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Professor Warren Cariou. // Photo by Sonya J. Penner

Meet Our Community: Coffee with a Co-Worker

Warren Cariou on the value of making something new together

September 12, 2018 — 

Human Resources sat down with professor Warren Cariou, department of English, theatre, film & media, Faculty of Arts to interview him for the Meet Our Community: Coffee with a Co-Worker series.

This regular series celebrates our faculty and staff, showcasing the range of positions, unique career paths, meaningful work and impact on others at the University of Manitoba. The series shines a spotlight on our staff and faculty, inspiring others building their career at the U of M or interested in joining our community as an employee.

 

HOW DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR CAREER PATH?

Warren Cariou: My father was a storyteller. And so I guess that’s really where it starts for me. He was a raconteur and a great traveler throughout northern Saskatchewan. He was well known to everyone in our general area, knew the stories of everyone and he was always telling us amazing stories. When I was a kid — age four, before I could even write — I pretended to write down the stories Dad told. I didn’t think I could be like him. He was larger than life, a lawyer who told one kind of story at home and then a different type of story in the courtroom. But I thought I could write down, and think about, his stories.

My dad’s whole, large extended Métis family, the Cariou family, has so many amazing storytellers. That was a gift. I just grew up expecting everyone to have a childhood like this but that is not the case. I was very fortunate. And, this upbringing really got me wanting to write stories and to reflect the stories of my community.

When I was an undergraduate, I studied English, started writing fiction, and published some short stories. So the idea of becoming a professor became more of a possibility for me, where I could be both a scholar of literature and a writer. That has worked out for me, and I have been at the University of Manitoba for the past 16 years.

 

The University is a place where you are making new knowledge. That is what I value the most: We’re making something new and we’re doing that together. That never gets old for me.

 

IF YOU WERE TO DESCRIBE WORKING AT THE U OF M TO SOMEONE ELSE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

For me, as someone who works on Indigenous culture and works a lot with Indigenous community members, U of M is a fantastic place to do that kind of work. We have an amazing Indigenous population here in Winnipeg and Manitoba. I also value the great resources we have here at the U of M; the University has made a commitment to enable the type of work that I do.

When people ask me at conferences what it is like to teach at U of M, that’s the first thing I say. For the work I do, it’s a great  scenario for me because we have great Indigenous communities here, but also the University of Manitoba is very committed. And now, more and more, we also have more Indigenous faculty members here, so we have a feeling of community. It’s been a fantastic place for me to do the work I do.

The University is a place where you are making new knowledge. That is what I value the most: We’re making something new and we’re doing that together. That never gets old for me.

 

AT THE UNIVERSITY, WE EMPHASIZE ‘A SPIRIT OF DISCOVERY.’ HOW HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED THAT AT THE U OF M OR IN YOUR WORK?

A lot of the work I do is with storytellers. The stories that a traditional Elder will tell are often old stories, full of teachings that go back many generations. At the same time, for me, there is a great sense of discovery about these stories and the kinds of teachings they hold. It’s about valuing the traditions and the stories that have been around for generations and generations, recognizing that these stories are not artifacts from the past. They are a real source of discovery to understanding who we are right now — very vibrant, very alive and incredibly relevant to our contemporary times.

 

Try to make efforts early on to get outside of your immediate, small departmental area and try to get to know folks outside your area. We get so busy, especially as we get deep into the term, and we should try to make alliances and connections early on in the process especially when you have a bit of energy and time!

 

IF YOU HAD TO WELCOME OR ONBOARD A NEW FACULTY MEMBER, WHAT TIPS WOULD YOU GIVE?

Usually, new faculty members are coming from being a graduate student and the insecurities of that, and to me, there’s a transition when becoming a new faculty member and trying to understand one’s position in relation to the rest of the university community. So, I would give advice about understanding your role; whether you think of yourself differently or not, others will think of you differently, and authority, whether one likes it or not, is part of the role. Young faculty members need to grow into that and recognize they are hired for their expertise. This is not to say they should set aside their humility but it is good to recognize this shift or transition.

More particularly, in regards to welcoming new faculty members to the U of M, I would say, try to make efforts early on to get outside of your immediate, small departmental area and try to get to know folks outside your area. We get so busy, especially as we get deep into the term, and we should try to make alliances and connections early on in the process especially when you have a bit of energy and time!

With all the stresses of starting a new job and thinking about tenure, I do try, when I’m in that role of welcoming new faculty, to encourage people to step back and recognize that being in this position is an incredible privilege and it’s something we can enjoy. Take time to enjoy the interactions with students and their questions. It’s so busy but it’s good to remember, and I have to tell remind myself too, that whatever stage we are at it is good to enjoy oneself! This job is actually fun. It’s a great opportunity!

 

WE IN HR OFTEN TALK ABOUT WORK-LIFE BALANCE AND WELLNESS IN THE WORKPLACE – HOW DO YOU STRIVE FOR BALANCE IN THE WORKDAY?  

For me, I really enjoy the outdoors, going fishing and hiking. So, I try to make time for that as an important part of my seasonal schedule. In terms of the workday, and saying yes to things, this is something that is an ongoing challenge. When I’m asked to do something, I need to figure out how much time it will take to do that request. It’s important to develop a sense of the temporality of our work. If you say yes to one thing, but you’ve said yes to a whole bunch of other things, then that request can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

That said, I am cognizant that it is a privilege to be in this position and I want to help others, especially Indigenous communities. That’s my role here, really. When an Indigenous community member or community group wants help, then I have to find a way to do that.

 

ARE YOU WORKING AN ANY NEW NOVELS OR BOOKS?

I am working on a historical novel set in the time 1884 to 1887 in a Métis community, which is an important time in Métis history with the resistance in 1885. So, I’m thinking a lot about those times. But, I don’t like to talk much about my upcoming fiction!

I’m also working on a book about my petrographs, which will include a fairly extended essay on the role of bitumen in Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan and Alberta where I am from.

 

I REALLY LIKE YOUR PETROGRAPHS. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAY THROUGH YOUR ART?

At first, it was not so much wanting to say something to an audience, it was more of a personal experience for me because my home community is right close to this type of oil development. I’ve been writing and making films about the tar sands and the effect of oil development on Indigenous communicates, but I wanted to do something where I interacted with the material itself. It was important for me to somehow have a physical relationship with the bitumen. I heard bitumen was photo-sensitive and it might be possible to make an image with the material. It started out as a very experimental project. I didn’t think it would work — but surprisingly, it did!  

And, so, I realized that I can communicate something with this. What I want to communicate with the viewer is how we are all implicated in the oil industry infrastructure. What I like about the petrographs – and I didn’t plan this – is that because they are on a shiny, metal plate, you can see your own reflection. It’s a form of art that reflects the viewers’ own face back to them. It shows your own face superimposed on these images that reveals what mining does to the earth. This is my main interest: how the work can give an experience to the viewer that might be different than other pieces of art. I hope it makes people think of their own connectedness to these forms of extraction that underpin our modern culture. I want to bring this knowledge to others.

 

HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN MAKING THE PETROGRAPHS?

I enjoy it! There is a primal enjoyment mucking around like when you were a kid. But it is a very smelly, toxic material. I do have to wear a respirator and cover my clothes, so there’s a sense of arming or defending myself when making this art. It’s so overpowering. It’s a lot of fun and a fascinating process, but there’s the sense of protecting myself when creating art.

 

To learn more about Cariou, read a recent UM Today article or visit his website that features his work and petrographs.

For additional Meet Our Community:Coffee with a Co-Worker stories, visit the human resources website.

 

 

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