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Danielle Lussier spent years weaving the words together to earn her JD, but her hands perhaps sent the most powerful message in defending her 500-page thesis at the University of Ottawa.
In what is believed to be a first in Canada, Lussier’s thesis involved assembling a Métis honor shawl with images of berries, a bird, and a herd of bison.The traditional double-sided garment for women features 24k gold-plated pearls depicting key events in Métis history. Each motif also has deep personal meaning for Lussier, who grew up in Winnipeg and learned to bead as an adult.
For example, each bison represents a member of its family.
“The matriarch is the big bison ‘mom’ standing behind the children,” said Lussier, a Métis woman from Treaty 1 territory in Manitoba’s Red River Valley.
“She has prairie law on her back, which was a Métis legal system that governed buffalo hunting and community structures. “
Lussier, who now wears her shawl of honor to encourage questions, sees links between beading and the law she studied to earn her doctorate.
The beads carried the law on Turtle Island when used to “root, codify and share the law” even before the first interactions between indigenous peoples and settlers, she said.
Wampum belts, which have traditionally been used to call meetings and elections, “also allowed law and commitments to be shared among members of the community.”
“The wampum readers… were highly trained legal scholars who learned to interpret the pearls of the treaty,” she said in a CBC radio interview. Ottawa morning.
Written law vs. oral
Lussier is also the University of Ottawa’s first Indigenous Learners Advocate, a position created to support Indigenous students in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
One of the main points of interest in this work, and in its beadwork, was how European settlers prioritized the written word, while indigenous knowledge systems were devalued.
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