By Brenda Macdougall
On 27, 28, and 29 April 2018 the authors co-hosted the “Ways of Knowing: Promising New Directions for Métis Research” at the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa for an audience primarily, but not exclusively, composed of Metis youth enrolled in Ontario post-secondary institutions as well as a handful of academics, policymakers, and legal experts. Over two and a half days fifteen Metis and four non-Indigenous scholars from humanities and social science disciplines presented scholarship focused on history, gender and sexuality, spirituality, literature, culture, legal orders, territorial space and land use, education, and political structures were invited to present their research.
Specifically they were asked to explore how their methodological and theoretical frameworks can assist with explorations about the nature of historical and contemporary Metis society based on research centred in different locales and time periods and provide a forum to address how Metis research is, and can be, pursued through different academic disciplines. The purpose was to generate a focused dialogue about shared Metis customs, traditions, culture, and way of life and provoke discussion about the types of diverse methodologies and theoretical approaches used in Metis research and, in turn, raise awareness of intellectual opportunities and pathways for those students interested in pursuing future research. As we organized this event, we realized we had an unprecedented opportunity to create an intellectual community by facilitating the creation of a network between presenters and attendees sharing ideas in ways that enrich each other’s knowledge and experience in a living research praxis.
It was also our intent to validate the lived experiences of Metis in Ontario, not by addressing gaps of knowledge regarding their history or contemporary realities, but by exploring innovative research practices being undertaken in various disciplinary and geographic contexts. There are a significant numbers of Metis graduate students enrolled in Ontario’s universities who are beginning to produce this type of research and close that gap along with a large body of undergraduate students who are interested in the scholarship available about their society. These young people represent the future of Metis scholarship and so their involvement at this symposium was critical. By bringing together a variety of people at symposium focused less on the content of their scholarship than their research practices, a conversation about how a coherent national Metis story could be explored.
The symposium began with a reception and keynote address, an evening that began with a prayer by MNO Senator Parmallia Burgie and welcoming remarks from Benny Michaud, President of the Ottawa Region Metis Council, France Picotte, Chair of the MNO, and Brian Ray, Vice Dean Research, Faculty of Arts at the University of Ottawa. Our keynote speaker, legal expert Jean Teillet, gave an inspiring address that focused on the importance of family and community stories, not only as a means to explain the shape and form our relationships to one another, but as the foundation for Metis legal orders. This evening set an important tone for the remainder of the weekend and framed some of the themes that then emerged collectively from the presentations over the next two days. Despite the diversity and breadth of research presented, each scholar spoke about the people in their lives—family members, elders and knowledge keepers, and mentors—who inspired their work signalling an important cultural protocol within Indigenous research praxis. Indeed, the responsibility of acknowledging where ideas, knowledge, and stories themselves come from is a central tenant embedded within Indigenous legal orders and cultural protocols and serves to underscore the continued value placed on traditional forms of copyright within our communities. Each presenter also spoke to the richness of research data and creative means available to analyze and synthesize ideas by foregrounding Metis traditions and experiences. They spoke about relationality, overt and covert political action and discourses, and the ongoing role that traditional law plays in our everyday lives. These practices transcended geographic spaces and temporal periods demonstrating the connectivity of community values across time and space.
While the symposium ended, the work is ongoing. Over the next few months we will be working with the presenters to create an edited volume focused on Metis-specific or -focused research methodologies and theoretical perspectives that will be unique in the field of Native Studies scholarship. There are over a dozen edited collections related to Metis topics (Lussier & Sealy, 1978, 1980; Peterson & Brown, 1985; Waldram & Barron, 1986; Ens, Binnema, & Macleod, 2001; Barkwell, Dorion, Préfontaine, 2001; Barkwell, Dorion, Hourie, 2006; Lischke & McNab, 2007; Hele, 2008; Wilson & Mallet, 2008; St. Onge, Podruchny, & Macdougall, 2012; Adams, Dahl, & Peach, 2013) with at least five more in production. All, however, are focused on law and policy, culture and society, and/or history, but none have focused on the processes of pursuing Metis-specific research. This collection will therefore make a unique contribution to the field of Indigenous Studies as a whole and further set this symposium apart from similar past events. We expect that this future a publication will have enormous appeal for instructors looking to include greater Metis content within Indigenous-focused research methodology courses increasingly common in disciplines such as Aboriginal Studies, history, Canadian Studies, political studies, or Women and Gender Studies. The publications currently available for those courses are First Nations-specific (Smith, 1999; Martin & Mirraboopa, 2003; Innes, 2004; Lavallée, 2007; Loppie, 2007; Wilson, 2008; Kovach, 2010; Absolon, 2011), and so this collection would fill that gap in scholarship by producing a greater understanding of Metis epistemological and ontological traditions.
At the close of the symposium, those in attendance spoke of their desire to see such an event happen again and arguably there should be such a conference for youth in every province within the Metis homeland. We need to nurture young scholars to take their place in the academy, within their communities, and within our nation. Scholarship, in whatever form it takes, is not only powerful and but has the potential to be transformative. The Metis have struggled since the 19th century to have their rights recognized and honoured by all levels of government in Canada. Recently, despite our inclusion as an Aboriginal people in the Constitution Act (1982), Canada excluded us from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s initial mandate, the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, and the financial settlement authorized for victims of the Sixties Scoop. Our subsequent inclusion in any of the final programs and settlements has occurred because of our advocacy, persistence, and political activism and we will continue to be proactive as the TRC calls to action are implemented. For instance, call to action 62 urges federal, provincial, and territorial governments to create space and provide funding for post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms. In order for this to happen, however, information with which to build the curriculum for teachers to use is required; the work of everyone at this symposium is poised to provide needed and essential curriculum resources for instructors and students alike. This symposium and the edited volume derived from it will challenge an emerging generation of scholars, government employees, politicians, teachers, and private sector professionals to do things differently by providing them with the tools to think differently about the Metis and which will, in turn, influence their own research.
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