Being Metis, I often have to be a history book and if I am not, I am invalid. I have to know generations of my family’s history, deeper than the majority of Canadians ever look. And if I cannot tell you about my ancestors from the 1700s, my identity hangs in the balance. Like a brown, dead leaf hanging on to its former life source in the autumn wind, my identity according to you can just blow away at any moment. To be a valid Metis, I must be able to tell you about trade routes and trap lines and point them out on maps. I must be able to talk about Rupert’s Land and the Hudson’s Bay Company, I must be able to explain Metis land scripts and even have some insight into the Indian Act, over 250 years of history, most topics teachers never even learn about. All things that just like you, I am never taught in school. As a Metis child, I am taught the same curriculum you are taught, apparently Metis people existed, mixed and then disappeared along with all other Indigenous people. I can hope that a family member will sit down with me and talk about our stories, that is of course if they are able and have healed from a history of displacement, diaspora, forced assimilation and trauma from colonial violence. That is of course if they are proud to be Metis and see the benefit of a strong future generation of freedom fighters.
Just like my First Nations and Inuit brothers and sisters, I will feel a little bit better when a fancy government event is opened by my peers, by some jiggers and a fiddler but then will sit through the event wondering why Canadians still ask me “So does that mean you are half?” and why Canada has not recognized or reconciled the violent murders, bounty killings and extreme poverty of Metis people. I then must prove to on lookers that I am in fact Metis, by wearing a novelty sash and doing my best to follow the steps of a professional dancer, of which any observant person can tell I am not a professional jigger. Unfortunately, the teachings of that sash, the jig and the fiddle get lost as we try to keep up with an imposed image of who we have to be according to you, the on looker. Like a mannequin unable to portray any of its own creativity, in fear that anything different may ruin the branding.
Because you are Metis, you fall under the umbrella terms like Aboriginal or Indigenous and often people will not recognize you as Metis and lump you in as First Nations. So you begin to mingle, just as your ancestors did, you meet Ojibwa, Algonquin, Cree, Inuit, Iroquois people and you begin to share stories with each other. You win many over with your inherited rebellious charm and you remind elders of a niece or a nephew or a grandchild.
You learn so much from your new aunties and uncles, some of which are not Metis, but they teach you the meaning of being Anishnaabe, to be a good person or a person who does good work. They teach you about the seven grandfather teachings and about the thirteen grandmother moons, they teach you about natural law and that all humans have a role in natural law include you and even settlers. They encourage you to sing and drum and dance, you learn those ceremonial songs and share the teachings with those that offer you tobacco, you learn about love and kindness and reciprocity. You begin to heal from the centuries of damage from colonial violence done to you and your relations, like the snow after a long, long winter. As your pain melts away, unknowingly you awake sleeping bears, some are happy to be awake and some too distracted, desperately seeking resources and food, some wish you did not wake them up at all. Even as some people read these words, they will be unsettled and may even leave a rude comment or two, hoping they can just go back to sleep. However you’re hunger for truth has brought you to this very moment.
Elders and knowledge keepers tell you, as an Indigenous person, you must speak up against actions detrimental or hurtful to the land even if you are far from your original territory, because you too are a defender of the land. They teach you about legalities and legislation meant to divide and conquer, meant to exterminate the “Indian in the child” including Metis children. These are traditional people but they are very educated, wise and intelligent however it is the ceremonial knowledge from these mentors that impacts you the most just as it was meant to. You begin to interpret things differently and you see the hidden messages your ancestors left behind, like maple leaf and infinity flags and names of cities and towns, to name a few. You understand that there can be no label placed on spirituality and the gifts you were given were gifted to you for a reason, you must use them no matter how people might judge you. The Creator has a plan for you.
The funny thing about being Metis is even other Metis people will try to argue with you about who they think you should be. They will argue that something is too First Nations or Native but not once will you ever hear anyone say that something is too European or white. Your identity is convenient for program dollars and statistics however if you ever speak up against Indigenous people that are pro-development and pro-capitalism, your identity will quickly be used against you by these Indigenous people being paid off by these capitalistic systems, in hopes that you will question your morals and teachings and hopefully just shut up and become invisible like your Metis ancestors.
This was inspired by my Nehiyaw sister, Helen Knott, who is out defending the land in Treaty 8 territory in Rocky Mountain House against a proposed dam #NoSiteC, and her blog “The Funny Thing About Being An Indian”. https://reclaimthewarrior.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/the-funny-thing-about-being-an-indian/