Jodi Beniuk and Michelle Moreno, National Essay Winners

Jodi Beniuk, Annalee Lepp, Michelle MorenoJodi Beniuk (L) and Michelle Moreno (R) with Dr. Annalee Lepp

Update: Jodi Beniuk was also awarded the Tsi'tsu'wu'tul Award at UVic's Indigenous Recognition Ceremony in June. Double congratulations, Jodi!

UVic women's studies major students Jodi Beniuk and Michelle Moreno are first and second place winners of the 2014 national Undergraduate Essay Prize awarded by the Women's and Gender Studies et Recherches Féministes (WGSRF) association. The awards ceremony was held at Brock University in St. Catherine's, Ontario during Congress, late May 2014.

Jodi's first place essay was described by the selection committee as follows:

"Beautifully written, theoretically dense, and expertly structured, ‘All My Relations: Reclaiming the Stories of our Indigenous Grandmothers’ is both an essay and a creative act. It is a thorough and detailed analysis of the ways ‘Indigenous women's experiences have been discredited by Western forms of knowledge production, such as those ways of being and knowing often dominant in academic institutions.’ It is also a record of the author’s work to reinsert those experiences, by interviewing her grandmother (her Grambear) about her family’s history, and by creating a beautiful handcrafted book of Grambear’s stories, the creation of which the author carefully outlines (describing, for instance, the process of tanning the leather cover and the importance of the book’s beadwork). This book, photos of which are included with the essay, is designed to be ‘passed down to future generations’ and to highlight three key themes in Grambear’s stories that are significant to the author and of vital importance to Métis women today: violence towards Indigenous women; sharing knowledges; and the importance of community and family. In placing these three themes at the centre of her analysis, and in using Grambear’s voice, her own voice, and the voices of key Indigenous and Métis scholars in order to analyze these themes, the author directly challenges the exclusion of Indigenous women from Western knowledge production by refusing to leave Indigenous and Métis women’s lived experiences of state violence, community and family, or knowledge-making, on the periphery. For instance, the author is able to move back and forth from Grambear’s voice to an urgent analysis of violence against Indigenous women across Canada, in a way that is sophisticated, nuanced, and conceptually rich, and which never loses sight of the essay’s goal to prioritize Indigenous and Métis women’s lived realities as a means of decolonization."

Michelle was the co-winner of the second place prize, and the selection committee made these comments on her essay and accompanying zine:

"’In Search of Home’ is a personally rich project. As the author says, she ‘has been searching for a piece of me in university scholarship that I have been unable to find,’ as ‘a queer, mixed-race woman of colour.’ She continues her search through this project.
The essay is accompanied by a ‘graphic narrative zine’ which chronicles the author’s findings as she sought to explore her family’s diasporic history, and her active efforts to engage with her grandmother to learn about her own past. The focus on this particular relationship, with the author’s accompanying narrative and drawings, brings a clarity of voice that grounds the work and keeps it connected with the material realities of the author’s search for home.
This project goes far beyond simple family history. For the author, her own experience of diaspora is closely linked to her contemporary experiences, in which 'my skin marks my body as Other to the colonial project.'  Woven throughout the project is a strong sense of the way that global forces have shaped her family and her sense of self."

Congratulations to both Jodi and Michelle!