Student Start-Ups: Modern Métis Woman offers network for Métis-identifying women

Queen's alum's non-profit uses art and scholarships to create an inclusive online community

Carleigh Milburn has created an online space for Metis-identifying women with Modern Metis Woman.
Supplied by Carleigh Milburn

In what started as a journey to understand her own identity, Carleigh Milburn, ArtSci ’19, has created an inclusive community focused on unifying people striving for self-identification.

The result was her founding of Modern Métis Woman, a non-profit organization offering post-secondary scholarship opportunities, funded by Milburn herself, to Métis-identifying women and promoting those opportunities through art.

The online organization functions as a safe space for Indigenous women and members of the LGBTQ+ community to express their heritage and culture through expressive means like visual art, poems, and music.

Although its scholarship opportunities are only extended to women and LGBTQ+ community members who identify as Métis, artists of any gender and background are encouraged to submit art, with the hope that the content will connect with the empowerment of Métis women.

“As an organization, we have the ability to showcase brilliant Métis women who are making a difference within in their own society,” Milburn told The Journal in an interview. “I’ve also had the opportunity of winning over $31,000 in scholarships. So basically, I wanted to give back to the organization and back to the Métis community.”

Milburn recognized the need for an online presence like Modern Métis Woman through her own challenges identifying within the Métis community.

In 2015, Milburn found documentation indicating Métis heritage on her father’s side of the family. Since then, she has taken an interest in learning more about Métis culture and tradition, motivated in part by a desire to better recognize her own identity.

But as Milburn began to embrace her heritage, she was faced with disapproval from people who felt she was “too white” to be Métis. When she sought recognition from the government, she was put on a two-year waiting list for Indigenous status. She later discovered that her status application had been lost.

Despite identifying with her heritage and hoping to be a part of a Métis community, Milburn felt isolated.

“The more comfortable I got with who I am, the more frustrated I got with the lack of support from others,” she said. “So I wanted to extend my knowledge to those who had trouble identifying themselves within a community.”

In response to her own struggle, Milburn founded Modern Métis Woman in the hopes that it would provide people in similar situations with an accessible community where they could express their Métis or Indigenous heritage. In the eyes of Milburn and her organization, the modern Métis woman is any person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Indigenous peoples, and is of historic verifiable ancestry.

The art submitted to Modern Métis Woman by Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons is particularly important to Milburn’s vision of an inclusive community. She believes art not only functions as a way to encourage a Métis woman’s identity and resistance of colonial power, but also fosters allyship. 

“Aboriginal women challenge the colonial patriarchy again through their artwork, and that’s able to shift their power towards [broader public] awareness of Aboriginal peoples and the injustices they have faced in Canada,” Milburn said.

“Promotion of art is basically promotion of identity and this increases solidarity among Aboriginal women and, through education, increases knowledge in non-Aboriginal people.”

Although Modern Métis Woman is still relatively small, run almost entirely by Milburn herself, the founder is proud of the online community she’s fostered since the organization’s inception. Inspired to keep going by those she’s connected with through the platform, she hopes to expand the non-profit by building out its scholarship program, recruiting new team members, and introducing local events. 

Through Modern Métis Woman, Milburn has discovered the importance of pursuing what you believe is right, even if you might face backlash.  

“You’ll always get [negative comments] no matter what you do—even if you think you’re doing the best for your community,” Milburn said. “If you’re giving all of yourself, there is still going to be that negativity somewhere. Someone’s going to want to pick on that.”

“But I just say ignore them, because all the love and the support is greater than the hate. You learn that as you go.”

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