For her exploration of Métis religion and spirituality in the essay Defining Métis Religion and Spirituality: A Historical Analysis, Carolyn Lawton has been awarded the 2021-22 Indigenous History Essay Prize.
Annually awarded to an undergraduate student who is enrolled in and produces an outstanding essay in one of the Department of History’s Indigenous Course Requirement courses, Lawton received the award for her analysis into the portrayal of religion and spirituality in Métis people by contemporary non-Indigenous observers and later historians. The essay was submitted as part of professor Ryan Eyford’s course, History of the Métis People in Canada.
It’s given me a push to show me that I am a really good writer and I can do more work like this
“Historically, Métis people have been described as ‘caught between two worlds of religion,’” Lawton, a Métis student, explained. “So, they were really caught between Indigenous spirituality, which was traditional on their home lands and usually the women’s side of the family, and then there was the church that was coming in as settler colonialism progressed. But in reality, once I did the research and dove into a lot of historical documents, I found that whole ‘caught between two worlds of religion’ thing was not really true at all.”
Instead, Lawton demonstrated through her essay the ways in which Métis people formed a syncretic spirituality, with religious practices and beliefs that drew from elements of Indigenous and Christian spirituality that best suited them. “It’s very fluid,” Lawton added. “Any Métis person can be on a different spot on this continuum.”
Roland Bohr, co-chair of the History Department’s Indigenization Committee, said he sees Métis spirituality as an under-researched topic that presents unique challenges, particularly finding and interpreting information given how comparatively scarce information can be. Bohr lauded Lawton and her essay for its thoroughness despite the challenges. “Her essay stood out not only because of the uniqueness of the topic but also for how well the research and writing were executed,” he said.
Winning the prize for this essay is especially meaningful to Lawton as she felt a personal connection to the subject matter. Recently, Lawton has been reconnecting to her own Indigenous spirituality, which was an important part of her ancestors’ lives.
The prize is likewise meaningful as it has given Lawton a newfound confidence in her own academic ability. A second-year Education student with a keen interest in Indigenous studies and her sights set on high-school teaching, Lawton receiving the prize is a fitting result as Bohr noted the aim of the award is to recognize and encourage students who engage with Indigenous history.
“To put this amount of work into something and have it recognized by people who have been in the academic field a lot longer than I have, that definitely makes me think about pursuing a Masters or something after I get my degrees,” Lawton said. “That wasn’t something I maybe thought I could do before…It’s given me a push to show me that I am a really good writer and I can do more work like this.”
To contribute to the Indigenous History Prize, visit the UWinnipeg Foundation and type “Indigenous History Essay Prize” into the search bar to select the fund.