RRU prof awarded grant for Eastern Canadian Métis research

New research by Royal Roads University Associate Professor Siomonn Pulla is looking at regional Métis history in Eastern Canada.

Pulla, an anthropologist who teaches in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, is the co-investigator of a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada to complete a genealogical investigation of the Acadian Métis of Nova Scotia.

The work, in collaboration with Carleton University professor Sebastian Malette, will support members of the Association des Acadiens-Métis Souriquois to develop fact-based genealogical profiles including kinship (genealogical) charts for their members. The grant builds on a larger piece of research funded through SSHRC’s Insight program. Pulla and Malette’s work will look at the diversity profile of Métis communities.

While trendy mail-in DNA sequencing is one way to investigate people’s heritage, Pulla says it doesn’t capture community or culture.

“DNA doesn’t equal culture. Your biological ancestry doesn’t mean you are part of a community,” says Pulla. “There is a huge cultural piece to being part of a community. It is a big part of the way you live your life.”

How do you define a culture?

“When we talk about Métis, we think of a singular group, but there are many regional identities of Métis,” says Pulla. “It is not just about theories and obtuse books. What if we started talking about who Métis people are across Canada, and their contributions to the building of Canada, from the East coast to the West coast and all the way to the Arctic Ocean?”

Pulla is often called to give expert testimony in legal cases hinging on what it is to be Métis.

This research will also study legal arguments from the 2017 court case against Jackie Vautour, a Métis man arrested for harvesting soft-shelled clams within Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick. Pulla says that the research team is trying to piece together what Jackie Vautour’s Métis ancestry looks like.

“Maybe if we had been able to support him earlier, he might have won the case. On one level we are pushing back against a very powerful narrative about who Métis is and what are Métis cultures in Canada,” says Pulla, adding that there are still outstanding questions of how Métis are defined under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. “So, there is a big political piece that can have direct consequences to people’s lives.”

Pulla says his research is designed to be sharable and accessible, and he hopes it will help better our understanding of Metis culture and support communities and people who are working on practical issues.