A Tribe Called Red just put out their video for “Sisters” and I felt inspired (/I’m feeling like Creator wanted me) to write about my Métis sister Tera Beaulieu.

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Graduating from York University’s Psychology BA Honours in 2007, she went on to do her Masters in Psychology at the University of Toronto.

Tera is now in the final stretch of her academic path, working on her PhD in Clinical/Counselling Psychology at U of T since 2010 and her area of research is on the role of Métis traditional knowledge in addressing the life transition needs of urban Métis homeless people.

She was the recipient of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. (This means she is both incredibly smart and hardworking).

She is the recipient of the 2014 Minaake Award for Leadership presented by the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto.

She has also been an Infinite Reach Facilitator at University of Toronto for the last 3 years and that is how I had the pleasure of meeting her.

Through her work as an Infinite Reach Facilitator and as the Women’s Representative, MNO Toronto and York Region Métis Council she has carved out a place for Métis people living in Toronto and provided many of the city’s Métis folks the space to self declare and to own their identities.

She did all of this while navigating through her own Métis identity.

She is in the process of submitting her nomination to be President of the Toronto & York Region Métis Council (so if you can vote in the Toronto council elections, you should DEFINITELY vote for her, they will be held in June).

**JUST A REMINDER: SHE IS STILL WORKING ON HER PHD WHILE DOING ALL OF THIS AND MORE**

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Contributing author and MNO Toronto Region Métis Council Women’s Representative Tera Beaulieu providing a reading during the launch. Photo credit: Aimee Rochard (Click on this photo for the full story)

Tera is Thunder clan, which is unsurprising to those of us who have the privilege of knowing her, because she is absolutely a force of nature.

A proud Métis woman, her grandfather was born in St Laurent, Manitoba and he served in the Canadian Forces. Her father was born in B.C. and Tera has always called Toronto home.

I had a chat with Tera about her identity, how it defines her and also what she hopes to accomplish in the future:

Does your identity as a Métis woman impact your studies? 

Absolutely my identity has impacted my work. My doctoral research focuses on examining the role of Metis traditional knowledge in addressing the life transition needs (education, employment and mental health) of urban Metis homeless people. I knew very early on that I wanted to focus my research on Metis mental health, for several reasons. The area of Metis peoples health and well-being is an incredibly under researched area. We know far more about First Nations and Inuit peoples mental health than we do about Metis people, however, Metis people have experienced colonization, residential school, intergenerational trauma, and so on, just as the other Indigenous peoples of North America have. Knowing this, I felt a great sense of responsibility and desire to add to the knowledge base that details our peoples health so that we may be better informed about the needs of our people and how we might begin to go about addressing our healing needs.

 

Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Zimmer, and Carla Robinson

Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Zimmer, and Carla Robinson

Did/do you struggle with identifying as Métis?

My identity as a Metis woman has significantly evolved over time. My family often made references to being “Native” or having “Indian blood” when I was a child, but I didn’t understand this or know how to make sense of it for most of my childhood and adolescence. Over time I learned of our ancestry as Metis, and began to research and look into our history in my early adulthood. Being comfortable with identifying as Metis was a long process that involved much reflection and healing. I spent a lot of time reflecting on whether I was entitled to identify as Metis, given that I didn’t grow up in the culture, and thinking about my responsibility to my community and culture if I took up the identity of being Aboriginal.  As I began to immerse myself in the culture and become more active with the community, identifying as Metis became an important way for me to honour my Metis ancestors and positively contribute to our community.

Have you found strength in identifying as Métis?

I have found strength in identifying as Metis but it has not come without its challenges. I had a particularly difficult experience as an undergraduate student prior to identifying as Metis, but knowing of my ancestry. When I inquired about learning about traditional ways of healing and attending ceremony in the city, my professor at that time was very non-supportive and I experienced a great deal of shame. While she likely was trying to protect Indigenous culture and healing practices, for a young person who was struggling to make sense of their Indigenous identity, her response was quite damaging. I later realized that as a result of that experience, I suppressed my interest and connection with Aboriginal culture and felt unworthy of inquiring about and participating in the community. I can remember the first time that I publicly identified as Metis as a graduate student: my heart was pumping, I was sweating, almost waiting for someone to scream out at me “Liar! Imposter! We know the truth!!” To my surprise, my supervisor and fellow students were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to continue identifying and following this path of healing and reflection. As a result of identifying as Metis, becoming connected and integrated with the community and culture, I have experienced, and continue to experience, a great deal of healing, nurturance and support.

What has been a teaching you’ve received that has inspired you or helped you on your path?

Goodness, there are so many. I would say that one teaching that always sticks with me is a teaching about the infinity symbol. In describing how the infinity symbol represents the coming together of the First Peoples and European settlers, and how their intermarriage and children eventually evolved into the Metis Nation, an Elder reminded me that when you untwist the infinity, it forms a circle, highlighting our relationships with our First Nations and Inuit relatives. That’s been particularly important for me as I’ve engaged in work with the Aboriginal community of Toronto, remembering that while we are distinct Nations of people, we are all related.

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Were you always planning to do a PhD?

No! I had no idea that I would end up in graduate school. I knew in early adolescence that I wanted to study psychology and help people. How I was going to get there, I had no idea. I have been incredibly fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to attend school and gain as much knowledge as I have. As much as I have enjoyed it, I am definitely looking forward to finishing though!

What will you do once you’ve finished your PhD? 
Relax? Get 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis? Begin to wash that mountain of clothing that’s been building for the past 7 years in my closest? Definitely watch poorly rated television/Netflix for at least a few weeks (who else loves to hate Dawson’s Creek?!).
Once I move out of this stage of recuperation, I most definitely plan on practicing in the community. Whether that will be through my own private practice or while working at a hospital/community agency is yet to be determined, but the reason for completing this degree is to be of use in supporting and helping others as they make changes in their own lives. Culturally competent clinical programming and interventions for Metis people, to the best of my knowledge, are few and far between. If I had the opportunity to continue to conduct research, my main area of focus would continue to be on Metis peoples mental health and healing needs. I’ve also taught sessionally at the University level, and so would welcome the opportunity to do that as well. You know, as long as all of this doesn’t interrupt my Dawson’s Creek viewing schedule…
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Tera and I in O-town for the Halfbreed Hustle.

What has been your proudest moment?

The word proudest or pride is tough for me – I’ve always been taught to remain humble and remember that you are just one small piece of Creator’s big picture. I will say that one of the most humbling and honouring experiences that I have ever had was when I was presented with my first Eagle feather. To be recognized by our community for the work that I have engaged in was pretty unbelievable, as my life has been so transformed for the better as a result of doing this work. I carry that experience very close to my heart and spirit as I continue to walk the path that I’m on.

What advice would you give young Métis students considering university? 

You can do it. I had several people at different points along my journey question my abilities and at each turn I have taken great pleasure in proving them wrong. You have to have faith and confidence in yourself that you can achieve. That doesn’t mean that everything is going to be easy or always turn out exactly the way you want it to, but persevere, remain committed and diligent, and eat lots of nachos. Seriously, nachos help. Accessing our amazing Metis community also helps exponentially. I have made the most amazing friends through connecting with the Metis Nation of Ontario and its various programs. The Infinite Reach: Metis Student Solidarity Network in particular has acted as a lifeline for me in many respects and has enhanced my own sense of identity and belief in my abilities to achieve. The love, support, nurturance, and continuous laughter that is provided by this community is unbelievable and I do not feel like my graduate education would have been anywhere near as rewarding as it has been had I not connected in this way.
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Any final thoughts? 
I would like to say that I am incredibly lucky and privileged in many ways to have not only obtained the education that I have received, but for the very loving and supportive family, friends, and community that stand beside me. All of my accomplishments are 100% shared  with these people, because without them, none of it would be possible. I am so excited for the future of the Metis Nation, and am grateful that I get to work alongside this beautiful community of people.
Miigwetch!
PS: Here’s the video for Sisters.
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