Find your place in history
Historian. Truth seeker. Time traveller.
Nestled on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River is Batoche—a national historic site—and the place where Chantal Roy Denis feels most at home.
“I have such a powerful connection to that place. When I’m there, everything just fits and my heart feels so full,” she says. But Chantal didn’t actually grow up in Batoche.
“After fighting in the Northwest Resistance of 1885, some of my ancestors were imprisoned, many scattered, and the ones who stayed relocated outside Batoche to rebuild. That’s where I grew up.”
Fascinated that she still felt the impact of her family being displaced from the land more than 100 years earlier, Chantal used every class in her history degree at MacEwan as a lens through which to study the Métis people, their history and their struggle. A course in British Empire history, for example, helped her understand how colonialism impacted Métis people, while a course about prairie history allowed her to explore settlement and its impacts.
“ Sometimes you have to read against the grain.”
Chantal went on to spend her master’s degree in Native Studies at the University of Alberta studying the effects of displacement on four Métis Settlements disbanded by the Alberta government in the 1940s and 1960s. As she combed through one-dimensional paper archives, multidimensional stories of real people emerged.
“Sometimes you have to read against the grain – especially when you are researching experiences and perspectives that are often documented by people outside the Métis community – but if you understand the history of what’s going on and the power dynamics at play, there is so much to learn.”
These days, Chantal is digging even deeper into the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures in her role with the Royal Alberta Museum’s ethnology department. While the paper archives on which her master’s thesis was based are most often the writings of men, the material archives she works with today give voice to the experiences of Indigenous women.
“In these artifacts we see the voices, art, perspectives, expression and love of these women. Being surrounded by their amazing work is incredibly humbling and empowering – it inspires me to keep moving forward, to take on challenges and to pay homage to the central role women have played in my own life – and in the health and governance of our communities.”
Chantal Roy Denis is an alumna of the Bachelor of Arts program. Learn more at MacEwan.ca/BA
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