Scholar recognized for building beneficial research partnerships with Métis Nation

Nathalie Kermoal is committed to furthering awareness and appreciation of Métis research, education, art and culture.


Community Scholar Award winner Nathalie Kermoal (second right) was joined by Edmonton city councillor Andrew Knack, U of A chancellor Peggy Garritty, U of A vice-president of external relations Elan MacDonald, and U of A president Bill Flanagan at a ceremony at City Hall on May 15 honouring this year's recipients of the university's Community Connections Awards. (Photo: Supplied)

A few years ago, the Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research hosted a conference exploring the damaging legacy of scrip, a form of currency that cheated many Métis families out of their land.

But before holding the event, the RCMR and its Métis partners collectively decided to create an information booklet about scrip to share ahead of time.

“The Métis Nation of Alberta felt it was important to educate about scrip first, so when people came to the conference, they’d know the complexity of the scrip system devised by the Canadian government,” recalls RCMR director Nathalie Kermoal

It was a step that made the event more meaningful; participants who were Métis also kept copies of the booklet for their children and grandchildren, and came to the conference prepared to discuss their thoughts with scholars doing work related to scrip. 

“There were people from different walks of life who could express their experiences around scrip and what it meant to them and to their families,” Kermoal remembers.

The resulting dialogue created “intellectual buoyancy,” she adds. “The process enriches and educates everybody and deepens understanding of a specific issue.”

That kind of collaboration embodies the community-engaged approach that Kermoal, acting dean of the Faculty of Native Studies, takes to build mutually beneficial partnerships between the U of A and the Métis, and between Métis scholars, students and community members.

Along with leading the Rupertsland Centre, Kermoal has worked as a professor and researcher to encourage and support research that addresses Métis priorities and interests, while sharing her expertise and time for the benefit of the Métis Nation.

In recognition, she is receiving the 2023 Community Scholar Award, one of three U of A Community Connections Awards.

The Community Scholar Award recognizes faculty members who excel and bring their scholarship into the community, and are committed to translating their area of expertise to everyday citizens.

For Kermoal, the self-determination being sought by the Métis people struck a chord when she first immigrated as a young scholar to Canada from France. As a Breton, a distinct group of Celtic people living on the west coast of France, she could relate.

“I come from a very specific identity myself, and saw some connection between the nationalism being developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, both in Brittany by the Breton and in Western Canada by the Métis.”

As she earned her PhD in Canadian history, which explored the lives of Métis women in Manitoba, her interest in Indigenous issues grew.

“From the beginning, I met different people — elders, knowledge holders, leaders, community members, scholars — who led me in the direction of Indigenous studies, and along the way I decided to work on Métis issues. 

“I thought Métis history was particularly interesting, and as well there were a lot of things that needed to be done in supporting the self-determination of the Métis nation.”

Kermoal’s research deepened over the course of her academic career, resulting in three published books as well as numerous articles on the Métis, urban Indigenous issues and contemporary Indigenous art.

When she became director of the Rupertsland Centre in 2016, her leadership helped transform the centre into a major research hub specifically geared toward policy issues of interest to the Métis community in Alberta. 

Working closely with the Métis Nation of Alberta and its affiliate, the Rupertsland Institute, the expansive academic research program helps fill gaps around issues relevant to the Métis community in areas such as health, child and family services, Métis history as well as Métis land use and land occupation. The RCMR also trains and employs student researchers, most of them Métis.

Based on the four Rs of Indigenous research — respect, reciprocity, relevance and responsibility — collaboration with their Métis partners is at the heart of every piece of work the centre does, says Kermoal.

“We can go much further on a specific project by working together from the beginning to the end, from when our researchers are first approached. Along the way we check with our partners to make sure we are going in the right direction until we get to the final product.”

Working hand in hand benefits everyone involved, Kermoal notes.

“It really enriches the research and brings it to another level, and when we do activities, like conferences, people feel it is fully connected to the community.” 

Kermoal also regularly organizes a broad range of events including Métis Talks, a semi-annual public event highlighting Métis-specific research, art and culture. Such events “break down silos to make sure we are building bridges between Métis communities in Alberta and across the Métis homeland, and the university, students and the general public,” she says.

“It’s part of sharing knowledge about Métis art or research being done, and raising awareness of what people are doing and why they are doing what they’re doing.” 

Students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, also benefit from innovative courses designed by Kermoal that allow them to learn from elders or other traditional knowledge holders.

Recent offerings include a course on Métis land-based learning, co-designed with other Métis scholars and Métis Crossing. An online Métis Women’s Leadership course was also co-designed with Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak (Women of the Métis Nation) and Métis scholars.

“For students who identify as Métis, it makes them feel even prouder, and they can connect with their own story and the stories of their family and their ancestors, which is wonderful when you see this happening in a classroom. And for other students, it certainly helps them to open their horizons and see things through a different lens,” Kermoal says.

Working with Métis communities has been rewarding for Kermoal, both as a scholar and a person.

“I’m not sure I’d be the person I am today without all these connections,” he says. “ I have learned so much in my more than 30 years working with Métis communities. When people are sharing their worldviews or telling you about their culture, you become a better listener, more open to possibilities and you think about your own positionality in the world in which you live.

“I really love the work I am doing,” she adds. “It’s about networking, about building bridges, about building research capacity, about fostering creative and innovative co-constructed projects, about being committed to research dissemination and knowledge translation and also about supporting the longstanding political and social goals of the Métis in Alberta.”

Receiving the Community Scholar Award is a shared honour, Kermoal adds.

“I want to recognize my partners in the Métis community, Amanda Evans (Rupertsland Centre administrator) and the vision that Lorne Gladu (founding CEO of the Rupertsland Institute) had about having the Rupertsland Centre at the U of A. It benefits a lot of people.”