Pamela Sing

2007-08, Fulbright Canada visiting scholar; University of Alberta Research project: multiculturalism, nation-building and identity construction in Franco-Métis communities in Canada and the United States
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About

Pamela V. Sing is a professor of Québec and Franco-Canadian literatures at the French campus of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the Campus Saint-Jean, and the Associate Director of that University’s Faculty of Arts Canadian Literature Centre/Centre de littérature canadienne that was inaugurated on November 1st, 2006. Her ongoing research interests involve writing by Western Canadian Francophones, and written and oral stories by Métis of French ancestry.

The title of my research project is “Multiculturalism, Nation-building and the Poetics of Identity Construction: Recovering Franco-Métis Communities in Canada and the United States.” This project seeks to contribute to ongoing discussions on the interrelationship of multiculturalism, nation-building, and the processes of identity construction. I am interested in a specific facet of that question, one that can be studied in the form of identity construction practices contained in written and oral texts belonging to a little-known people whose reality has been one of multiple belongings since its very inception: the Franco-Métis. Born of the union between French Canadian men engaged in the fur industry and Native women, the Franco-Métis and their descendents are grounded in a history that has evolved from a sense of nationhood in Manitoba to multiple communities scattered across the North American continent.

In Canada, they constituted a “Forgotten People” for almost a century. Today, the production and study of works by Aboriginal writers in general constitute a burgeoning component of Canadian literature. While Métis writers are recognized as such, the academy tends to not underscore the distinct character of their literary practices. Furthermore, writers, researchers and critics alike seem little inclined to establish connections between the voices and perspectives of contemporary Métis, most of whom are unilingual Anglophones, and those of their nineteenth-century Francophone ancestors. My research intends to show that the failure to lend any historical depth to an original culture not only makes it impossible to address issues of continuity and of discontinuity alike, but also raises the question of what constitutes a “legitimate culture.”The title of my research project is “Multiculturalism, Nation-building and the Poetics of Identity Construction: Recovering Franco-Métis Communities in Canada and the United States.” This project seeks to contribute to ongoing discussions on the interrelationship of multiculturalism, nation-building, and the processes of identity construction. I am interested in a specific facet of that question, one that can be studied in the form of identity construction practices contained in written and oral texts belonging to a little-known people whose reality has been one of multiple belongings since its very inception: the Franco-Métis. Born of the union between French Canadian men engaged in the fur industry and Native women, the Franco-Métis and their descendents are grounded in a history that has evolved from a sense of nationhood in Manitoba to multiple communities scattered across the North American continent.

In the United States, where Métis are not recognized as an aboriginal people by the federal government, one is hard put to find a writer who identifies as Métis. Nevertheless, they do exist. During my Fulbright year, I will be working on the recovery of their stories.

By offering valuable insight into Franco-Métis language and subjectivities, the project will ultimately expand upon existing knowledge of their historical development, ethnicity, conceptual “order,” and cultural persistence as well as change. The study of the processes of re-definitions of identity parameters as a response to increased diversity and evolving norms of citizenship will increase our awareness of the consequences of nationhood for ordinary men and women, and contribute to encouraging collaborative attitudes and community efforts towards reconciliation.