July 17, 2020 | Research
With a focus on women, U of T researcher aims to raise awareness of Métis issues in Canada
By Carla DeMarco
Jennifer Adese, an associate professor at U of T Mississauga, says existing research has tended to be published by non-Métis and doesn't reflect how "we understand ourselves and our existence as a distinct Indigenous people" (photo by Drew Lesiuczok)
An Indigenous scholar’s long-standing research related to Métis women comes at a pivotal moment when understanding and standing in solidarity with people who are oppressed is crucial.
Jennifer Adese, an associate professor in the department of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, has dedicated her efforts to Indigenous research throughout her academic career. However, it was attending the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit (NAWS) in 2012 that cemented her focus on the experiences of Métis women.
“It was at these proceedings in Ottawa that Indigenous women collectively came together to call on the provincial premiers in attendance to use their power to push the federal government to commit to a national inquiry on the high rates of Indigenous women who have gone missing and/or been murdered,” said Adese during a recent interview for the VIEW to the U podcast.
“I had the privilege to sit alongside these women as they met with different members of government, other Indigenous organizations and even with United Nations representatives, and it gave me a pretty life-changing insight (into) the complex public strategies of resilience practised by Métis women.”
Adese, who joined the department as a faculty member in 2018, says the experience was not a new encounter with the high rates of murdered Indigenous women, nor was it her first time countering Canada’s reluctance to reckon with its history of oppression and colonization. But the event reinvigorated her commitment to be an informed advocate and to lobby for the rights of Métis and all Indigenous communities. Through her work, she continues to examine the history of violence against Métis girls and women, looking into why Métis were largely ignored in the federal government inquiry.
“A central part of being involved in confronting anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism is being informed”
In 2019, Adese received Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding to pursue a project that explores Métis women’s mobilization and activism over the last 50 years.
When the two-year project wraps up, Adese has her sights set on strengthening existing collaborations with the academic community and Métis organizations to raise awareness about Métis issues through community engagement and dissemination of their findings.
It is this mobilizing of knowledge that Adese says is key to reaching a better understanding about the ongoing impacts of colonization, dispossession and racism.
She says a central part of being involved in current activism confronting anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism is being informed. In her capacity as an educator, she feels that reading and educating oneself serves as a foundation for further action. So, too, is listening to and centering the voices of Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups.
“That is not how we understand ourselves and our existence as a distinct Indigenous people”
Adese is currently wrapping up a book that is being published by UBC Press, titled Aboriginal™, which is an analysis of the term “aboriginal” and its more frequent usage after the Constitution Act of 1982 was passed.
In addition, Adese is a co-editor of two forthcoming anthologies: A People and a Nation: New Directions in Contemporary Métis Studies that she has worked on with colleagues from University of Alberta; and Indigenous Celebrity: Entanglements with Fame, the first dedicated volume to explore Indigenous People's experiences with celebrity culture.
Adese has a personal interest in this area: She is Métis and draws on her culture via a large family unit that is primarily based in Alberta. She says that her relationships with other Métis people and communities provide her with a unique perspective for her work, writing and teaching.
“A lot of previous research has been undertaken and published by non-Métis, and the tendency through that work has been to analyze and discuss Métis people as simply a byproduct of the intermarriage of two other populations, broadly First Nations and European,” says Adese.
“That is not how we understand ourselves and our existence as a distinct Indigenous people, and quite often how Indigenous Peoples represent ourselves through art, through literature, through political engagement is very different. So, for us it's very exciting work to push the conversation even further, and for the first time strive for this level of representation within Métis studies research, but also within Indigenous studies research.”