PROFILE: Mary Jane McCallum

Mary Jane McCallum is a First Nations professor who started working at the University of Winnipeg in 2008 in the history department.

She says when she came to the university, the Indigenous history course offerings were ethnographic, so she developed a few courses of her own.

“So they would be about Iroquois people, Algonquin people, the North, that kind of thing. So I wanted to put in a few thematic courses,” she says.

One course she developed was on Indigenous health, because when she arrived at the university in 2008, the death of Brian Sinclair – an Indigenous man found dead after waiting hours in Health Sciences Centre’s emergency room – had just happened.

She also developed a course on the history of residential schools, because she says she thought it was important to have education initiatives mentioned in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission present in post-secondary education, as well as other levels.

Most recently, McCallum was awarded the Indigenous Research Scholar Award, which she says is an award that recognizes Indigenous scholars.  The award was implemented over the summer.

McCallum has a few plans on how to use the money from the award.

“There’s a project that I’m working on with a couple of other Indigenous historians from Ontario and Saskatchewan … We decided to come together and create a website that’s about Indigenous history and by Indigenous historians,” she says.  “We’re going to try to focus on the work of Indigenous people and their readings of history.”

She’s also working with Susan Hill, a historian from the University of Toronto. They’re putting together a book that’s an edited collection of Indigenous women’s history.

“It’s one of those things where we both really want this to happen but neither of us have the time to do it, and so this kind of award is like, it’s just a godsend.” McCallum says.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? One, I always admire people who have a photographic memory. I would love to have that. And (two), I would love to talk to people who lived in the past and figure out what they were doing, because they did some strange things sometimes, and I don’t understand why!

What’s your favourite thing about yourself? I grew up in Ontario and went to school in Ontario. The thing about doing that is the expectation is when you’re going to do a PhD, you stay in Ontario.  So when I came to the decision that I was going to move here, a lot of people were like what are you doing? You’re going to feel so isolated … It was exactly the right thing to do. For what I study, this is really the place to be, but it was just a really big leap for me to be able to do this. It’s that independence to make a really hard decision and stick with it enough to benefit from it.

Published in Volume 72, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 26, 2017)

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