Calgary grad student honoured for research into the achievements of Métis women

·4 min read
Kate Gillis, shown wearing her Métis sash, is being honoured for her research into the achievements of Métis women during the first year of her master's in Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Kate Gillis - image credit)
Kate Gillis, shown wearing her Métis sash, is being honoured for her research into the achievements of Métis women during the first year of her master's in Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Kate Gillis - image credit)

When Kate Gillis launched into her masters in Indigenous studies, she quickly noticed a gap in the history.

"Being Métis myself, I found that when I wanted to go into my master's and start my research and everything, I found it frustrating that I wasn't necessarily able to see myself in the literature and the research that had been done," Gillis told The Homestretch.

The Calgary woman is being honoured for her research into the achievements of Métis women during the first year of her master's in Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

"In part, it has to do with who has written the history," Gillis said. "When we talk about history in any sense, it's largely written by colonial figures, right?

"And so I think there's also a misrecognition of who is Métis. And I think in that, the Métis nation as we know it now, is more than just being mixed blood … there's so much more to that."

Indigenous Achievement Week

Gillis received an award recognizing academic excellence from the university during Indigenous Achievement Week earlier this month.

"It has been absolutely phenomenal," she said.

"I will be honest and say it was a little bit of a surprise. But it is great to not only be acknowledged, but to have the support of the faculty at [the university] as well — and just reaffirming that I'm doing the right thing."

Gillis said she hopes to bring the accomplishments of Métis women to the forefront.

"I'm looking at the period from roughly 1790 to 1840 and just the original establishment of what we now know is the Métis nation, and how the role of women fostered the nation that we know today," she said.

The historical research is a matter of "reading between the lines" of the official archives, Gillis said.

"Looking at marriage records, birth records, that kind of stuff, and then on top of that, just keeping the contemporary community connections as well," she said.

"So I'm hoping to do some oral interviews with community members and Métis women to get both sides of it."

Gillis said her research has only showed her how much work there is to do.

"It's going to be a long haul, I think, for sure," she said. "So after my master's degree, I will probably go back and do my PhD.

"And then after that, I'm hoping to be able to do some teaching and really just share what I've been learning, because I think it is so important, and it is largely men. And yeah, just getting it out there, which I think is the goal of all grad students."

Family history

Gillis said she has learned about her own family history through the work.

"It's been really fascinating, actually, even within my own research … my family is originally from the Red River area. And so I was looking at birth charts and everything, and I literally found my family tree. Like it was mapped out right in front of me," she said.

Gillis said she has not experienced a lot of outright racism in her own life.

"Not myself. My dad is white and I would consider me and my siblings to be quite white-passing. But I know even my mom and my grandpa especially, they have faced a lot of racism in their lives," she said.

"I think, more so than anything, than those like microaggressions — like just people always asking, 'Where are you from?' And then I always get the, 'Oh, I didn't know you were part First Nations.' And I'm like, 'Oh, that's not actually really how it works.'"

Both of Gillis' parents are educators within the Calgary Catholic School District — her father is the principal at Holy Child School, while her mother teaches Grade 2 at St. Cyril School.

"I feel in part that I'm very grateful," she said. "I feel that education has been very ingrained into not only my interest, but who I am as a person. And I've always found it to be very important."

Gillis has settled on two areas of study, based on the Cree terms "wahkohtowin" and "otipemisiwak".

"Wahkohtowin is not only familial relations and family members, but it extends to animals, nature, the spiritual world and that," she said.

"The other concept is that of otipemisiwak, translating to, 'the people that own themselves' … so, Métis self-determination, and looking at those two terms together, really establishing both the collective and individual experiences — not only of the Native women, but of the nation as a whole."

With files from The Homestretch.