Laura Forsythe

September 12, 2023

Scholar brings Indigenous approach to education

Dr. Laura Forsythe has completed four degrees over her academic career in hopes of providing a Métis-focused lens to our education systems.

Dr. Laura Forsythe has always been drawn to the world of education. She began her journey in academia in 2011, and since then, she has completed a BA in First Nations Studies with a minor in history, a BEd specializing in Indigenous Perspectives in Education, and a post-baccalaureate in Early Learning from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

Following her post-bacc, Forsythe returned to Manitoba to continue her education in the University of Manitoba's then-Native Studies master's program. The Red River Métis graduate has now received her fourth degree this year, completing her PhD from the University of Manitoba's Indigenous Studies department, specializing in Indigenous Education. She is currently working as an associate professor for the University of Winnipeg in the department of education.

"There's a moment at graduation where you're standing in your robes, you have on your cap, and everyone is standing there in anticipation of walking through the doors. And as you walk through and you hear the music, you become absolutely overjoyed in every cell of your body," said Forsythe. "It's like an overwhelm of happiness that you have made it to this point, that this is really happening, and you walk out, and all the families are there, and you look for your family in the stands and it is an incredible feeling."

Forsythe always envisioned herself donning traditional beadwork at her convocation ceremony. With the help of her mother, this dream was brought to fruition this past June.

"Because I'm an academic, I don't just wear it one time. I'll get to wear that robe every convocation for the rest of my career in academia. So, my mother will always be with me, and I'll always be in that moment asserting that we are in the space," she said.

By wearing traditional beadwork to her convocation, she was able to embody her Red River Métis identity, while fostering connections with other Indigenous graduates.

"I was looking out at those who are graduating with their master's and those who are graduating with their undergraduate degrees," said Forsythe. "I knew that they were Indigenous, and they knew that I was Indigenous. And in that, that's a beautiful feeling. I mean, it (was) just a beautiful moment in a snapshot in time."

Wearing traditional beadwork during the U of M's graduation also served as an homage to the challenges that many Indigenous individuals have faced while navigating the education system, while also displaying the resilience and determination of her ancestors.

"This work was not easy, right? And there were challenges and obstacles and barriers, all three of those things, throughout every one of those degrees. And to get to a place where I am on the platform with all the others who have their doctorates - I couldn't have done it without them," she said. "Without their resilience, without their perseverance. It's indescribable really, what it feels like to be having them with me through my mother's beading."

Taking an Indigenous approach to education

Forsythe is a proud Michif educator and descendant of the Huppe, Morin, Berard, and Ward families.

Prior to her post-secondary education, Forsythe's original goal was to become a teacher. In her pursuit of academia, she recognized the need for Indigenous administrators and educators in all facets of the education system.

"I realized throughout my PhD that I wanted to know more about how we're experiencing the academy. We want Métis people to be doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, social workers, and teachers, so I wanted to do a deeper dive into what that experience was for them by using shining examples within our Nation," she said.

Métis students represent 60 per cent of Indigenous students at the University of Manitoba, a statistic that further encouraged Forsythe to advocate for proper Michif representation in her post-secondary institution. This belief led to her position as Métis Inclusion Coordinator from 2017 to 2022, which provided the institute with Métis perspectives to incorporate into their learning environment.

"Our way of life has not been fully explored in K-12 or post-secondary (education), which has led to our erasure. And so, it's very important to me to just bring awareness of who we are and how we see the world, and that can be brought into classrooms in a good way," she said.

By seeking the counsel of fellow Indigenous female scholars, Forsythe was able to gain insight into a range of perspectives and experiences.

"I talked to the aunties and the grandmothers about their experiences, why they came to school, their experiences in the academy, and their experiences becoming whatever they were. And they weren't all professors," she said. "Some of them were artists, some of them were plumbers, there was an array of different folks that I spoke with. But along that entire journey, I recognized we needed folks who were going to help teachers understand the importance of talking about us."

The knowledge gained from these encounters highlighted the significance of incorporating Métis perspectives and experiences in our education systems.

"I now teach teachers to teach about us and to include us, and to think about us when they're creating their curriculum and not make things First Nation-centric. So, it's really a beautiful place to be in work," she said.

With representation being a driving force of Forsythe's academic pursuits, the scholar has had opportunities to work with other Indigenous women in hopes to feature their works in academia.

"I've really tried to, throughout the privilege I now house and have, lift up the voices of Métis women in any way possible," she said.

When choosing her dissertation topic, Forsythe noticed an apparent absence of recognition given to Indigenous women in academic discourse. She said the valuable role played by these women and the knowledge they held, which has been responsible for the preservation and conveyance of their community's narratives, as well as their tireless efforts towards reclaiming their rightful place within academia, deserved greater acknowledgement and attention.

"It really pushed me to think about Métis women and our role both in the Nation and the academy," she said.

Her research project with the Infinity Women Secretariat and law professor Brenda Gunn explores Red River Métis women's contributions to the Nation - past, present, and future.

Forsythe uses her position in academia to shine a light on the remarkable contributions of Indigenous women scholars and the valuable perspectives they bring to the academy.

A noteworthy achievement of Forsythe's surrounds her scholarly publications, which have amplified the perspectives of numerous scholars.

"We've been able to give a home for work that might not otherwise have had a place, and from doing that work and how academia works, the more publications you get, the more opportunities you have for employment. So, really, there's a big ripple effect of being able to do this work and pull together the voices," she said.

Forsythe and other academics will be releasing a book, Around the Kitchen Table, which highlights a collection of Métis women's work. Over the course of 22 chapters, readers will be able to learn about traditional ways of knowing, being, and seeing from a Red River Métis perspective.

The future of Red River Métis education

On a larger scale, Forsythe has spent much of her career in academia focused on meeting the needs of current and future Red River Métis Citizens. She is currently the chairperson of the MMF Bison Local.

"The Bison Local started in 2018. We were put in place to create opportunities culturally, linguistically, politically, and academically for our membership, and we continue to do that to this day," she said.

The Local dedicates their time to fostering relationships with nature and the Red River so Citizens can have a deeper connection with the Red River Métis Homeland.

"We spend nights on the water. We try to reclaim and reconnect to the Red River, and it is the rivers of our ancestors, so we try to get as many Citizens out on the water as we can," she said.

Forsythe spent the summer participating in a variety of activities with fellow Bison Local members that encouraged Citizens to reconnect with skills they may have lost, including fishing, canning, and connecting with the land through nature walks.

"I think overall we still are living up to that mandate where we're trying to embrace our ways of knowing and being while also inviting others to reconnect if they've lost that connection," said the educator.

Understanding how connection is key, Forsythe provides insight to prospective Red River Métis post-secondary students, highlighting the significance of tapping into community-centric resources.

"We need to recognize that there are people in the institution that are there that will help us every step of the way. We just have to go to the Indigenous centre and say, 'I need help,' and that's really difficult to do the first time," she said. "But it becomes easier over time until you create a community within the support system of the Indigenous Student Centres."

Emphasizing the value of fostering relationships throughout one's academic journey, Forsythe has established longstanding connections that she will continue to nurture throughout her professional endeavours.

"Go to orientation day, meet all the people who are employed to help you survive the academy," she said. "I developed relationships with other students who also went to orientation, because they are going to be keen students who want to create a community on campus. Those are the folks you need to meet."

Since completing her PhD, Forsythe has several goals she hopes to achieve.

"My next goals in the very near future are to launch a Métis journal, to host a Métis research symposium for research methodologies, to create Métis education K-12 textbooks, and to eventually become a CRC (Canada Research Chair) in Métis education," she said.


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