Danielle Lorenz is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta. She has been working on the Indigenous Stories team led by Drs. Alison Taylor and Tracy Friedel for the Alberta Stories project since 2015.
The Alberta Stories includes 15 profiles of people working in the Wood Buffalo Region, with several stories from Métis men and women who grew up in the area. Read them all here: http://albertastories.onthemovepartnership.ca/
Danielle recently sat down with On the Move (OTM) to tell us about her work with the project.
First of all, can you explain what the Alberta Stories are?
The Alberta Stories are made up of three projects with some subject-based overlap. One of the projects focuses on Temporary Foreign Workers, while another concentrates on domestic workers, including folks that have immigrated to do domestic work. The project I’ve been working for examines Métis labour mobility in the early-to-mid 20th Century in the Wood Buffalo region.
What are those overlaps?
The other two Alberta Stories investigated immigration with respect to work, but that doesn’t apply to the Indigenous Stories project very much. One narrative thread that was examined in the Indigenous Stories and applied to the other two to some extent was the work of women, particularly in the way women have (or have not) been completing women’s work. More specifically, women’s work in these stories refers to the roles women have that are reliant on gender-based stereotypes. What the Indigenous Stories do is lay a baseline of what life was like in the Wood Buffalo area before the Oil Industry—and thus migration, both interprovincial and international—began to change the communities in and around Fort McMurray into what we would recognize today.
Why do you think it’s important to tell Indigenous stories from the Wood Buffalo region?
Not being from Alberta, my understanding of the Fort McMurray area before joining the project focused almost exclusively on the oil economy. The more time I’ve spent on the project the more I’ve learned about the histories of Fort McMurray and the Wood Buffalo region that have nothing to do with the Oil Sands. It is really unfortunate that so much focus in Northern Alberta has to do with the Tar Sands. I think it’s important that Indigenous stories are told in particular because they have historically and still are left out of major narratives in Canada and Alberta.
How have you been engaging the community in this research?
Some of the findings from the report have already been shared in the community. The interviews that are being used weren’t conducted by Tracy and Alison; they were conducted by the Fort McMurray Métis community themselves. The interviews were conducted because the community was looking for specific information about historic land use. As I said before, we’re using the interviews to look at work, including women’s involvement in work in various capacities, and patterns of mobility related to this work. There’s been a feedback process with the community where we would present what has been found in analyzing the interviews and where we want to go from there. It’s more of a reciprocal relationship because the community is very much involved. Even though the community is not taking part in the project directly, there’s still a feedback process on everything we’ve done and will be doing. Alison and Tracy are hoping to publish and as we get into writing drafts, we’ll be sending the work into the community and asking, are you interested in co-publishing, do you feel like you’re being represented accurately, etc.? Yes or no? How do we fix it if not?
Why did they choose that feedback process to do this work?
A lot of it has to do with Indigenous cultures and when you’re doing research with Indigenous communities, it should never be extractive, meaning, you’re not supposed to take knowledge and then leave. You’re expected to involve the community in everything you’re doing, in the decision-making process including as this concerns determining a research focus, in the publications, because everything should be a series of relationships. One of the Principal Investigators, Tracy, is Métis, so she’s going by her own knowledge and teachings in this research relationship. She’s enacting her own culture in the process.
Do you have any final thoughts?
One thing that I’ve really enjoyed about the Indigenous Stories project, the Alberta Stories project, and to some extent the other OTM projects from other regions, is learning how mobility has changed and what that means for employability and work. This has really made me think a lot about myself and my own mobility over the past several years. A lot of the folks running the projects are older than I am, and are tenure-track or tenured professors, so they’re pretty stable in their geography. In contrast, as a grad student who is unsure about what I will be doing when I finish my degree, I often think of the precarity of grad school and the expectation that you’re going to up and leave, either to start a new program or if you get a job somewhere. Just thinking of that in terms of mobility and education has been on my mind a lot as I get closer to finishing my program and what that might mean.