Angelina McLeod’s research at the Department of Native Studies is one of many ways that this activist, director and filmmaker is connecting with her culture and community. Her thesis research focuses on sacred Anishinaabeg birch scrolls that have been passed down through her family for generations. 

Researcher, activist, writer, filmmaker, documentary subject, NSGSA Female Co-President, former Indigenous Scholar-in-Residence at the Manitoba Museum, mother and graduate student: Angelina McLeod’s list of titles go on and on.  She is currently a University of Manitoba graduate student working on her thesis under the supervision of Dr. Niigaanwewidam Sinclair. Angelina is studying sacred Midewiwin birch bark scrolls which have been passed down through her family for generations.

The birch bark scrolls contain the Anishinaabeg creation story, migration charts and the teachings of the Midewiwin: an ancient society of medicine women and men, healers, and warriors. Angelina’s granduncle James Redsky, an Indigenous scholar, WWI veteran and prominent member of the Midewiwin, interpreted the scrolls before passing them to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary for preservation.

In the 1970s, a non-Indigenous researcher published The Sacred Scrolls of the Southern Ojibway, which contradicted Redsky’s interpretations of the scrolls. As a first-level member of the Midewiwin, Angelina’s thesis be the first scholarly research to analyze the scrolls from an Indigenous perspective.

After she finishes her research, Angelina hopes to revive the culture described in the scrolls “by teaching others about it.” She wants to take stories from the scrolls and turn them into bilingual graphic novels to help Indigenous youth learn to read Anishinaabemowin, and to learn about Anishinaabeg culture. Throughout her experience as a Native Studies undergrad, the experience helped Angelina connect with her cultural identity, which motivated her to keep focused on her studies and she hopes to help others do the same with her work.

Angelina comes from Shoal Lake 40, an isolated Anishinaabeg community on the Manitoba-Ontario border accessible only by barge and ice road. The community has infamously been under a boil-water advisory for decades, despite being the source of Winnipeg’s drinking water. Angelina was a prominent voice in the fight to build an all-season road for her community and to raise awareness on the 21-year boil water advisory, and because of activist efforts by her and the community and Winnipeg allies, construction of the road is finally underway.

Despite the obstacles that came between Angelina and her education (the culture shock of moving away from her community at fourteen to attend high school in Kenora; the loss of her sister), she has found inspiration by following in her family’s footsteps. During a particularly difficult time in her studies, Dr. Sinclair showed her a book by her granduncle, Great Leader of the Ojibway: Mis-quona-queb, that she never knew existed.

Angelina has a staggering amount of projects on her plate for a graduate student: Her documentary series about Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, Freedom Road, is being released by the Canadian Film Board this coming spring; she just finished filming When the Children Left, a documentary about her life leaving the community for high school and her experience culture shock, and the death of her sister who went missing after leaving the community for high school; she is a member of the First Nation Indigenous Warriors, a group that confronts racism, violence, and protects the Indigenous community in Winnipeg; she just finished a term as Indigenous-Scholar-in-Residence at the Manitoba Museum; and she is currently collaborating with Jessica Kornwall on a photo-archival project on Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to be showcased next year. She is active on campus as well, as the Female Co-president of the Native Graduate Students’ Association.

In the next few months, Angelina will travel to Calgary to study her family’s birch bark scrolls at the Glenbow Museum. She looks forward to seeing the scrolls in person for the first time, and to sharing their knowledge with a new generation of Indigenous leaders.

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