“Wow! … I couldn't believe it. I didn't know if it was real or not. Once I was sure it was, I let out a zaasaakwe. That word commonly refers to a warrior call, but I use it as a shout-out to the spirits.”
This was the reaction of Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, a PhD Candidate in Indigenous Studies at Trent University and pre-doctoral dissertation fellow at Michigan State University, when she learned she had won the Catherine Prelinger Award – a prestigious $20,000 prize given annually by the Coordinating Council for Women in History in recognition of scholars who have taken non-traditional paths in their academic careers.
Ms. Sy, who was presented with the award at a luncheon on January 4, 2015 in Manhattan, New York, was honoured for her groundbreaking research into the economic history of Anishinaabe women’s sugar bush work in the Great Lakes Region in both Canada and the United States.
A fitting choice for the award, Ms. Sy was a counsellor for almost a decade after completing her undergraduate degree in psychology before deciding to return to academia. Her decision to pursue graduate studies was prompted by her workplace experience.
“I locate my research in an Indigenist research agenda. It’s for Anishinaabeg; it’s about generating knowledge that will benefit us, using our research methods,” Ms. Sy notes. “It’s also about affirming and asserting our sovereignty in our lands, in our relationships with each other and within our ecological systems including spirit—all the pieces that inform our economic well-being.”
Ms. Sy’s research is notable for her utilization of Anishinaabe methodology. She draws on multiple methods that are distinct yet interdependent; their relationship to each other is accentuated when she weaves them together and in doing so they reveal a narrative of women as leads in sugar bush work. Her methods and sources include Anishinaabemowin (language); oral histories; Elder and land-based practitioner knowledge; lived experience working the sugar bush; traditional Anishinaabeg stories; and various archives about specific women and sugar bush work, production, and trade. The narrative she generates will reveal Anishinaabeg worldview and interests, elucidate women’s relationship with the ecology of the sugar bush and maple sugar, illuminate the historical shifts created through various colonizing forces leading to transformations in women’s centrality at this place and in this economy, and contribute to transnational and borderlands literature. It will infuse an analysis of Anishinaabe women’s contemporary power, or lack thereof, in a colonial, heteropatriachal, capitalist society.
Speaking of receiving the award, Ms. Sy says she was elated. “It's important when Indigenous gender research, based on Indigenous methodologies for Indigenous peoples, is acknowledged and supported,” she says. “It's remarkable to have research that seeks to illuminate Indigenous women's power, as defined by Indigenous knowledge, be financially supported so generously.”
Posted on Monday, January 12, 2015.