International Studies student Jessica Whyte is the recipient of The University of Winnipeg’s 2022-23 Indigenous History Essay Prize.
Jessica’s paper demonstrates her sophisticated understanding of the literature in Métis history.
Dr. Ryan Eyford
This recognition is awarded annually for an exceptional undergraduate essay on Indigenous history that’s written by a student enrolled in one of the Department of History’s Indigenous Course Requirement (ICR) courses.
Whyte’s paper, Socioeconomic Disparities in Rooster Town: An Analysis of the Historical Division Between English Métis and French Métis Families, was written in Dr. Ryan Eyford’s History of the Métis in Canada (HIST-3525) course.
The essay examines the social, economic, and educational distinctions between English and French Métis families, pointing out both commonalities and differences among the residents of the urban Métis community of Rooster Town. Demonstrating an outstanding knowledge of the relevant literature, Whyte situates her own family’s story within broader context of Red River Métis history.
“I discuss some of the existing literature on the subject,” Whyte explained, “and then focus on the English and French Métis lines of my own genealogy to see if the theories hold true.”
Indigenous Course Requirement
Whyte arrived at UWinnipeg in 2018 and says her five years of studies have been an eye-opening experience.
The knowledge I gained from Dr. Eyford’s class has been really significant for not only me, but for my family as well.
She’s taken a variety of courses in different departments with different professors, but says Dr. Eyford’s course is one that encouraged deep and personal learning.
“Jessica’s paper demonstrates her sophisticated understanding of the literature in Métis history,” said Dr. Eyford. “She contextualizes her family’s story in relation to the historical debates about social and economic differences between French and English Métis in Red River society, highlighting similarities, as well as differences. Her paper adds nuance to our understanding of the history of Rooster Town.”
Dr. Eyford’s History of the Métis in Canada (HIST-3525) is one of more than 84 courses offered as part of UWinnipeg’s ICR.
“UWinnipeg has such a diverse student body with students from all over the world, and many students might not have had the opportunity to learn about the Indigenous peoples in Canada prior to enrolling at UWinnipeg,” Whyte said. “Having Indigenous courses as a requirement also brings together students from a variety of different faculties, which allows for conversations that include many different viewpoints and ways of understanding the world, while centering Indigenous voices and encouraging the sharing of Indigenous experiences.”
Exploring her family history
Whyte is part of the 11th generation of her family to be born in Winnipeg.
Over the course of Dr. Eyford’s class, she gained a deeper understanding of the historic context within which her ancestors lived, and discovered works by incredible Métis scholars, which ultimately allowed her to uncover the details of her family history that had been lost.
“The knowledge I gained from Dr. Eyford’s class has been really significant for not only me, but for my family as well,” she said. “I do not think I can say that about any other university classes I have taken, except for Dr. Chantel Fiola’s course Metis Identity, Culture, and Rights, which I took after taking Dr. Eyford’s class.”
In the paper, Whyte created an approximate picture of the lives of her ancestors by using census records, which provided a wealth of information that detailed whether or not someone was able to read or write, whether they were English or French Métis, what their occupation was, their annual income, where they lived and with whom, and what their religion was.
“Exploring the role that my family played in the Red River Resistance and their connection to Louis Riel was of particular interest to me, although it turned out to be quite tragic,” she said. “I was also curious to gain a deeper understanding of what life was like for my ancestors who lived in the ‘lost Métis suburb’ of Rooster Town and, in doing so, I was able to initiate conversations with my Elder family members that we had never had before, which was incredibly rewarding and emotional.”
To contribute to the Indigenous History Essay Prize, visit the UWinnipeg Foundation’s website and type “Indigenous History Essay Prize” into the search bar to select the fund.