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Thunder in her soul – Remembering Patricia A. Monture

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Malinda S. Smith, Vice President, Equity

Patricia Monture

Her Mohawk name was ‘Aywahande,’ or “the one who speaks first or gets things going with words.”

Professor Patricia (‘Trish’) Monture, the brilliant and accomplished Haudenosaunee lawyer, educator, writer and scholar, died on the 17th of November in Saskatoon. A citizen of the Mohawk Nation, Grand River Territory, she was a full Professor and Academic Director of the Aboriginal Justice and Criminology Program in the Department of Sociology at the University of Saskatchewan.

Known for her great intellect, determined activism and wonderful sense of humour, Professor Monture was a respected teacher and colleague, inspired mentor and beloved friend to many within and outside the academy. A passionate advocate for Aboriginal justice and human rights, she served on the national content advisory committee for the Canadian Human Rights Museum. She was the recipient of honorary degrees from Athabasca University in 2008 and Queen’s University in 2009.

Her groundbreaking scholarship shaped theories and practices of Indigenous governance and self-determination; feminist, anti-racist and intersectional analyses; and political, legal and social scholarship on rights, justice, inequality and responsibility. She authored and co-authored many journal articles, chapters, and reports. Her books include Thunder in my Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks (1995), which she characterized as a “reflection on my own struggle to shed the colonized shackles which bind my mind, my spirit and my heart.”

In Journeying Forward: Dreaming First Nations’ Independence (1999), Professor Monture made clear that despite the legacies of settler-Indian relations, and the limits of the law to right colonial wrongs, “[b]eing self-determining is simply about the way you choose to live your life every day.” With Patricia McGuire, she edited First Voices: An Aboriginal Women’s Reader (2009), which invites the reader into a relationship of mutual knowledge, because “[u]nderstanding the ways, experiences, and voices of Indigenous women requires the reader to start with the self. Who are you and where do you fit into an Indigenous world?”

One of the most extraordinary things about Professor Monture was her fierce independence and her ability to navigate complex social spaces and identities. She was known for contesting conventional identity labels, especially eschewing notions she saw as colonial impositions.

In a recent Globe and Mail article, “Aboriginal, indigenous, native? She preferred Haudenosaunee, or ‘People of the Longhouse’,” Ron Csillag captures Professor Monture’s journey of self-knowledge:  “I was half-white,” she [Monture] would recount, “and whites clearly thought I was an ‘Indian.’ They tended not to want me around. But the ‘Indians’ also felt I did not belong with them. ... For many years I believed the middle was nothing but lonely. It was not until much later in life I learned the middle was the place to be. I can walk both ways.”

Professor Monture was interviewed for the November 2010 cover story of University Affairs. In remembering that interview, Harriet Eisenkraft was struck not only by Professor Monture’s ability to understand but also to bridge difference: “One of the more interesting parts of my conversation with Patricia was in our discussion of the differences and similarities between Aboriginal scholars and other racialized scholars, that is, non-Aboriginal. She talked about the difference between people whose ancestors came from ‘afar,’ probably as slaves, and peoples whose ancestors have been here for a very long time and who have intense connections to their lands. Nevertheless, she was very clear: ‘we’re racialized too,’ was her assertion. She was also very compassionate about the various forms of oppressions out there.”

•    Listen to the podcast of Harriet Eisenkraft’s interview with Patricia Monture.

In her scholarship and practice Professor Monture blazed new trails, always taking care to build interconnecting bridges. She helped to build networks between Indigenous peoples and racialized minorities. She was among the ‘grandmothers’ who founded the Researchers and Academics of Colour for Equity/Equality (R.A.C.E.) network, motivated to change the situation in which so few role models and mentors were available to both groups. She was scheduled to deliver a keynote at the network’s tenth anniversary conference I organized in October, had planned to drive to Edmonton with her boys, Justin, Michael and Jack. Unable to attend, she made the remarkable gesture of asking Kiera Ladner to speak in her place about the ongoing need to indigenize the academy.

Professor Monture wrote the first chapter, “Race, gender and the university: Strategies for surviving,” of States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century, released this past June.  In it she stressed the need for us to understand that our experience of being alone or othered in the academy is part of the knowledge we need to survive and to draw upon to engender greater inclusivity:

Universities are isolating places by nature, and any individual who is othered experiences multiples of the base isolation. Consider the tasks we complete – reading, writing, teaching (including class preparation), and researching. Most often, these are individualized tasks….  It is very important for us to negate the isolation, where we often feel crazy, difficult, or alone, by creating affirming spaces… both intellectual and physical.

We must also provide a welcoming environment (even if it is just a corner) for new faculty and students. Those of us who have learned to manage institutional environments have done so by creating networks and knowledges. We need to share these opportunities with racialized graduate students, especially the women…

For her engaged scholarship Professor Monture received numerous awards and honours, including the 2008 Human Rights in Action Award from the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies for her work in the area of federal corrections, and the 2007 Sarah Shorten Award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers for her work on the advancement of women in the academy.

As her Mohawk named clearly signaled, Patricia Anne Monture was a woman who “got things going.”  And, as Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo noted, this remarkable ability to lead means “[h]er contributions and advocacy for social and political equality will continue to mentor and inspire.”

Malinda S. Smith is an associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, and the Federation’s Vice President, Equity Issues.

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