Metis presence in the Boundary region may look small, but the members proudly display their heritage and were happy to invite everyone to learn more about their history for Louis Riel Day in Greenwood on Sunday.
The McArthur Centre was home to a casual day of talks, workshops and even some jigging as the Boundary Metis Community Association held their celebrations, even though Louis Riel Day is officially on Nov. 16. People were invited to come and learn about traditions, including origins of the Metis people, Michif language and culture, Louis Riel himself, the Metis sash, beadwork and enjoy a free lunch of Metis cuisine that included salmon, Three Sisters stew, ham and bannock.
There were also craft sessions on how to make medicine pouches, trivia games, displays on wild foraging and medicinal plants and a demonstration on basic steps for the Red River Jig, the official dance of the Metis people.
The crowds were small, but organizer and Boundary Metis Community Association president Daina Shaw said it was mostly due to slick conditions on the roads. However, it was still great to see people getting together to talk about Metis history and culture.
“We got a lot of RSVP’s but with the roads being what they are, we understand there wouldn’t be a lot of people,” she said. “Even if one person showed up, that would be a win because they come away learning about Metis culture.”
The history of the Metis has many facets, she explained, but the origins are traced back to the white and mostly French fur traders plying their trade in the Prairies for the North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company, going as far west as northern Alberta and south and east to the Lakehead region of Lake Superior. In time, many of those men had families with Indigenous women and in turn, communities with both Indigenous and European traditions, laws, and a blended language called Michif were formed. They were also largely nomadic, moving from one area to another, following the buffalo herds and seasonal changes.
The official beginning of the Metis as a nation is debated, but historians point to what was Fort William, now part of Thunder Bay, in 1816, when Lord William McGillivray presented the Metis that lived and worked in the area with what would become their national flag, the infinity sign against a blue field.
While Metis people lived mostly in the Prairies, the federal government kept pushing. Metis people didn’t have an official homeland until Louis Riel was elected president of a provisional government that was negotiating to establish 200,000 acres of land for the Metis, which eventually became southern Manitoba. At the time, the Metis were already there, but the federal government were pushing west in their drive to settle the country. There was an accord recognizing Metis culture and rights ratified, but the federal government of the time disregarded it. This sparked several uprisings, including the Northwest Rebellion, which saw Indigenous and Metis forces defeated at the battle of Batoche and eventually Riel was tried and executed for high treason in 1885.
Metis were not recognized officially as a nation until the 1980’s, said Shaw. There are some Metis communities in northeastern B.C., but most of the Metis people in B.C. have family origins or are themselves from further east.
“The Metis is more than just mixed blood, it’s a shared history, shared culture that came together at that time and spread,” she said.
There is a lot of history, but Shaw recommended the book “The Northwest is our Mother” for anyone wishing to learn on their own about Metis history.