St. Francis native contributes to college textbook

ST. FRANCIS, Maine — St. Francis native and cultural anthropologist Julie Pelletier, PhD, is co-editor and contributing author of a new textbook “Gambling on Authenticity: Gaming, the Noble Savage, and the Not-So-New Indian.”

“Briefly, the book is an interdisciplinary look at Indian/First Nations gaming and casinos in order to take on myths and misinformation,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier helped edit the book, which Michigan State University Press published this year, along with University of Minnesota Associate Professor Bekka Gercken, PhD. Pelletier also contributed a chapter to the book which she based on more than 20 years of research on American Indian casinos.

A Maliseet and Mi’kmaq descendent, Pelletier grew up in St. Francis and earned her bachelor’s degree in university studies from the University of Maine at Fort Kent. She completed her master’s degree in anthropology and doctoral studies in cultural anthropology at Michigan State University.

During her professional career, Pelletier has served as the first Chair of Indigenous Studies at the University of Winnipeg, and was founding director for the Master’s in Indigenous Development Practice program, also at the University of Winnipeg.

She is currently on leave from the University of Winnipeg and lives temporarily in Chicago, where she is serving for a year as acting director of the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies at the Newberry Library.

Pelletier said her St. John Valley upbringing inspired her to pursue a career in Indigenous studies.

“Because I grew up on the U.S./Canada border, I have always been aware that an international perspective is critical to our understanding of how the world works. That is particularly true for Indigenous peoples and communities – we learn much by learning about the cultures, policies, and issues of Indigenous peoples around the world,” she said.

Pelletier said “Gambling on Authenticity” has received a positive reception from the academic community as well as non-scholars who appreciate works related to Indigenous history, literature and art.

“We are hearing both from professors who plan to use ‘Gambling on Authenticity’ as a textbook and from people who are happy to see a book that explains a great deal about Indian and First Nations casinos,” she said. “The book also includes artistic work, including poetry, and we were incredibly fortunate in being given permission to feature a painting by Anishinabe artist Jim Denomine on the cover. So the book is interesting, useful, and also beautiful.”

The book first went on sale at a conference in Winnipeg in September. Since then, Pelletier and Gercken have participated in a book launch and signing at a large independent bookstore in Chicago, and they plan to attend a book signing in Washington, D.C., in December. Pelletier and Gercken will also discuss the scholarly merits of “Gambling on Authenticity” at several upcoming academic conferences.

Pelletier said she is thankful for the encouragement and education she received at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

“My most influential professor was Lowell Daigle, who introduced me to the field of anthropology when I had never even heard that word – it turned out to be my career,” Pelletier said. “I made lifelong friends and met people who could see potential in me that I could not always see myself. I have tried to pay it forward by being a dedicated teacher and mentor for students who may not know what they can accomplish.”

When breaks in her busy work schedule permit, Pelletier returns to Maine to visit friends and family.

“When I’m away, I miss the language, the food, and the landscape of the Valley,” she said.

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