. It came as a responsibility. Once I knew somebody was there to visit, I would know to put the tea on and get the snacks.”

Eventually, Jocelyn was old enough to contribute to the rich conversations at her grandfather’s kitchen table. She explains, “You have to listen before you can have a voice at the table.” All those years of listening and waiting taught Jocelyn important skills that she went on to use as a leader in her community.

Jocelyn, a Mi’kmaw knowledge keeper, sits amongst the trees weaving a ligpenign (basket.)

Throughout her youth, Jocelyn tried to pick up as much of the Mi’kmaw language as she could. Maintaining her language is important: “If we don’t practice our language, we lose words. We lose how that river flows, how that tree grows, the name of that tree. Our language is very descriptive, so once we stop practicing the language, we lose words, we lose stories, we lose history, we lose science, we lose everything.”

Jocelyn was inspired to dedicate her career to passing on knowledge and language to future generations. She began working at the Ulnooweg in 2020, where she provides cultural knowledge and ensures that Ulnooweg integrates Indigenous knowledge into whatever program she is a part of.

There are efforts underway to record Mi’kmaq history through digital archives. However, Jocelyn believes that oral history will always be a key part of knowledge sharing in her community: “I truly believe in learning through oral history from people in the communities because our history hasn’t been written down. That stuff is not captured in any book. Through oral history, you get to really understand the resilience and understand the damage and how we dealt with it.” 

Jocelyn sees great value in using Indigenous knowledge to confront some of the most challenging issues of our time. She says, “We are bringing [Indigenous knowledge] forward to address things like climate change and the understanding that we had this whole way of life that was so peaceful and harmony and the understanding that all of my relations extends to this grass, extends to the waters, the rivers, the trees and how important that is.”

As part of the Common Ground Project, Jocelyn worked with knowledge-keeper Luke Denny (also from Potlotek First Nation) to create a short series of videos on Mi’kmaw forest knowledge. You can watch these videos on our YouTube channel, here.