HSD Legacy series launches with Jeannine Carriere

Jeannine Carriere

Welcome to a new series that celebrates the legacy of the Faculty of Human and Social Development (HSD) at UVic. In coming months, we will be featuring interviews and stories with past and present faculty members, instructors, students, and staff, exploring the achievements and evolution of our faculty from its inception to present day.

Our first interview is with Professor Jeannine Carriere, who retires from UVic at the end of the year after nearly 20 years’ teaching in the School of Social Work’s Indigenous specialization. A Métis woman originally from the Red River area of Manitoba, Carriere has played a pivotal role in helping keep Indigenous children in their families and community and in educating the next generation of Indigenous social workers. Carriere has strengthened Métis people’s presence in the curriculum and beyond the classroom, helping make HSD—and UVic—a more welcoming and safe space for Métis students, faculty and staff.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Jeannine. You have had a long career in social work. Can you tell us what initially drew you to the field?  

I've aways had that personal connection to child welfare because of my own history as a Sixties Scoop adoptee. I was adopted into a French Canadian family at birth. I met my birth family when I was 12; one of my sisters came to find me. That was a shock—I didn’t know I had a birth family. I had a rough time for a while. I dropped out of school, had my first child at 17.

In my birth family I am the youngest of 12 and my brothers and sisters went into the child welfare system with the exception of the eldest who had to go on their own at that time because they were over 16.  It was not a great experience for them. Because of that, I've wanted to make a difference in Indigenous child welfare circles and developed my skills of advocacy for the folks I worked with.  

How did you reconnect with your heritage? 

I was living in Manitoba, where I grew up, in the area of the Red River referred to as the Metis homeland. I saw an ad in paper for a French translator for the Manitoba Métis Federation. I had gone back to high school by then and got my GED. That job opened up a whole new world for me. I became very immersed in Métis politics and history and my own history and identity. It was powerful. Then I moved to Alberta in 1980 and worked for the Métis Nation of Alberta. I spent many years there.  

Can you tell us more about your career as a social worker? 

In my early post-secondary education, I was doing a BA, and I spoke to a career counsellor, who suggested I go into social work. The last thing I wanted was to be was a social worker. I remember social workers when I was a kid. My parents were foster parents. I didn’t know the difference then between adoption and fostering, and when they came to move my fostered siblings, I thought it was my turn next. Being a child remover was not exciting to me. As life has it, that turned on me and I became a social worker.

My specialization was Indigenous child welfare. I worked in what we called the frontline of child welfare with Indigenous children and families. I did that for a while and went into management and ran a foster care agency. Then I became associate director for Indigenous child welfare for the provincial government in Alberta. I was reporting to the deputy minister and was overseeing Indigenous programming in the province, working with First Nations and Métis leadership. I maintain very close ties to Alberta as result of that. 

At the same time, I had completed my MSW and I was looking at starting a PhD. Teaching seemed like a natural step. I started teaching in 1995 at Grant MacEwan College (now university) and started PhD studies. I was recruited by the University of Calgary for their access program, which offered social work BSW education to northern, remote and Indigenous communities. I taught for U of C from 1999 onward until I came to UVic. 

How did you end up joining UVic? 

I came for a conference in Victoria in February. I didn’t know a soul in Victoria except my MSW supervisor. I did my master’s at UBC but my supervisor lived in Victoria. She came to pick me up to go for coffee. She pulled up in a sports car with the top down, wearing a t-shirt, looking straight out of a movie. I’d come from Edmonton in mid-February. I said, ‘I want your life.’ I went back to Alberta and a week or two later, she sent me a posting for an assistant professor of social work position in the Indigenous stream. It was serendipitous. Dr. Leslie Brown [director of the School of Social Work at the time] called a week after my interview and made an offer. 

Can you tell us about your role in developing the Master of Social Work Indigenous stream?

After I arrived, the Master of Social Work Indigenous Stream (MSWI) was launched. I was able to contribute to that, developing the courses, working with Jacquie Green and Robina Thomas. In our first cohort, it was so much fun to have students come from all over Canada, predominately Indigenous students and some settler students  with close ties to Indigenous communities. That was the beginning of our master’s program—we’ve had huge success over the years. It’s exciting to see the growth of the MSWI. Over the years, I've also chaired the Indigenous Circle that oversees the Indigenous specializations.

What are your most proud contributions as a Métis scholar?  

In terms of my own contributions as a scholar, before I came to UVic, there was little discussion or content in the School of Social Work about Métis people. That's probably been my most joyful and painful contribution to the curriculum. My colleague Cathy Richardson, when she was at UVic, and I wrote, Calling Our Families Home, the first book ever written in Canada describing the Métis child welfare experience. Jacquie Green, who was director of Social Work at the time, made it a point to support my work in that area.  

I think the whole university started to pay a little more attention to matters related to Métis students and faculty. It wasn’t long after that I started noticing more Métis faculty, Métis gatherings, Métis Elders at First Peoples House. The landscape started to change and be a safer place for Métis people. I made a film, Lii Michif Niiyanaan: We Are Métis, with Christine Welsh (a retired Gender Studies professor) that’s being used in various formats in classrooms and curriculum.  

To bring a Métis presence to a university on the coast was not an easy thing. That’s probably what I'm most proud of. I'm proud of the work I've done in Indigenous child welfare as well; however I think that myself, Christine Welsh, my colleague Cathy Richardson made our mark to advance Metis knowledge and presence at UVic.