Christine Welsh Scholarship Supports Indigenous Student Activism and Engagement

by Philip Cox

Sage Lacerte (BA '20) marches for the Moose Hide Campaign

Sage Lacerte marches with the Moose Hide Campaign and supporters. Photo Credit: Moose Hide Campaign.

When recent Gender Studies graduate Sage Lacerte speaks, she chooses her words with great care. 

“There's an ailment in our country, which is violence and oppression. And the healing medicine of that is talking about it with each other, being in relationships with each other and showing each other love,” she says.

As the National Youth Ambassador for the Moose Hide Campaign, a grassroots movement started by her father and sister in 2011 to engage men and boys across Canada to stand up against violence towards women and children, Lacerte has carried this message across the country and back again, addressing audiences large and small. 

Over the last several years, for instance, she has spoken in Manitoba following the murder of Tina Fontaine, presented before political organizations such as the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and traveled to Ottawa to lobby the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, on Parliament Hill. 

“This work requires a lot of emotional labour,” Lacerte notes, “so I’m grateful to the Gender Studies and Indigenous Studies departments at UVic, because they teach you how to manage emotional labour, how to engage ethically with survivors and community members, and how to talk about violence in a way that is accessible. This empowered me. It made me feel like I could actually use my knowledge for good.”

Among her influences at the university, which include Gender Studies professor waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy (“I’ve been known to reference her doctoral work during public speeches,” Sage laughs), Lacerte identifies Métis Canadian filmmaker and Associate Professor Emerita Christine Welsh as one mentor she found particularly inspirational (“I think of her as an auntie - as somebody that I look to for teachings”).

Watch: Lacerte shares one of the lessons she learned from Welsh

Hired in 1996, Welsh became the first Indigenous instructor at UVic’s Faculty of Humanities when she joined the department of Gender Studies (then known as Women’s Studies). Already a renowned filmmaker at that time, she began designing and teaching courses on Indigenous women and cinema while continuing to produce now-classic films such as Finding Dawn (2006), a documentary on missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada that won a Gold Audience Award at that year’s Amnesty International Film Festival. 

Most recently, Welsh worked with UVic historian Elizabeth Vibert to direct and produce The Thinking Garden (2017), a documentary about the resilience of three generations of older women in a South African village who came together to achieve a measure of food security in the face of severe drought, climate change, and structural poverty. Currently, she is collaborating with Janine Carriere and Trish Pal in Social Work on Lii Michif Niyannan (“We Are Métis”), a documentary film about Métis identity. In addition to winning numerous regional, national and international awards over the years, Welsh’s body of work was honoured with the Women in Film and Television Vancouver Artistic Achievement Award in 2009.

Although Welsh had retired before Lacerte started her degree, Lacerte knew of the documentarian from some of her locally produced works, such as The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters (2000). The two later met at community gatherings such as those hosted in the First Peoples House, where Welsh has met with students as a Métis Elder in Residence for several years.

Jeannine Carriere (Social Work) and Christine Welsh (Gender Studies) standing inside of the First Peoples House. Photo Credit: UVic Photo Services.

Left to right: Jeannine Carriere (Social Work) and Christine Welsh (Gender Studies) standing inside of the First Peoples House. Photo Credit: UVic Photo Services.

“There’s an important linkage between Christine Welsh, my family, and our work with the Moose Hide Campaign,” Lacerte points out. “All of Christine’s films include themes of anti-violence and the question of what it would look to live a life free of violence. They gave me more clarity in my goal with the campaign to end violence towards women and children in Canada.”

Imagine Lacerte’s surprise, then, when she received the Christine Welsh Scholarship for Indigenous Gender Studies Students in the third year of her degree. Established in 2016 on the occasion of her retirement, the scholarship enshrines Welsh’s legacy as a filmmaker, teacher, mentor and role model, and honours her exceptional contributions to Women’s/Gender Studies, the University, and Indigenous students, colleagues and communities.

Awarded to an academically outstanding Indigenous undergraduate Gender Studies student in their upper-years of study, Lacerte was one of the two students who were the first to receive this award, along with alumna Simone Blais (BA ’20). A Métis filmmaker herself, Blais graduated in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in Gender Studies and a minor in Indigenous Studies. While studying, she completed a documentary entitled Dance Like Everybody’s Watching, which focused on three Black dancers in Victoria and won the top prize of $50,000 from the Telus Storyhive competition. You can read her full profile here.

Simone Blais
Fellow Métis filmmaker and Christine Welsh Scholarship for Indigenous Gender Studies Students recipient Simone Blais (BA '20)

Scholarship has vital impact

According to Lacerte, the Christine Welsh Scholarship for Indigenous Gender Studies Students was particularly significant for the financial support it provided. “My experience is similar to many of my Indigenous peers,” she says. “My family wasn’t in a position to cover all the costs of my education, so I often struggled to make ends meet while focusing on my studies. I had to work really hard to receive as many awards and scholarships as I could.”

Among the awards that Lacerte did receive during her degree are a Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award (JCURA) for her research on Indigenous pedagogy at UVic and a Provost’s Advocacy and Activism Award for her anti-violence work and advocacy for the economic empowerment of women. The Christine Welsh Scholarship stands out for its advancement of the University’s commitment to removing historical and continued barriers that Indigenous peoples face in accessing and participating in postsecondary education.

“Both my parents went to residential school and church-run day school. They left the Lake Babine and Nadleh Whut`en First Nations in central BC and came to UVic because they saw opportunity here. As young Indigenous people in the 1980s, they didn’t have the same opportunity to receive financial support that I had during my undergrad,” Lacerte explains. “So being able to receive a scholarship specifically for Indigenous students in my field was just outstanding.”

Now that she’s graduated, Lacerte is paying this support forward with the Sage Initiative, an all- Indigenous womxn’s investment collective launching in 2021 that aims to revitalize the Indigenous economy in Canada by investing in Indigenous-owned social enterprise and building the financial literacy skills of participants through close mentorship.

“As the powerful stories and accomplishments of Sage Lacerte and Simone Blais illustrate, when barriers to university for Indigenous students are removed, the potential for great success is unlocked. We can think of no better way to honour and celebrate Christine Welsh’s extraordinary impact at UVic and beyond than endowing the scholarship established in her name, which would allow us to support Indigenous Studies Gender students in perpetuity.” 

- Associate Professor and Gender Studies Chair, Laura Parisi.