Métis scholar reflects on his lifelong career shaping the minds of students
Meet Métis scholar Dr. Fred Shore
Students, researchers and historians would be hard-pressed to dive into Métis history and not come across the work of Fred Shore. Whether in the classroom or through his published work such as Threads in the Sash: The Story of the Métis People, Shore has dedicated the majority of his life to educating thousands of students and readers about the origins, traditions, land claims and political systems of the Métis peoples.
Shore’s history at the University of Manitoba began as a master’s student, which led him to a brief stint as the head of the Native studies department in its formative years. He briefly explored other career paths, but in 2004, Shore enthusiastically returned to the department as a professor, and it is in this role that he will reluctantly see retirement.
Shore sat down with UM Today and reflected on his journey, including coming to the emotional realization the 2019-2020 academic year will be his last in the classroom.
Born to a family of educators
Shore was born into a Métis family in a poor neighbourhood of Montreal. His family members were educators and, although not common at the time, it was largely his patrilineal side that was active in primary classrooms. “I got the crap beat out of me because my grandfather was the principal of the school,” he recalled.
Despite coming from a family of educators, Shore said he did not do well in high school, aside from history classes. “I didn’t think that trigonometry was of all that use. Or algebra, or geometry,” he said. “But the history courses? I ate them up like you wouldn’t believe.”
Self-described as someone always in a hurry, Shore left home at 15 and by 20, saw his first taste of teaching in a primary school classroom. “Instead of going to teacher’s college, I went straight to the classroom,” he said. “But because I like to do things backwards, I went to teacher’s college after my first year of teaching.” He taught in Montreal and Toronto for roughly 15 years.
In 1978, Shore and his wife, Lucy, had children and made their way to Manitoba. Lucy worked at the University of Brandon and Shore got a contract working at the Manitoba Metis Federation as a housing officer. Once his contract ran out, Shore was unclear on what to do next. “One night as I was watching TV, Lucy suggested that I go back to school and get my degree,” he said. And he did just that.
After completing his undergrad at the University of Brandon, Shore decided to commute to Winnipeg to complete his master’s in history at UM. “I changed up my way of learning that time,” he said. “Instead of arguing with the prof, I decided to listen.”
After graduating, Shore found himself back in the classroom while considering his PhD. Despite the rarity of a non-tenured professor assuming the role, Shore also became the head of the Native studies department during this time.
Eventually, Shore took time away from the department and became the executive director of accessibility for visible minorities, persons with disabilities and Aboriginal peoples. “When you walk around campus and notice things like the push buttons on doors for wheelchairs, a lot of that came out of the work that I did,” he said.
Return to Native studies
In 2004, Shore returned to the department of Native studies and has been in the role ever since. “I came back to teaching full-time but when I turned 70, the university – in its infinite wisdom—told me I had to go down to half-time,” he laughed. He currently teaches one introductory course a semester. “It’s a hoot! It can be a lot of fun getting new students into Native studies.” He is also working on a manual for how to teach introductory courses to Native studies.
Shore undoubtedly inherited a passion for teaching like his father and grandfather, and says he would do it forever if he physically could. A few years ago, Shore was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis—a fatal disease that worsens the scarring of the lungs over time.
“Some people live with it for up to 10 to 15 years, and I’m hoping for that,” he said, noting he is currently in his fourth year with the diagnosis. “I love teaching, I really do, and if I could do it forever, I would. But right now, [pulmonary fibrosis] is taking its toll on me. And sometimes, that gets me really ticked off.”
Shore said he takes pride in his role in students’ educational journeys. He said the most rewarding part is watching what students do after the classroom.
“I’ve seen students further the lives of Métis, First Nations and Inuit people. They’ve become Chiefs, artists, you name it,” he said. “And I even have the privilege of teaching the grandchildren of some of my first students.” In Shore’s career of teaching, he estimates he has seen around 7,200 post-secondary students since teaching his first university courses in Brandon in 1983.
It is evident that Shore’s passion for teaching is centred in the experiences shared with students.
“I’ve received recognition for my time in teaching,” he said, gesturing to a pile of plaques and awards on his bookshelf, “but it’s the personal experiences expressed by the students that really matter.” He then pulled out a stack of thank-you cards from his top desk drawer from the past year. “I keep every single one of them,” he said.
The growth of the Indigenous community at UM
When asked what messaging Shore would like to leave outside of the classroom, he noted the importance of community, both on- and off-campus. “When I was a student, we did not have the Indigenous Student Centre,” he said. “Students have been given a gift within these spaces, and that gift should be returned to the community.”
Now, Shore said he delights in the importance of the PhD programs at UM, the growth of Elders’ presence and the formation of Indigenization committees within faculties on campus. “It totally amazes me on how far we’ve come with in these past few years for Indigenous people on campus, and it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a few people in the corner yelling,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s not imperfect, either.”
It is no doubt that Shore’s involvement in the Native studies department has helped shaped many of the milestones the university has achieved. If his physical health would allow, Shore would eagerly continue shaping the minds of new students and contributing to the growth of the Indigenous community on campus.
“I’m not sorry for leaving due to my health,” he said. “But I’d surely love to stick around, if only to see what continues happening for this place.” After the winter 2020 semester, Shore will take a year of sabbatical, and then retire.
Once retired, Shore is looking forward to growing his train collection, tending to his garden, and writing both a history text on the treatment of Métis people and a children’s book.