Alumna Dr. Julie Pelletier: Working with Indigenous Communities

Dr. Julie Pelletier

Dr. Julie Pelletier

Dr. Julie Pelletier’s planned to specialize in medical anthropology when she arrived at MSU. However, her academic career took a different direction when she was awarded doctoral research funding by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians to conduct a project on indigenous identity. She completed the PhD program in 2002, after being hired into a tenure track position in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota – Morris (UMM). UMM had actually been an Indian residential school in the late 1800s. To counter this history, Dr. Pelletier faculty in English and a senior professor in History to create a major and a minor in American Indian Studies. The creation and administration of an American Indian Studies program provided Dr. Pelletier with valuable experience in curriculum evaluation, resource allocation, program planning, and other challenges related to an interdisciplinary program.

After earning tenure and promotion to associate professor at UMM, Julie took a position, as the director of Aboriginal Governance Program, at the University of Winnipeg. She was the first person hired into the program without a law, political science, or Canadian Aboriginal studies background. With the support of her faculty, Dr. Pelletier launched a successful effort to promote the program to full department status; its name was changed to the Department of Indigenous Studies, and Dr. Pelletier’s title was changed from Director to Chair. During Dr. Pelletier’s five years as Chair, the department has hired two permanent faculty members, raising the total to five, and has developed and added almost twenty courses to the curriculum.

During Dr. Pelletier’s first year at UW, she was also appointed as the founding director of a new applied master’s program, a role she held for eighteen months. The Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) degree is offered by an international consortium of universities, with seed funding provided by the MacArthur Foundation. UW is one of two Canadian universities offering the MDP degree and the only one in the world with an indigenous focus. As Director of the MDP, Dr. Pelletier Developed extensive international contacts. In 2004, she attended the first United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva. She has established several Memorandums of Understanding for UW with colleges and universities domestically and abroad that have a commitment to indigenizing the academy. She is proud to note that undergraduate students in her department know more about indigenous peoples in Canada and the world than most people, academics and policy-makers included.

Dr. Pelletier’s interest in American Indian casinos, which began in during her doctoral fieldwork, has continued, and she is currently co-editing a book on representations related to casinos and gaming in Canada and the U.S. with Dr. Becca Gercken, a faculty member in English at UMM. The contributors come from both Canada and the U.S. and range from the social sciences to the humanities. Michigan State University Press is the publisher, and the press’s “sister” relationship with a Canadian academic press means that the book will be easily available in both countries. Julie has also conducted fieldwork in New Zealand/Aotearoa, with a focus on indigenizing and decolonizing research methods and ethics. While her heavy administrative duties have constrained her research agenda, Julie is active in professional organizations, regularly presents at conferences, and is committed to mentoring junior scholars. Her five year term as Department Chair ends soon and she will enjoy a year of reintegration leave, intended to allow former chairs to rest and recharge. During this leave, Dr. Pelletier will be a visiting professor at several American universities and she is considering a trip to Finland, Sweden, and Norway to build contacts with the indigenous Sami people and she has been invited to New Zealand/Aotearoa and the Philippines.

This article is in the Department of Anthropology’s Spring 2015 Newsletter, see the entire newsletter here.