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The narrative on violence: Dr. Megan Scribe wins OISE award for best doctoral thesis 

May 7, 2021

By Perry King


Photo by Barbara Lukasz


The path leading to Dr. Megan Scribe’s award-winning doctoral thesis began with a reading of an RCMP report about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

“I found they were describing the experiences of girls while labeling these individuals as women,” said Dr. Scribe, who was initially researching everyday forms of gender-based violence in the lives of Indigenous women and girls. “What I noticed happening was that Indigenous girls were being assigned the responsibilities of an adult, without any of the privileges of this life stage.” 

Dr. Scribe realized that what was lost in this narrative of missing and murdered Indigenous women was that a lot of these “women” are girls who are supposed to be in somebody's care – whether that be their parents or a guardian, and in many cases the state. More so, the state failed its responsibilities. 

What these official narratives were suggesting, Scribe argues, is that the girls themselves are responsible. “I wanted to flip the narrative,” she says, “and expose the fact that Canada is taking a lot of Indigenous girls into custody – through the child welfare system, educational boarding arrangements, and carceral systems. And a lot of girls die while in those spaces.”

What emerged from her doctoral research is a thesis, titled “Indigenous Girlhood: Narratives of Colonial Care in Literature and Law,” that has been recognized by OISE with the Leithwood Award for Outstanding Thesis of the Year.

The award is presented to a recipient in recognition of exceptional, cutting-edge research conducted in the last phase of their work. Established in 2003, the award is named in honour of Dr. Kenneth Leithwood, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education and a former Associate Dean, Research. Dr. Scribe will be recognized at OISE’s virtual award ceremony on Apr. 7.

“I just really wanted to unpack [the narrative] and talk about not only the violence, but the story that gets told about the violence,” says Dr. Scribe, who is now a part of Ryerson University’s faculty.

Dr. Scribe did just that in two parts. In the first part, Scribe’s thesis looks at official stories. Here, she seeks to teach the reader how to read official documents in a critical, anti-colonial way and to draw out the Indigenous girl – “so that we're not accepting everything we're reading at face value,” she says. 

The second part of the thesis looks at the stories that are told by Indigenous women and girls. 

One of the calls to action Scribe hopes to draw out from this work is to turn to Indigenous systems of governance, “our own legal systems and our own social systems to address this violence,” she says. 

This approach she argues is more appropriate than seeking reform from colonial levels of government. “I think reform in white settler societies like Canada further solidifies these colonial systems. It refines them and makes it more insidious and difficult to point out,” she adds. 

Scribe’s work isn't looking to reform the existing system. It looks at different Indigenous systems of law and governance that already exist and works to build those up. “How can we draw those out as a way of addressing this violence, not only for Indigenous girls, but Indigenous families and their communities?” she says, posing a larger question for others to explore.

The award celebrates research excellence, innovation in conceptualization, design and execution and Scribe’s dissertation “exceeds all of these criteria,” says her doctoral supervisor, Dr. Eve Tuck.

“Dr. Scribe’s dissertation is remarkable for its scope and rigor, for its elegant theorizing, and attention to multiple archives and their gaps,” says Tuck, an Associate Professor in OISE’s department of social justice education.

Tuck has been excitedly telling others about Scribe’s work since meeting her in 2015 and urged Scribe to apply for this Leithwood award.

“Dr. Scribe’s dissertation brings together critical works in Indigenous legal and literary studies to consider routes to justice for murdered and missing Indigenous girls, women, and two-spirit people that move beyond determining individual culpability, toward understanding violence against girls as part of Canada’s attempts to continue to dispossess Indigenous communities of land and life,” says Tuck, who is thrilled to see Scribe receive a Leithwood.

“I am especially impressed by the contributions her work will make with regard to the ethical considerations of re-telling stories of harm and violence, in order to achieve a sometimes-unguaranteed form of justice, in the tradition of work by Saidiya Hartman and Audra Simpson.”

It is a piece that Tuck helped Scribe work on, diligently, for a while. It is her dynamic with Tuck that made Scribe a more conscientious academic. “Before I started working with my supervisor, I didn't necessarily have the ethics that I do now. And because I met Dr. Tuck, I developed a strong set of Indigenous feminist ethics,” she says. “If I hadn't worked with her, this project would have looked a lot different.