by Karen Richardson
Indigenous feminism is the research area of focus for Shauna Shiels, graduate student in the Department of Sociology. "There is not a wealth of research on it because many Indigenous people reject the term feminism, as it's another form of Western ideology imposed on Aboriginal people."
Shiels is taking a theoretical approach to her work at Queen's. "I want to decentre white feminism and open up feminist discourse to the inclusion of Aboriginal people, who have, up to this point, been excluded from this discourse." Although many Aboriginal women reject the term, they still use the ideology surrounding it [but use the terms] "strong women," says Shiels.
Shiels is currently in her first year of a Master's program in Sociology and is from Port Hope, Ont. She completed her undergraduate degree at Queen's majoring in Sociology and minoring in Women's Studies. "A lot of my work that I did in my undergrad year, and will continue to do in graduate studies and Indigenous studies, is all based on anti-colonial, anti-racist perspectives." She feels her research is important because Aboriginal people are "the least represented of all academic space."
Her father is an Irish immigrant, and her mother is Cree. "Neither of them attended post-secondary education, so I am the first generation to attend university." The Four Directions Aboriginal Centre has played an important role during her undergraduate and graduate career at Queen's, she says. "It has provided a sense of community. It's so important to have people who understand my cultural background." She particularly gives credit to the elder at the centre, who has helped her through cultural adjustments and a particularly difficult time during her first year of university. She also is thankful to Michelle Ellis, who provides administrative support to the Department of Sociology. "She's one of the people who has made my graduate experience here memorable."
While she hadn't considered graduate studies initially, Professor Catherine Krull in the Sociology Department encouraged her to do so. "I never thought that I would be applying to grad school," says Shiels. "She was very supportive of me and made me feel that it was something that I could do." She says there is also good camaraderie amongst the first-year grad students in the department. "We do a lot of things together. We all TA the same first-year Sociology 100 class, so everyone is very supportive of each other. I share an office with six other people who I've become close with."
Every Thursday night through the winter she has also taken part in a woman's circle for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women at Four Directions, where they have discussions, crafts and retreat to a sweat lodge on Mohawk territory.
Shiels also participates in a lot of anti-racism activism on campus and many other groups on campus pertaining to Aboriginal issues. She is the Vice-President of the Queen's Native Students Association, a group which plans Aboriginal Awareness week each year on campus. "We do a lot of work with Queen's Health Outreach (formerly Queen's Medical Outreach) and the Queen's Project in International Development. We try to work with other groups on campus to raise awareness about Aboriginal peoples and issues pertaining to Aboriginal people."
She also sits on a number of different boards within the Queen's community, including the Queen's Aboriginal Council, the Queen's Coalition Against Ethnic and Racial Discrimination, and is President-Elect of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, an anti-oppressive, environmental organization. "Queen's has a lot of opportunities to join meaningful communities. I don't think that contributing to communities is just about doing academic research and academic work. I think Queen's allows you to do both-participate in other forms of activism and knowledge in that kind of capacity."