Monday July 03, 2017

Return of the Michif Boy: Confronting Métis trauma

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

PhD student Jesse Thistle was once a high school drop-out who spent more than a decade in and out of homeless shelters, consumed by drug and alcohol addiction. By reconnecting with his birth mother and spending time with his Métis elders he came to understand the effects of intergenerational trauma. His award-winning historical research shines a light on the struggles and the resilience of Métis 'road-side allowance' communities in northern Saskatchewan. **This episode originally aired March 23, 2017.


"From the beginning I associated indigeneity with my mom and her people. And I was resentful. I never knew my history, and that was damaging." Jesse Thistle, PhD student

Jesse's own traumatic experiences give him a rare vantage point regarding the history of Metis people in Canada. Now he's filling gaps in the way this history is understood and told, winning the admiration of other historians, and using historical scholarship as a tool to heal. In academic research, scholars usually maintain a critical distance between themselves and the subject. By using the lens of his own life, Jesse connects not only the political with the personal, but the historical with the emotional. 

Guests in the episode: 

  • Jesse Thistle —  PhD student of history at York University.
  • Yvonne Richer — Jesse's aunt who has been investigating the family's genealogy. 
  • Martha Smith — Jesse's cousin. Her grandmother, Marianne Ledoux, shared stories with Martha about escaping from the 1885 Battle of Batoche.
  • Bernadette Morrissette-Berrone — Jesse's aunt, and the oldest surviving relative in Jesse's family tree. 
  • Carolyn Podruchny — professor of History at York University, specializing in Aboriginal and French relations and Metis history. She is also Jesse's mentor and thesis supervisor.

Further reading: 

  • Half-Breed, Maria Campbell, 1973.
  • Walking in Indian Moccasins: the native policies of Tommy Douglas and the CCF, Laurie Barron, 1997.

Web Extra |  Watch this CBC TV news report about Jesse graduating university in 2015

Success and second chances: Jesse Thistle3:08


**This episode is the latest in our Ideas from the Trenches series, focused on outstanding PhD students across the country. The series is produced by Nicola Luksic & Tom Howell.