SFU English Department alumnus Alix Shield earns more kudos

January 22, 2021
Working with SFU’s First Nations Studies prepared Alix Shield for the work with “Halfbreed” by requiring her to integrate Indigenous ethics and protocols into literary studies, something scholars are not often trained to do.

Alix Shield, a 2020 SFU PhD alumnus whose doctoral research sent shockwaves through Canada’s literary community, has won an Emerging Open Scholarship Award from the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute.

During her doctoral studies in the Department of English, Shield focused on Indigenous literature. She won the open scholarship for her contributions to The People and the Text (TPatT) research collective—an open-access database of Indigenous writing in northern North America, some of which has never been published. TPatT is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  

Shield earned national recognition in 2018 after writing about her discovery of two unpublished manuscript pages from the 1973 book Halfbreed, an autobiography about author Maria Campbell’s experiences as a Métis woman in Canada. Shield found the pages, emblazoned with giant red X’s, during her 2017 research in publisher McClelland and Stewart’s archives at McMaster University. The pages detailed how RCMP officers sexually assaulted Campbell when she was a teenager. Editors had removed the pages, without Campbell’s permission, over concerns about libel, and of the RCMP’s ability to block Halfbreed’s distribution.

At the time, Halfbreed represented a milestone as one of the first Indigenous autobiographies published in Canada by a Métis writer.

Shield co-authored a scholarly article about her extraordinary find with SFU English and Indigenous Studies professor and TPatT principal investigator, Deanna Reder. It was published in the journal Canadian Literature.  

Entitled "I write this for all of you": Recovering the Unpublished RCMP "Incident" in Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed (1973), the article sent shockwaves through the Canadian literary community.

In 2019, Halfbreed was re-released, complete with the missing pages Shield had discovered. She says it was surreal to be acknowledged in the new edition.

“Maria Campbell has been such an important figure for so many years and Halfbreed has been continuously taught at universities and colleges,” she says. “Being able to see the positive impacts of research on allowing her to re-publish this text the way she had intended is such a moment of celebration for Indigenous women’s writing in Canada.”

In 2020, Shield successfully defended her thesis, Kwaskastahsowin ("Put things to right"): Case Studies in Twentieth-Century Indigenous Women's Writing, Editing, and Publishing in Canada. Campbell defined the Cree term kwaskastahsowin as “conciliation” or to “put things to right”.

The open scholarship award allows Shield to attend the annual Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria.