Looking for True History of Native Peoples? 5 Indigenous Women Who Get It Right

Courtesy Mike Latschislaw - Sherry Farrell Racette is seen here standing in front of her artwork based on research on Kateri Tekakwitha, the 17th century Mohawk/Algonquin saint.

ICTMN featured American Indian women history professors teaching in U.S. universities for Women’s History Month in March

Here are some of their Canadian counterparts.

Heather Devine

Devine, who is of Plains Métis ancestry, is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Calgary.

“I have been a professor at the University of Calgary since 2002. I have been teaching Native Canadian History for the Department of History since 2010. I think it is important to have people of indigenous ancestry teaching the history of Indigenous Peoples because we can communicate our own personal and community understandings of historical events to our students,” Devine said. “The ‘master narratives’ of Canadian and American history currently taught in K-12 schools sometimes minimize or ignore indigenous history altogether. When the history of Native groups is taught, it may be incomplete, inaccurate, or full of negative stereotypes. I currently teach a survey course in Canadian Native History at the undergraduate level, and much of the content I teach is unfamiliar to the average student. I tell my class at the beginning of the term that if they remain in the class to the end, they will know more about the history of Canada’s indigenous people than 95 percent of the Canadian population.”

As background for this article, she explained to ICTMN, “Here in Canada we have three categories of indigenous people—First Nations (people who are registered as ‘Indian’ and have signed treaties and live on reserves); Métis (people of mixed-race and distinctive indigenous culture, primarily in Western Canada, who are recognized as indigenous but currently have limited indigenous rights to services and funding); and Inuit (people once called ‘Eskimo’ who live in scattered communities in Canada’s arctic regions and elsewhere).”

Devine is author of “The People Who Own Themselves: Aboriginal Ethnogenesis in a Canadian Family, 1660-1900,” winner of the Harold Adams Innis Prize – Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and of a fascinating autobiographical piece, “Being and Becoming Métis: A Personal Reflection” in “Gathering Places: Aboriginal and Fur Trade Histories,” edited by Laura Peers and Carolyn Podruchny, as well as chapters in several other books.

Courtesy Heather Devine - Heather Devine says, “The ‘master narratives’ of Canadian and American history currently taught in K-12 schools sometimes minimize or ignore indigenous history altogether.”

Brenda Macdougall

Macdougall, a Métis woman from Western Canada, received her Ph.D. in Native Studies from the University of Saskatchewan, where she was also a professor before becoming the Chair of Métis Research at the University of Ottawa. Her book, “One of the Family: Métis Culture in Nineteenth Century Northwestern Saskatchewan,” traces the socio-economic and cultural history of Métis families through the concept of wahkootowin, or interfamilial kinship connections. Her research, which has produced a number of articles, centers on tracing the relational constellations of Métis families as a means to reconstruct the history of the Métis Nation in the Canadian/American borderlands.

“My scholarship on Métis family histories began when I started teaching Métis history for the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) at the University of Saskatchewan. Annually students visited a number of relevant archives so they could do genealogical research and then produce an essay situating their families within the broader context of Métis history. Inevitably, in researching their own families, they discovered that their families were both closely and distantly related to each other and, as a result, their sense of respect and responsibility for one another grew,” Macdougall said.

“I am still in contact with many of those former students but, perhaps more importantly, their stories never left my consciousness. Consequently, I have continued to run into many of their ancestors in the archival record as I pursue my efforts to research Métis community histories. What I learned from those students, in short, has remained central to the how, why, and what I research and write about. My scholarship is an exploration of how our cultural values and worldview shaped our history, which is, I strongly believe, the foundation of the discipline of Indigenous Studies. How we relate to each other as family framed our connection to our territories and determined our political and economic alliances with the wider world; and so in the stories of our families we learn the stories of our nation.”

Courtesy University of Ottawa - Brenda Macdougall is Chair of Métis Research at the University of Ottawa. She authored “One of the Family: Métis Culture in Nineteenth Century Northwestern Saskatchewan.”

Sherry Farrell Racette

An associate professor in the Departments of Native Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Manitoba and a practicing artist, Racette earned both a Ph.D. and a BFA at the University of Manitoba. She was the 2009-2010 Ann Ray Fellow at the School for Advanced Research—a nine month scholar residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she worked on her Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded project, “Material Culture as Encoded Objects and Memory: Painted Hide Coats” and a book manuscript on Métis art and identity, “Sewing Ourselves Together.”

“My historical research tends to focus on communities I’m connected to, although given my ancestry that’s a fairly wide swath,” Racette said. “I’m a member of Timiskaming First Nation (Algonquin)/Métis/Irish.”

“My main interest is indigenous women, indigenous art and Métis histories, but I’m a little ADD and follow wherever the trails lead. I have a little side project on a champion golfer from the 1920s here in Winnipeg—just because I stumbled across him in a newspaper article. I love everything about historical research whether it’s digging up an archival document that nobody else has found or paid attention to, or listening to stories carried for generations. To me, reclaiming history is medicine.”

Mary Jane Logan McCallum

McCallum is a member of the Munsee Delaware Nation who grew up in Simcoe County, Ontario. As an associate professor in the History Department at the University of Winnipeg, her teaching and research focus on gender and modern Indigenous history, especially in the fields of health, education and labor.

Courtesy Adele Perry -Mary Jane Logan McCallum’s work focuses on the distinct nature of colonialism in Canadian history.

“My work documents state-indigenous relations in ways that reflect on the distinct nature of colonialism in Canadian history. My book, ‘Indigenous Women, Work and History, 1940-1980,’ analyzes women’s labor as an integral aspect of 20th century indigenous experience in Canada and challenges a longstanding pattern of Canadian history writing that neglects both mid-20th century indigenous histories in general and indigenous women’s labor histories in particular.

“My current project examines indigenous histories of tuberculosis from the 1930s to the 1970s. By documenting, studying and teaching about the past, indigenous historians problematize the ‘we’ of Canadian history and elucidate critically important historic and ongoing patterns of colonialism, racism and oppression in Canada.”

Susan Hill

Hill, an associate professor in the History Department and director of First Nations Studies at the University of Western Ontario, is a Haudenosaunee Citizen (Mohawk Nation/Wolf Clan) residing on the Grand River Territory (Six Nations). Her research interests include cultural and linguistic perspectives on the First Nations through the voices of aboriginal people.

Courtesy Susan Hill - Susan Hill earned a Ph.D. in Native Studies from Trent University, an MA in American Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a BA in History from the University of Michigan.

“I love researching Indigenous history because it helps me to better understand how things got to be the way they are,” Hill said. “I hope my research provides understanding for others as well, both Native and non-Native people. I teach Native history because I want to help students learn about our shared indigenous and non-indigenous past so they can become researchers themselves and hopefully empower others with historical knowledge and research skills.

“I particularly strive to educate others about indigenous historical consciousness—historians have often failed to appreciate the myriad of ways indigenous societies developed to keep their histories in order to serve as guides in decision-making for the future. In my mind, the cultural histories (i.e., traditional teachings) of our ancestors provide the moral roadmap for a healthy future.”

Thanks to Robert Alexander Innes, associate professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan for suggesting this list.

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