Have You Met…Crystal Fraser?

In honour of Orange Shirt Day on September 30, meet Crystal, an assistant professor and historian.


In honour of Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, we’re introducing you to Crystal Fraser, an assistant professor in the faculties of Arts and Native Studies, and a member of the Governing Circle that guides the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. She shares a bit about herself and some thoughts and resources for this day of remembering.

What is your first U of A memory?

My first memory of the U of A is arriving at a very crowded and large U of A campus in 2004 to start a BA in political science. As a young person from the Northwest Territories, this was both thrilling and overwhelming! As an old(er) person from the Northwest Territories, this is still thrilling and overwhelming. Both young me and older me juggle car keys, brimming book bags, and to-go coffee cups on the verge of spilling the precious gold. I’m not sure that will ever change, but in both 2004 and 2021, life on campus is vivacious and exhilarating.

What’s something your coworkers don’t know about you?

I have worked all kinds of jobs. As a meat processor in a chicken slaughterhouse, a bartender, a long-term care home attendant, a restaurant critic and now in academia, I have sampled all sorts of careers.

What’s your favourite distraction?

During the pandemic, it’s been yard work and Netflix! I’m also fairly addicted to Words with Friends 2, the Scrabble app (I can thank my sister for that addiction, MEGAN). Otherwise, I love to travel and learn about new places. I had the opportunity to go to Iceland in May and was worried about COVID-19, but I know those opportunities will be there again. Food, wine and the beauty of land drive my travel desires.

If you were enrolling in one course, program or degree right now, what would it be?

This is a toss between a professional chef or funeral director. These are two very different careers! Rich Francis is a professional Dinjii Zhuh chef (amazing food!) and I look to my mother, Juliet Bullock, who trained me in medicine around death and the spirit world. In either of these careers — like my current one as a historian — I would place Dinjii Zhuh beliefs and customs at the centre of my practice.

You can invite anyone — alive or dead, real or fictional — to dinner. Who would it be?

My dìdųų Julienne The’dahcha (one who carries a feather, 1889-1983). She was a mother, fur trader, linguist, trapper and a witness to Treaty 11 in 1921. Julienne is the reason I’m a historian. She began training me in our language, Dinjii Zhuh Ginjìk, and the beauty and rigor of oral traditions when I was a toddler.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Welcome the aging process. There will be new struggles but also new successes. As each year passes, I am happier and more confident. You will be too! Don’t doubt or question yourself. Do the thing: go parasailing; splurge for the oil treatment at Sabai Thai Massage; upgrade to the emergency exit row when travelling; believe in yourself as you study and write exams; have that nap; understand that Indigenous Peoples do not need Foucault. You deserve it all. Trust me. You won’t regret it.

What’s one thing you can’t live without?

The birds. Every morning, I sit and watch the birds at my feeders as I drink my coffee. It grounds me for the day and allows me to connect with our feathered ancestors on these beautiful Treaty 6/Métis lands.

What three words describe your U of A experience?

Colonial. Reconciliatory. Promising. 

You are one of seven members of the Governing Circle guiding the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). Can you tell us a bit about what the Circle does and why it’s important?

The NCTR Governing Circle has several tasks: to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are in control over archival materials related to Indian Residential Schools; to provide guidance on policies, activities, ceremonies and protocols; and also to guide the Centre in growing their collection, forming new partnerships and advising on issues of accessibility. 

This important work is an honour and my contribution comes as an intergenerational Indian Residential School Survivor and, since I am from the Northwest Territories, as a northerner.

Are there any messages you would like us to share with the U of A community in honour of Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

If you are new to reconciliation, the best practices are to listen, learn and engage in critical self reflection. Consult 150 Acts of Reconciliation for ideas on how reconciliation can be incorporated into both your personal and professional life. Also, know that Orange Shirt Day and now the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation can be a hard day for Survivors. Not everyone wants to share their story on September 30 and many Indigenous Peoples choose to mark the day according to their own practices. 

About Crystal

Crystal Gail Fraser is Gwichyà Gwich'in and an assistant professor of History and Native Studies. Crystal’s PhD research focused on the history of student experiences at Indian Residential Schools in the North between 1959 and 1996, and her dissertation was awarded the 2020 John Bullen Prize by the Canadian Historical Association. Crystal's work makes a strong contribution to how scholars engage with Indigenous research methodologies, our understanding of Indigenous histories during the second half of the twentieth century and how northern Canada was unique. With her partner and young daughter, Crystal has lived on Treaty 6 territory, the homeland of the Métis Nation, since 2004.