Castellano appointed to Order of Canada.
Marlene Brant Castellano, who helped establish Native studies as an academic discipline and fought for Aboriginal rights, has been appointed an officer of the Order of Canada.
"I'm pleased and honoured. It really is kind of over the top," said Castellano about her appointment.
A retired professor of Native studies at Trent University and a former co-director of research for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Castellano is very humble about the award.
"The things that I'm being honoured for are not individual achievements. They are achievements that really belong to the many people who have walked along side me on this. The honour of one is the honour of all."
Marlene Brant was born in 1935 on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, the eighth in a family of 10 children. She grew up in a four-room house with a wood stove and a well. Her parents had only an elementary level education, but her mother, who worked as a domestic for white people, pushed her daughters to become educated despite critics who thought the girls would just end up marrying and giving up on having a career.
"She didn't want her daughters to have that subservient role to white society. So, if there were any obstacles in the way, I mean, our mother just sort of charged through and showed us that you can do or be anything you want, although she herself married at 16 and proceeded to have 10 children," she said.
But when Castellano went to school, she was disturbed by what she was learning.
"[I] learned about history about the savage Mohawks, who murdered the priests and burned the villages. And what this did was to create a real split in my world. That I loved learning, I loved to read but what I was reading and especially what I was learning about Canada and Canadian history was totally out of sync with what I had experienced on the reserve with my family," explained Castellano.
Fortunately, her older sister became a nurse, forging a trail for Castellano to pursue her studies at university. There she found an answer to her conflict.
"It was in university when I discovered that I could actually do something about reconstructing the reality of words. I actually could work with words to create a different kind of reality. That's really what's motivated me. So yeah, what I do, what I have done in my life, has come out of that dissonance between what the world said to me about Mohawks and what I experienced being a Mohawk child and a Mohawk person. And so it's been my mission to present a truer picture of who we are. And in doing that I listen carefully to what people who are living the life say and I work hard at ensuring that my words are true for them as well as for myself."
Castellano earned a bachelor of arts degree from Queen's University in 1955 and then a master of social work from the University of Toronto in 1959. She also took graduate studies in adult education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. However, it took her a while before she was able to use her writing talents to re-write the history books.
She married Vincent Castellano in 1960 and spent the next 10 years as a full-time mom.
It was 1969 when the first Native studies course started at Trent University, and the idea intrigued Castellano so much that her family moved to Peterborough. She began giving lectures and teaching seminars in 1971, and in 1973 Trent offered her a faculty appointment as an assistant professor. She eventually became the department chair for three terms.
In 1991, she took an extended sabbatical to work on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Through her work on the commission, she developed a reputation for promoting community-based research that respects Native traditions.
"The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People was just the most astounding learning, growing accomplishment that I shared with people I think are just the greatest," Castellano said.
In 1996, as soon as the Royal Commission was over, Castellano retired from Trent, but still continues to work to improve the lives of Aboriginal people. She is an Institute Advisory Board member for the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples' Health, a part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She is also a member of the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics. Castellano co-chaired the Friends of Native Studies Council, which did fundraising for Trent University's First People's House of Learning.
Still involved at Trent, she helped to develop the first PhD program in Native studies in Canada. In the past three months, Castellano has been heavily involved with the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
Yet, despite her many achievements, Castellano said her greatest accomplishment is her family.
"My real contribution to the future is with my husband raising four sons who are wonderful human beings, and each of them making a life for themselves and their children, which gives me ongoing pleasure and satisfaction.
"And second to that is being part of creating Native studies as a place where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students can learn about life as experienced, and as lived and as understood by, Aboriginal people."
Castellano holds two honourary law degrees, one from Queen's University and one from St. Thomas University. She was inducted into the Order of Ontario in 1995, and received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 1996 for her contributions to education.
Castellano is just one of a handful of Aboriginal people joining the ranks of Canada's Order of Canada recipients. Also named as officer to the Order of Canada are Inuit singer, songwriter and motivational speaker Susan Aglukark and Gitksan master carver and hereditery chief Walter E. Harris.
Named as member to the Order of Canada are veteran actor Gordon Tootoosis and Leonard G. Flett of Winnipeg, who as senior executive officer of the North West Company has dedicated his career to creating opportunities for Aboriginal people.
BY DEIRDRE TOMBS