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Queering Regeneration and Centering Indigenous Land-Based Education with Dr. Alex Wilson

What if our educational systems could be reimagined to center Indigenous knowledge? What happens when we question established norms through queering? In this compelling conversation with Dr. Alex Wilson, from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Treaty 5 territory, we discuss how Indigenous land-based education can help to deconstruct colonial institutions. We also discuss the concept of ‘rewilding’ – a term used in neoliberal discourse that has implications for land, ecosystems, Indigenous languages, and the commodification of nature. We discuss the impact of severing knowledge transmission, colonial economics, and spiritual connections that inform our understanding of being human. And we talk about the critical importance of Indigenous sovereignty that re-centres Indigenous worldviews and the benefits for all of us if we do. 


Alex Wilson

Episode Chapters

(0:00:20) – Queering Land-Based Education and Regeneration

Dr. Alex Wilson shares his work queering land-based education to transform colonial power and re-center Indigenous worldviews.

(0:16:16) – Epistemicide and Rewilding

Rewilding, indigenous languages, colonial economics, and spiritual connections are discussed in relation to land, ecosystems, and commodification.

(0:24:52) – Indigenous Land-Based Education and Its Significance

Indigenous land-based education is discussed for K-12 and higher education, emphasizing its significance, ethical centering of indigenous knowledge, and potential for planetary and climate survival.

(0:30:25) – Backlash and the Impact on Regenerative Education

Backlash, whiplash, AI, standardization, hope, and energy connecting us to the universe are discussed.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Dr. Kalani Young

Everyday decolonization: living a decolonizing queer politics” by Sarah Hunt and Cindy Holmes

Manulani Meyer

José Esteban Muñoz 

Rebecca Sockbeson

Backlash: The Undeclared War on American Women” by Susan Faludi


(0:00:20) – Queering Land-Based Education and Regeneration

Dr. Alex Wilson shares his work queering land-based education to transform colonial power and re-center Indigenous worldviews.

(0:16:16) – Epistemicide and Rewilding

Rewilding, indigenous languages, colonial economics, and spiritual connections are discussed in relation to land, ecosystems, and commodification.

(0:24:52) – Indigenous Land-Based Education and Its Significance

Indigenous land-based education is discussed for K-12 and higher education, emphasizing its significance, ethical centering of indigenous knowledge, and potential for planetary and climate survival.

(0:30:25) – Backlash and the Impact on Regenerative Education

Backlash, whiplash, AI, standardization, hope, and energy connecting us to the universe are discussed.


Transcribed by

0:00:20 – Anna

Welcome to Creative Praxis. I’m Anna Griffith, an assistant professor in the School of Creative Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley. 

0:00:27 – Kyla

And I am Kyla Mitchell-Marquis, an undergraduate honours psychology student focusing on gender and sexuality at the University of the Fraser Valley and a research assistant for the podcast. 

0:00:36 – Anna

Today we are speaking from traditional and contemporary Stó:lō territory, the Stó:lō  or Halq’eméylem-speaking peoples of the river who have a deep connection with the land, water and ecosystems of this area, and they’ve been stewards of this place since time immemorial. I feel very grateful to learn from my indigenous colleagues and students about conceptualizing place as not only where you are, but where you belong to and where you are responsible for through a reciprocal relationship. This knowledge has been guiding my experience of regenerative practice and education, and today I continue that journey. And we are joined today by someone that I’ve admired from afar for their work on land-based and indigenous education Dr Alex Wilson. 

0:01:18 – Alex

Hi, thanks for having me. 

0:01:21 – Anna

As a way to begin, would you like to introduce yourself and the work you do? Anything you’d like to share about your positionality? 

0:01:28 – Alex

Sure yeah, I’m from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, which is on the Saskatchewan River system, the Saskatchewan River Delta, and the area that my family’s from is in kind of in the northern Manitoba Saskatchewan region, and I’m a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and we have the Masters of Indigenous Land-Based Education Program that I help run and then I also teach other courses such as queering our schools and communities and Indigenous research methodologies as well. 

0:02:24 – Anna

Great, and I’ve just I’ve admired the work that you do, as I said, from afar. I’ve brought it into classes and I find that you have such a unique and really compelling way of bringing together lots of different threads in the way that you speak about your work, and one of one of the threads that I’d like to start with is your ideas around queering as a reconstructive practice. So I’m wondering if you can explain that idea and then discuss any connections that you see between queering or reconstruction, or and reconstruction, and then this idea of regeneration. 

0:03:02 – Alex

Yeah, well, I’ve been, you know, doing work with teachers that teach land-based education and it’s become like increasingly and wildly popular, not just across Canada, but it’s starting to pick up speed, you know, elsewhere in the world as well, and one of the things I’m noticing is that there’s a wide variation of what people understand to be land-based education and ranging from place-based, outdoor ed, environmental education, critical environmental education, and then even within Indigenous communities. There’s a range of what land-based education looks like, from culture camps to, you know, all kinds of different iterations of forest schools and the such. But one of the things that I was increasingly seeing is that in some instances, in many instances, people are just recreating colonial structures outside. So, in order to address that, I really, you know, talk with students about it and we think about ways that we can ensure that, you know, the colonial institutions aren’t just being reified in land-based education, like you know, in a different kind of package. And one of the ways that we’re doing that is by queering education and queering land-based education. 

And I’ve been talking to practitioners and scholars and and philosophers of Indigenous land knowledge, and one of them is a dear friend, Dr. Kalani Yang, who’s Kānaka Maoli, from Hawaii, and she said well, queering is really transforming poison into medicine, and I love that because it really makes sense to me, because it you know, there are a lot of scholars that are doing decolonial work and you know I really appreciate their work and draw from their work. And you know, like Cindy Holmes and Sarah Hunt, their work on everyday decolonization is really brilliant and foundational, I think, within peer studies, but also Indigenous studies and land-based work. And they talk about queering as a deconstructive practice to help people understand how identities become normative and how spaces become normative. And I’ve been thinking about and always draw from their work. But then I like the way that Kalani states it, because it is, we can deconstruct, but we also another necessary kind of iteration is the reconstruction, and the reconstruction is the, you know, transitioning and transformative power that takes power away from colonization and re-centers it on an Indigenous world viewer paradigm and so, and that in itself is regeneration. 

I think just re-centering is regeneration. And then the queering is the fun part. It’s like, what can we do? You know, it’s not just making everyone queer, but you know that would be really fun, but queer in terms of, like, rethinking pedagogy and turning to traditional cosmologies, for example, and looking for those stories that have been intentionally excluded, or excluded as a byproduct, because of the influences of hetero-patriarchy or Judeo-Christianity really and their collusion with state and industry. 

0:06:55 – Anna

That’s very, very sorry. Go ahead, Kyla. 

0:06:58 – Kyla

Oh no, I was going to say what it sounds like to me is clearing, as a sense of just questioning the norms and questioning what it means to exist in the world today, and I think you had mentioned before I think it was in something that you wrote as a concept and an action. It’s something that exists, but something that we do as well, and it’s just absolutely fascinating. Yeah. 

0:07:21 – Alex

Yeah, and that’s a transformative part too. I think it’s like the theory connecting to practice, which, you know, critical theory comes from that approach as well. But I think what does that look like from an Indigenous worldview? I mean, what does it look like to have our practices informed by what Manu Meyer Indigenous scholar? Manu Meyer says is like beyond empiricism, like it’s not just, it’s not just our senses, what we can measure, taste, smell and all of that. There’s like another added dimension to it, and often that’s the dimension that’s un-unseeable but knowable through our interaction with land. And when I say land I mean everything connected to land, like water, you know thinking plants, animals, all of that air, so all the relationships I guess. 

0:08:23 – Anna

And do you have any examples of what that like, just so we can imagine what it looks like in practice? 

0:08:32 – Alex

Well, one thing is really listening to some of our stories like our origin and ongoing creation stories and the way that they’ve been documented, most often by non-Indigenous anthropologists or social scientists, always kind of put them back into a certain master narrative and so to kind of listen for the ways that contravene that or don’t fit that narrative, or listen and watch for actions that don’t do that. So it’s really easy to repeat and pass on knowledge that fits that hetero-patriarchal kind of hierarchy like that triangle. It’s really easy, it’s just natural, like it just automatically gets repeated. So anything that kind of aligns with that is easily reinforced. But things that don’t align with that are often forgotten or they’re erased. 

So in practice part of that is to listen for those stories or listen for ways that those stories don’t do that, and sometimes that means that they’re different people telling the stories. So to find the people that tell a different story, the same story but in a different way. So that’s one way I’ve kind of appreciated hearing the same story from multiple people and saying, oh okay, your story is a little bit different. Core principles may be the same, but why is this character a certain way in the story and another story there more fluid and gender or sexuality, and so that’s an example. So I think a lot of Indigenous people now that are doing queer Indigenous scholarship are listening for those stories and then kind of bringing them back to the forefront because in essence they really do unravel but also they threaten that kind of system of power and control, and so I can understand why people would want them disappeared so that they can maintain their power and control, in whichever ways, over humans, over thinking, over land, over resources and all of that. 

0:11:11 – Kyla

And I think what comes to mind is that this master narrative wants to. When they hear these stories, they don’t think it’s about them not hearing it. I think they hear it, but they want to ascribe them as the outlier, and ascribe them as like, oh, this is the exception or this is the thing that’s outside of the norm, but when actually there’s just so many, a plethora of miscellaneous, interconnected stories that come together that create a whole image and not just a single narrative, yeah, absolutely, and I think that also opens up for multiple truths. 

0:11:49 – Alex

And so there’s kind of this ontology or system of the way that thought and the transmission of knowledge is organized that allows for a multiplicity of truths and not in itself is queer, because you know that positivism is like one truth you can measure it, you can repeat, rinse whatever, chew it up, spit it up. 

0:12:18 – Kyla

And they want it to be so tidy, right, they want in that and like that. That’s the thing about that type of thinking. That positivistic thinking is like, well, it has to be this one to one. But it boggles the mind for me, because we know that we live in a world that’s so complex and it has, you know, interconnectedness and so many other levels, and so it stands me that people think there is a soul way to be and relate within the world. 

0:12:44 – Alex

Yeah, and I think that you know it’s about relationality and the way that, the way that the way that a lot of people are trained to think about relationality is like the self in relation and I mean that’s a whole field of psychology that I was trained in myself and but really from an indigenous will crease one peak specifically worldview itself as relation. 

And I think every indigenous culture that I know of anyway has this kind of a saying some people call it a short prayer where they acknowledge all the relations, and my understanding of that is that, you know, it’s not just you in relationship, it’s you as the relationship, and I think that’s a really deep principle that informs everything worldview, everything, actions and it also is your relationship to ideas, concepts and theories, and and then with each of those relationships there’s an accountability or a responsibility, and so scholars like Munoz talk about like ontological humility and the need for that, and I think we’re at a time now when there needs to be an ontological shift in the way that we relate and understand values, ethics and you know what, even how truth is constructed and within our language anyway, like there’s no one, one entity that knows everything, which means that humans can’t know everything. 

So that kind of that ontological humility is built in, and I think that that that is kind of a different way of understanding power as well. So I think that it’s all related to the way that power has been used to control, regulate, extract, destroy people and everything alive, really, and that’s led us to this crisis that we’re in right now with the climate. 

0:14:59 – Kyla

Absolutely Just to pivot a little bit, but kind of going back to what we said earlier. We talked about how reconnecting to the land and developing understanding and of the interconnections between the self and more than human world is one of the most important aspects of regenerative education for us. And can you talk about why connecting to the land is such a critical part of learning for you and how it can help people develop a more expanded sense of self? 

0:15:26 – Alex

Well, I think it links back to what I was just talking about in terms of relationality, because we come from the land and like literally their cells in our body that we have in common with, with everything, and, and then there’s that accountability that goes along with that. So it’s not just like a duty, like I’m responsible for this little block of forest or whatever, that these are actually your relations. So when I say self as a relation, is that these are part of what you’re related to, like you are related to, so they’re part of, you are part of them, and and and that I think that’s, you know, the importance of land based education is helping people to reconnect that because it’s been intentionally severed and you know that term. Epistemicide is people. You know people talk about genocide and I think most people acknowledge anyway that there’s been definite genocidal impacts on North America and indigenous people around the world. And then there’s the kind or more gentle cultural genocide. You know, because they wouldn’t wouldn’t use genocide for the term and the Canadian Human Rights Museum and talking about indigenous people in Canada at least. But the other kind of aspect to genocide is the severing of the transmission of knowledge, and I always talk about like the clear cutting and in my own territory and how you know, we measured one time this, this log pile. It was almost point eight of a kilometer long and we calculated how many square feet or in that timber there was enough timber in there to solve the housing crisis, northern Manitoba but that would is chopped into SPK pulp to make SPK special craft paper that is used specially for pet food bags and cement carrying cement bag mix, and so you see colonial economics in an effect there. But also it’s like it’s all growth boreal, meaning that area has never been cut, like it’s only been naturally regenerating itself, right, and so the fibers are long and strong. That’s why they’re highly desirable for SPK. 

But what happens when you eliminate or you get rid of like a whole generation of trees, all those elders, right, and so it’s not just a metaphor, it’s, it’s real, like how do, how do we learn to be human If we don’t have the land based knowledge that our parents or grandparents or ancestors out, because you don’t have to go back very long and people’s families here, because I remember most people is like, yeah, my grandparents at a garden or yeah, we hunted or we fished or trapped or whatever. That’s not too long ago in our history where we were 100% that way. So that’s part of it. But then the other part is like kind of the spiritual dimension of what happens psychically when. 

And when I say psychically I’m talking about like on the spiritual level, what happens when you sever those connections. So it’s not just transmission of knowledge, but it’s transmission of not just intellectual knowledge but like another kind of embodied knowledge, so connecting people to their ancestors or to their relatives, trees or whatever, by eating them or by, you know, touching them or hugging them or I don’t know what else people are doing with trees, but just by being aware of them, really listening to them and everything else is is is regenerating, that we’re trying to repair that severing. That’s been happening intentionally. 

0:19:37 – Anna

And I feel this in my own self, like just the re conceptualizing self as part of, not like as different from, and really, when I start to think about just how interdependent we are on the rest of the family or the rest of the beings that are on this planet as well, it really has helped me to have a really different perspective on my actions, on how I understand self, and it’s really powerful to hear you speak about that. 

So thank you very much for that. And one of the words that’s coming to mind is, as we’re talking about epistemicide and other genocides that have happened and the removal of people from land, or that severing, as you said, is like what do we do now? And the word that’s coming to mind is rewilding a little bit, because it to me kind of represents this idea that something has happened and needs to regenerate. It needs to regenerate in all the diversity of life that can be there, life and perspectives and beings that can be there. So I’m just curious about your understanding of the idea of rewilding and what that could be, not just for land and ecosystems, but for rewilding of culture, of indigenous languages, for example. Do you have any thoughts on rewilding? 

0:21:12 – Alex

Yeah, well, my friend Rebecca Sock-Beeson, who’s Dr Rebecca Sock-Beeson, who’s a Panopscot scholar at the University of Alberta, her doctoral dissertation, focused on this notion of the epistemicide, is not complete, and I appreciate that because it’s not complete, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. And so, yeah, reconnecting to language, because language comes from the land, right, and I think the different even frequencies of language that comes from certain lands, you know the cadence, the rhythm, the words are also contextually specific to a certain place. And in terms of rewilding, I think you can’t just let land, like after lands been gone through destructive forces, you can’t just like leave it and let it be and expect it to be, but it’s going to be the same in 200, 300 years. It’s still, it needs to be cared for, still because of that destruction. And so I think there’s kind of this illusion that rewilding is like kind of this utopia, utopia where if we just would stop doing this, then things would be, go back to a balance. 

And I think sometimes it’s used in neoliberal discourse because of the connection to corporations that are like greenwashing, you know, it’s like, well, we’ve planted eight, eight trees, you know, or whatever, they’re commodifying it. 

And you know the ideology around capitalism and, like you know, providing changing the intrinsic value of nature into money, right. So I think that there, that there we need to be intentional about the way that we use the term and then also think about how, in that narrative, we need to continue. Continue with our accountability to the land and that includes extensions of the land like humans and animals and I’m not I’m not trying to equate like indigenous people, as animals, because I know that’s also a narrative out there that you know the wild Indians and the Wild West shows and you know that the way that wild is used in pop culture and media and historically to intentionally distance indigenous people from humanity, so that, so that you know there could be genocidal policies such as the scalp proclamation and all those other bounties and stuff like that. So, yeah, interested to hear more about that and see how that plays out. 

0:24:09 – Anna

Yeah, you raise some very good points about the problematics involved with rewilding and I really like your attention to the caring, caretaking or tending, stewarding, because to me, that’s that’s why I really like the word regenerate, like regenerative or regenerating, because it implies this, this action that we are involved in it and it’s it’s our responsibility and there’s also things we can do to help regenerate if we understand what is what is needed by the places that we tend. Yeah, so the term regeneration, like it’s not used very much. I think there’s more attention on education for sustainable development land based education, place based. 

0:25:00 – Alex

Well, I think we’re really intentional when we use indigenous land based education. Just because you know, because of the history of of just what I was talking about earlier, that there’s so many different understandings, like most of us, if you went through the same thing in the Canadian system, you took out your ad, which meant like going learning how to snowshoe or learning how to cross country ski, and that was it. There was no pedagogy behind it other than like learning a physical activity that could you know. And then there’s a whole history of scientific racism and the physical education field as well. But but just yeah, that when we say indigenous land based education, it necessarily includes the dimensions. It may not be when we’re talking about, like, say, place based education. It could be about the site, it could be about some of the colonial history, but I’m not necessarily centering indigenous knowledge and from an indigenous paradigm. 

0:26:02 – Anna

And I know that there is still so far to go. I have a daughter who is eight. She’s in grade two and each week they have an indigenous educator as part of their. They have some outdoor education. They’re not all at nature school, but just what, like the ways that she’s connecting to the stories that the indigenous educator shares with her is so powerful and it’s it’s as if she’s able to hold these kind of to like understandings in the same way and I just I feel really hopeful about the potentials for everyone in who gets to engage with indigenous land based education, also recognizing that they’re. The significance of indigenous land based education for indigenous peoples is so, so powerful. So I’m wondering I’m just curious, I guess about the ways of weaving in indigenous land based education into whether it’s K to 12 or or higher education. Do you have any thoughts on that, on how how to ethically, with care, and to avoid more harm being done, how to do that? 

0:27:17 – Alex

I do have thoughts on that, and my dad, he uses this kind of analogy or metaphor not sure which one, and maybe both. 

Like, if you start with rabbits, do and add a little bit of most to it is still rabbits. Do, add a little more, it’s still so. What you know, what we’re talking about, there is hegemony, right? So so really, I think we’re at the point and many people have called it a kind of the fulcrum or tipping point in terms of the survival of planet and climate, climate crisis, but I think it really necessarily has to involve that re centering, and so we’re going to start with this the most to you know, and then we can add the rabbit, because if we continue Weaving them together, there really is no weaving together because there’s always a dominant thread, because it’s always going to be in English, most, you know, like they’re all English immersion schools that are doing this, and so I think we really have to figure out ways now to shift, shift everything so that it premises indigenous. 

It’s not just a perspective but it’s a worldview, because you can add a lot of perspective but that doesn’t really change anything. It just makes you have a whole bunch, a bunch more perspectives. So, and then you know there’s multiple but there’s certain ones that always dominate in that paradigm, right? So if we’re able to kind of shift things to center indigenous knowledge, then we can add in western or other forms of knowledge systems to. 

0:29:16 – Anna

That’s a challenge. It is a challenge, yeah, but as you said, we’re at this tipping point when we really like we don’t have a short, we don’t have a choice right and we have indigenous stewards of knowledge and worldview that we can learn from to to save ourselves. 

0:29:37 – Alex

But yeah, yeah, yeah, like you know I don’t know more like one of the kind of things that will that we’ve always used is like indigenous sovereignty, is climate action Right? So it again. It links back to like okay, outcome, outcome indigenous people don’t have sovereignty on our own land, and so to figure out all the ways that all these things connect and interconnect and start unraveling them from whichever corner that that people are able to, and some people are completely removed and distant, not a part of that system, and that’s good too, because then they can start building up their own or regenerating their own kind of ways. 

0:30:23 – Kyla

Absolutely. Before we wrap up today, is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that you think is important to mention in the, in the state for the sake of regenerative education, that you would like to share? 

0:30:37 – Alex

I think it’s important for people to really see the gravity of this backlash that’s happening right now. 

And I call it a whiplash because it’s so focused that where the tip of the whip is hitting and I mean it’s people that have been systemically marginalized for a long time and it’s even getting more focused. So like when we see schools not allowing rainbow flags, like that’s part of that backlash or that whiplash, and and there’s many different ways that it’s manifesting in the US and in Canada and worldwide. So I think we just really need to be careful to observe when it’s happening and intervene and then and find ways to undo it or redo it from a different kind of way that that will lead to regeneration, as you know the term that you’re that’s working here. So like who’s mad at drag queens that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard like, but that’s the symptom, right, of this big thing that’s happening. So I can connect supporting drag queens to indigenous land based education, like that. They’re just so obviously connected to me, like the way that, the way that certain people are marginalized, and like continually, continually facing violence, many kinds of violence. 

0:32:03 – Kyla

So I’ve been actually stewing on this idea of like, almost like a backswing, when you have all this supposed like progress being made and more trans lives and non binary lives and two spirit lives, like coming into this world of fully expressing themselves, and then, like the pencil, I’m going the other way, where it’s like we’re going like 10 steps back and I think you’re 100% right in terms of like. We need to pay attention to this and not feed into the fear and like completely stand up for the people fully expressing and embodying themselves and whatever form and identity that they exist in. 

0:32:44 – Alex

Yeah, and that changes to like this fluidity and then flexibility and I think, like Susan fluidity talked about backlash, you know, in the 1990s and how anytime there’s advancements made and she was specifically talking about women’s rights there’s like this backlash and and during that time it was from the right wing media in the US and that like trickled into politics and and I call it whiplash because it’s a backlash. But, as I said, it’s like a very focused point of who’s getting that the sting of it and yeah, so it was kind of surprising because I just this just seemed to come out of nowhere, but really it didn’t right, because we could see it coming again. And I think there’s something to be really cognizant about to is like artificial intelligence and how that’s being used now to create narratives and even create imagery of who is human and what that humanity means. So that’s going to be another, another kind of thing that’s coming that we’re going to have to really quickly figure out, ethically and morally, how to, how to adjust to or stop even. 

0:34:01 – Anna

I agree, because there’s so many biases in built already, I think it will just continue. And a flattening like a flattening, a taking away of nuance of voice yeah, it is something that we need to figure out really quickly. 

0:34:14 – Alex

Yeah, yeah, it’s kind of a standard standardization of the planet. 

0:34:22 – Anna

So in all of this, the multi was hard landscape. What gives you? 

0:34:30 – Alex

hope. Well, I think it just that what Rebecca says is like the epistemic side is not complete, like we’re here, and there’s a reason why we’re here, it’s a continuation of an energy that links us to the wider universe. I’m not saying we’re aliens, but I’m saying that, like spirit is something that is immeasurable. And you know, people go through like the most extreme, like severe types of violence and abuse, and and yet somehow people are still here. So I think that’s just, there’s something, you know, that that’s immeasurable, that is, like you know, beyond our comprehension. That you know, allows a mother to pick up a car if her child’s under it. Like we know that happens and we’re totally, you know what’s totally happens all the time. So I think that we that’s the hopefulness in it really is that you know we’re here, we’re going to, you know we’re going to continue, and so we have to figure out ways to support each other and so that there’s not so much pain. And I think that you know, returning to some of those stories that really are about the continuity of energy that allows us to exist, which is really love. And you know, that’s why we’re here. So that’s the good part. 

I guess Not, I guess, I know, I know, I feel it. 

0:36:06 – Anna

What a beautiful way to end. Thank you very, very much for the conversation today, dr. 

0:36:11 – Alex

0:36:13 – Anna

You can find our guests’ contact information and any resources they mentioned in the show notes for the episode. If you want to stay connected with us or learn more about our work, visit my website, There you’ll find additional resources and ways to contact us directly. We would love to hear from you, so if you have any feedback, suggestions or topics you’d like us to explore in future episodes, don’t hesitate to reach out. The Creative Praxis podcast is produced by me, Anna Griffith with support from Kyla Mitchell-Marquis. Sound editing is done by Brendon George, with music from Wattaboy on Pixabay.

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