Hello! Thanks so much for visiting my website.
I’m Jess O’Reilly, a person of mixed settler and Algonquin ancestry who lives on the traditional lands of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, on Robinson-Huron Treaty territority. The Crown’s interpretation of the terms of this treaty is not honourable. Consequently, the province continues to fight against an equitable resolution in convulted and expensive court processes.
Please do your part to learn more. It is essential that we understand and honour our treaty relationships. We’re all treaty people.
I cannot introduce myself to you without first describing the folks who love and support me. I’m married to a kind and boisterous person – my best friend. I’m a big sister to a person who experiences life with physical and intellectual disabilities, a person who’s faced myriad health challenges with remarkable bravery. My sister has taught me to love unconditionally, to fight for social justice, and to remain joyful even when confronted with ugliness and ignorance. I’m the oldest daughter of a teenage mother who took on the challenge of single parenthood. She was sent away to Bethesda Centre, a “centre for unwed mothers” in London, ON. After I was born, we returned to Sudbury. Mum was determined to complete high school, so off we’d go on the city bus – stroller, guitar, diaper bag, etc. all in tow. She made a home for us, completed high school, found work, and met her future husband, my “Faj,” when I was two years old. My parents lost their newborn son, my brother, to rare genetic disorder when I was in kindgergarten. My sister came along a short time after that, and despite many obstacles, and because of my parents’ tireless dedication to her health, she is alive and well today. We also feel a special gratitude to my uncle Jim, who donated half of his liver to my sister six years ago. Without his sacrifice, our story would be very different.
While I’m unfamiliar with my paternal lineage, on my mother’s side I’m of mixed European (primarily British) and Algonquin ancestry. In the photo (left), I’m the cry baby. My great-grandmother Nanny-ba (Beatrice Anne Hall), is holding me. My great-great-grandmother, Ma-ba (Mary Victoria Dole) is sitting in the middle. My Mum is standing, and Gram is the one chilling casually on the right.
We were so fortunate to have as much time together as we did. Coming from a young family, I didn’t realize how special it was to have a great, great grandmother alive until I was ten years old. We were even in the local paper once. The headline was something like, “9 and 90! Five Generations…”
I’m one of several dozen of David Adams’ and Mary Dole’s great, great grandchildren. When I think about honouring my ancestors, I think about them, and how different my life is compared to theirs.
I also think about my Nanny-ba, who I had more time with and who passed recently, in 2018. As an Algonquin woman who married a non-Indigenous man, she lost her status. Although her parents both spoke Algonquin as their first language (they also spoke French and English, so impressive to me, a monolingual person), my Nanny primarily used her select Algonquin vocabulary to cuss out her many children, or whoever was getting on her nerves. She was a devote Catholic with a strong connection to the Kitchissippi and to all of nature. Her favourite pastime was caring for wild animals in her special way. She could never understand why her neighbours would “snitch” on her just for having a few of her skunk friends over for a little snack!
As we’ve watched our matriarchs pass on, my Mum, Gram, and I have felt an increased pull toward our Algonquin ancestry. It is a way for us to feel closer to them, and to all of our ancestors. Nanny-ba registered with the non-status Algonquin First Nation community of Greater Golden Lake before she passed. We are walking in her footsteps by connecting with this community. We await the results of our applications, so do not claim the community at this time, for they have yet to claim us. That said, several community members have been immensely helpful throughout the process and I wish to acknowledge Chief Connie Mielke’s ongoing support.
Tracing one’s roots is a complex journey that requires ongoing self-reflection. Asking: “Why am I doing this? What are my motives? Should I do this? Is there potential harm here? Is this my story to share? Who am I?” is an ongoing, iterative, and essential inquiry process. I benefit undeservedly from settler privilege and do not wish to enact colonial harms through false or shaky identity claims. While my relatives have gifted us with the knowledge of our Algonquin ancestry, complete with a traceable lineage and community connections, this does not make me Indigenous. When I claim Indigenous ancestry, I need to ask myself if I am doing so in order to gain something that I do not deserve, or am I doing so to honour my ancestors and situate myself in an accurate way? Context plays an essential role.
The more that I engage with Anishinaabek cultures, both Algonquin and Ojibwe (I live on Atikameksheng Anishnawbek territory), the more I learn about what it means to be a settler and an ally. This perspective is the gift that I can share with others in support of decolonization and reconciliation.
My Gram, her siblings, all their children, we’re all products of a love that grew between an Algonquin Anishinaabekwe and a non-Indigenous man, despite the vehement racism of their time. This is a beautiful reminder that friendship, healing, and reconciliation is possible. Love between us is possible.
This knowledge lives in me. It’s core to the fabric of who I am. It bolsters me in my decolonizing approach to allyship. After her brother Jimmy’s death, my Nanny wrote a thank you note to her community in Deep River. She wrote,
Our mother taught us to help each other, and so I try to do as she would have done. Be good to each other.
Words to live by.
I teach students about Canada’s colonial past and present, and research the colonial assumptions that pervade post-secondary and open education. This work is ongoing, and helps me grow my own understanding of my settler privilege, mixed European and Algonquin heritage, and the culture of the nation whose lands I occupy.
I started out in instructional design, working in post-secondary, health care, and corporate contexts. I eventually made my way to Cambrian College, and spent several years working in the Teaching and Learning Innovation Hub as an Instructional Developer. This role allowed me to develop and facilitate a variety of post-secondary courses, while also supporting faculty with their own online course design and explorations of the pedagogical affordances of technology-enabled learning.
In the spring of 2020, I transitioned into a new role and now coordinate three General Arts and Science Certificate and Diploma programs along with my regular teaching duties. As my career evolves, I welcome these new roles and responsibilities as growth opportunities. I know that I have a lot to learn as a new program coordinator, and I embrace this challenge!
A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of Open Education and was immediately smitten by its emancipatory potential. I knew I wanted to immerse myself in this field, and so I applied for Athabasca University’s Doctor of Education in Distance Education program, with the aim of researching open educational practices generally, and open assessment and OER-enabled pedagogy specifically. I am currently entering my fourth year of the program. I successfully defended for candidacy in December, 2020.
In 2017, eCampus Ontario awarded me with an Open Education Fellowship. This Fellowship helped me to establish a foundational knowledge of the OER landscape in Ontario, providing me with a strong network of support in my local context, and introducing me to the larger Open landscape via my participation in the Open Education Global conference in Delft, Netherlands. I, along with several of my Cambrian colleagues, brought that conversation home by hosting Open Day, Cambrian College’s first (and only) professional development event fully dedicated to Open Education. My time with eCampus Ontario allowed me to move from the margins of the conversation, toward become a local knowledge-holder and advocate for open educational practices.
In 2019, I successfully applied for the Open Education Group’s OER Research Fellowship. This exciting opportunity, sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, connected me with Open Education researchers from across North America, providing mentoring and guidance as I research student perceptions of OER-enabled pedagogy utilizing an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) methodology and an Etuaptmumk (two-eyed seeing) conceptual framework. I am so excited to cut my teeth as an academic researcher with the support of this group and to share the findings of my research at the upcoming OpenEd conferences.
I am always willing to talk about decolonizing practices, open education, instructional design, critical digital pedagogy, and creative uses of educational technologies. Please, reach out.