Alex Litster-Paramor (left) is a third-year history student in the College of Arts and Science. (Photo: Submitted)

USask history student connects colonial legacy to contemporary sociological issues

For Alex Litster-Paramor, Indigenous voices are integral to understanding the legacy of colonialism. In her writing and research, she aims to draw on sources written by Indigenous people and have their voices heard when analyzing and understanding how that legacy informs policy and institutions.

Litster-Paramor is Cree-Métis and grew up in Winnipeg. She is working toward both history and social work degrees and consistently achieves excellent grades. Litster-Paramor has worked as one of two undergraduate researchers chosen to work with the COVID-19 Community SK Archive. In this role, she has shown remarkable energy, tenacity and innovation.

Litster-Paramor was recognized with an award for research at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Indigenous Student Achievement Awards, which was held virtually on Feb. 4, 2021, to honour USask Indigenous students for their academic excellence, leadership, research, community engagement and resiliency.

The award ceremony was part of Indigenous Achievement Week (IAW), which celebrated the successes and contributions of Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff and faculty within the context of this year’s theme: nīkānihk itohtētān, walking together into the future. We asked Litster-Paramor a few questions about her journey at USask.

How did you come to choose your research area of colonial legacy?
This area of research and academics has been a passion since elementary school. I read most of the Dear Canada books, a historical fiction series by many different authors. These began to make me aware of events, such as The Underground Railroad, the War of 1812, and European interactions. Another aspect of my life that made me interested in Indigenous Studies was my lived experiences in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I am white-presenting Métis and while in Winnipeg, I was raised with Métis values and was aware of The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Crisis (MMIW). I also recognized how peers and the effects of the colonial regime became more and more apparent that it is not over, and that its effects influence everyone.

To me, colonial legacy is experienced whenever I contemplate my privileges, how/who I access information from and how I and others interact with colonial institutions. So, I have a deep interest in history but take interest in applying my knowledge to contemporary sociological issues.

How have your studies developed your knowledge, skills and leadership?

My studies have elevated the way I view myself and have challenged me to think with a critical lens. Meaning, to question the historical narratives, methodologies and approaches to research. The challenges I have faced throughout my learning has also made me more confident in my research and how I approach people with inquiries in higher positions of power. I have also realized that a huge part of my education relies on questioning my own lived realities/paradigms, and to be genuinely passionate towards how people are influenced by imbalanced power relations and colonial regimes. I believe that research, policy and academics can be approached with non-dominant ideas of methodology and frameworks.

When I first started at USask, I remember going through many of the Jesuit missionary diaries in the USask archive, and being helped by the nicest woman working there, and genuinely having fun with the process. I also fell in love that year, with citing my sources and bibliographies, and developing my own values and ethics when approaching sources, and more importantly who I source. For example, I often will try to include many different perspectives in my writing and acknowledge my personal biases when interpreting sources. Another choice I have consciously made this past year and a half was to deliberately include a land acknowledgement and describe my own lived experience as a white-presenting Métis woman and recognize the privilege I experience on a daily basis.

Has someone in your life inspired you to get to where you are today?

I have had many people come into my life and leave my life. My family and friends have shown me the world in terms of support. However, the person who has personally encouraged and taken invested interest in my studies is Dr. Simonne Horwitz (DPhil). I took my first class with her in my first year of studies and her approach to learning in the classroom (and online) has truly inspired me to challenge my own perspectives and be aware of how historical narratives are complex and are based on colonial histories. Since my first year, I have taken four classes with Dr. Horwitz. Three of those classes have been African history classes and I have had the privilege to work for her these past two and a half years. While working for her and taking her classes, I was challenged to improve on my writing and reading skills. She has been a huge role model for her academic skills, research skills and community-based skills. The way she has run her classes and work is highly adaptable and she created a heartfelt space for us to learn.

I also have been taught by a wonderfully cheerful teacher in Hanley, Saskatchewan (Hanley Composite School) who has also encouraged me to pursue history, Brandon Hutchinson. He, Leanne Griffin (my drama director from drama club) and Liza Button (Special Education Resource Teacher) helped me apply and take ESL classes through USask. This gave me the initial jump into university, which allowed me to improve on my writing, which had been a work in progress until then.

What are your goals for the future?
My immediate goals for the future are to finish up my third and final years at the University of Saskatchewan. I am currently taking classes to finish a Bachelor of Arts (History) degree with USask and am planning to pursue a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Regina. However, prior to finishing a Bachelor of Social Work, I plan on taking on more research projects and work on securing financial needs. I am involved as a research assistant with the COVID-19 Community Archive SK, which is documenting the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Saskatchewan and utilizes many oral histories of peoples who are impacted. I am also hoping to become more involved in Indigenous-led research initiatives and use my research skills to continue participating in conversations on social issues in Canada. My goals are fairly short, but I hope to continue reaching out to people around me and be inquisitive of how Canadian frameworks/perspectives can be changed or improved.

This year’s Indigenous Achievement Week theme is nīkānihk itohtētān, walking together into the future. What does this mean to you?

To me, the idea of nīkānihk itohtētān walking together into the future means developing a consciousness of how I benefit within Canadian society and utilize this to elevate other voices that need to be heard. Walking together reminds me immediately of a class I took recently, which was taught by Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings (PhD), Indigenous Studies 201 (Introduction to Indigenous Peoples Health and Well-Being). Within the class, she used one of her personal papers (alongside other sources), which describes her personal life and work done with her home nation, the Choctaw Nation in the U.S. Her research methodology is a community-based participatory research model, developed by and with the community. Ultimately, the walk they did was the Trail of Tears, which was a means of engaging with healing outside of a typical health setting. The walk had incorporated themes of Indigenous healing, connecting to ancestors and confronting “individual behaviours.” This resonated very deeply for me and it is this story and others’ that inspire me.

I am also heavily influenced by the teachings I was taught from my grandma. She most of all believes in loving everyone and making sure needs are met. This I feel has aided in my empathy growing and wanting to try my best in following my curiosity to show my unconditional support in furthering voices (including future voices) of those I believe have been historically and continue to be silenced. It is in our past, present and future that resolving social and health disparities amongst Indigenous peoples.

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