Communications grad student balances research with First Nations advocacy work

Andrea Landry’s tiny, remote aboriginal community in Northern Ontario isn’t immune to the challenges that plague so many similar places, but regardless of the problems and the external perceptions of her people, she’s still filled with a great sense of optimism for their future.

“When people come to our communities, they see high levels of poverty, substance abuse and suicide, but they don’t see how connected we are to our culture,” says the graduate student from Pays-Plat Ontario, a First Nations community of about 60 people located three hours east of Thunder Bay.

“Even when I go back now, just being connected to my community and seeing the cultures and traditions, and how alive they are within my community, it’s quite substantial to who we are as indigenous peoples,” she says. “We’re rich in culture, but poor in the eyes of western society. We know our traditions and we know our culture, and we practice it every day. We need to go back to our traditional ways.”

It’s that connectedness to tradition, and her hope for the future, which governs both her research and the advocacy work that fills up the rest of her extremely busy schedule. A master’s student in Communications and Social Justice, she’s working on a thesis based on a critical discourse analysis of Bill C-45, the omnibus bill which spawned the Idle No More movement.

“You basically deconstruct it,” she said of her work, which includes looking through amendments to specific acts included in the bill for instances where the federal government failed to sufficiently consult with indigenous people directly impacted by those changes.

“I’m looking at the areas where they could have, and should have, consulted with us better,” she said. “Their idea of consultation is speaking with one chief, when there are more than 600 chiefs across Canada.”

In between her grad school work, she maintains an intense travel schedule, which has included a private meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meetings in New York with the United Nations’ Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, and a recent trip to New Zealand where she led Idle No More teach-ins with members of the Maori community. She has participated in 10 Idle No More protests and helped organize a handful of them, and sits on an executive committee of the National Association of Friendship Centres. She’ll soon travel to Ottawa for meetings with Amnesty International, and has also applied for a fellowship at the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

“It’s been pretty busy, but it’s really making the semester fly by,” said Landry, who earned an undergraduate degree in child youth care and social work from Vancouver Island University.

Landry will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.