$1 million to chart Metis history

(Dec 9, 2003) - A University of Alberta researcher helping Saskatchewan's Metis chart their history and, consequently, their future has won a $1 million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

SSHRC announced that Dr. Frank Tough and the U of A's School of Native Studies will receive a Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) grant to work towards addressing cultural, social and land-use concerns of the Metis in northwest Saskatchewan. The allotment is part of $6 million being distributed by SSHRC to fund six community-based projects in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec to promote and improve the sustainability of Canada's aboriginal communities.

"Their rights are poorly understood," said Tough of the Metis Nation. Involved in native studies for 20 years, Tough said he hopes the land-use and occupancy mapping project supported by the grant will create a roadmap of sorts for their future economic, cultural and social well-being: "We have the start of some serious resources to document and better understand their rights and interests."

The project, supported by the grant over five years, will focus on archival, community and policy issues. The U of A will partner with the Metis community in northwestern Saskatchewan to glean and record the knowledge of elders and other residents. The partners will document, through maps, lands traditionally used by the Metis and will also draw up a cartographic history of the region and assess natural resource policies in the area. The area, about one-sixth of the province in size, encompasses 19 Metis communities.

The project got off to a slow start three years ago, when an application for a CURA grant was turned down. Undeterred, the Northwest Saskatchewan Metis Council went ahead on its own, with the U of A playing a peripheral role. But the new grant changes everything, said Kathy Hodgson-Smith, a research director who did the traditional land-use study for the council. "It will now become a co-ordinated long-term approach," she said.

As a Metis woman herself, Hodgson-Smith is excited about the U of A and Metis working together. "The university will be looking at questions that arise out of the community issues in terms of economic, social and cultural policy development. What is exciting is what we will do together, and we will benefit both ways."

Universities often want to work with Metis communities on research projects, but usually those communities don't have the resources to contribute, she noted. "The aboriginal community gets bombarded with a university coming in."

However the U of A has been working with the Metis community for several years, said Hodgson-Smith, gradually building up to a successful partnership like this one.

Several U of A experts are collaborating on the project, including Dr. Naomi Krogman, a professor in the Department of Rural Economy. Krogman helped design the policy component of the study, which will gather information on Metis land-use priorities. "It's a way to be more informed about what they do care about, so they can negotiate better with the province over research development," she said.

The CURA grant affirms the valuable role the U of A's School of Native Studies plays in conducting unique, grassroots research, said director Ellen Bielawski. "It's been a long haul for SSHRC to recognize the sort of research we do, that rests on working within a community. That kind of work is much more costly in time and money than doing the more mainstream research that universities usually do. CURA grants are a recognition that a lot of knowledge resides outside the university as well as inside."

The grant will also allow for undergraduates to get involved in the research. Tough also expects a specialized course in applied archival research will be developed for future students, and he wants to develop an atlas of the region under study. "Canada has more geography than history, and an atlas is a good way to make information available to a variety of users."

The grant allows for a valuable, ground-breaking partnership with balance for everyone involved, said Hodgson-Smith.

"Government projects wash through a community like a tide. What CURA allows us to do is wash through our community and leave infrastructure, capacity and benefits. If we can accomplish that, we can accomplish more than government programs have accomplished in the North for 100 years."

Dr. Frank Tough's U of A website:

http://www.ualberta.ca/NATIVESTUDIES/team.htm

The U of A School of Native Studies website:

http://www.ualberta.ca/NATIVESTUDIES/

Dr. Naomi Krogman's U of A website:

http://www.re.ualberta.ca/staff/Profiles/krogman/krogman.asp

The U of A Department of Rural Economy website:

http://www.re.ualberta.ca/

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada website:

http://www.sshrc.ca/web/home_e.asp

The Metis Nation-Saskatchewan website:

http://www.metisnation-sask.com/