Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




McKinley, Gerald


I have grown up vastly intrigued by the stories of my Indigenous grandfather, George Armstrong. Known to the public as the “The Chief”, these stories provide context into the private life of an individual who recognizes himself as “half and half”, that is, half Indigenous and half Irish. This thesis documents our intimate conversations as Grandfather and Granddaughter and explores small stories, particularly those of his Indigenous mother, as sites of identity construction. Further, his stories shed light on a very public narrative of Indigenous-Settler relations and offer personal perspective of the impacts of colonialism on a family divided by the legal constraints of the Indian Act. With his six status cousins attending Spanish Residential School, my Grandfather’s experience as a non-status Indian may have contributed to his success as the first Indigenous hockey player to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). However, he faced his own experience of racism and colonial influence that, to this day, impact his perceptions of himself and formulate his own understanding of his Indigenous identity. My hope is that this thesis inspires both Indigenous and Settler populations to reach a level of understanding that allows us to see how the experience of one individual identifying with both worlds, can impact our understanding of a shared Canadian story.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis takes an ethnographical approach to explore the oral narratives of my half Indigenous Grandfather, George Armstrong. This approach depends on the collaboration between my Grandfather and I, and is reinforced by our bond, relationship, and trust, offering rich qualitative data. Our conversations have been recorded and transcribed into this thesis. They present themselves as small stories, that share a collective meaning. In the analyses of these stories, as his Granddaughter, I can see how identity formation transforms across generations, as my Grandfather’s experiences of identity directly impact my own. Further, this research has the potential to transform public perceptions of Indigenous people and initiate understanding into the Canadian public conscious.