Sunday, January 6, 2013

“Metis”, A Cultural Misnomer?


Recently my sister called me to wish me a happy birthday. In our conversation the topic of my personal focus on Metis genealogy came up. She asked me why should I be so involved with being a “Metis”. “Isn’t our French heritage enough?” She had fond memories of tortieres, and family gatherings that represented our French culture—even though we only spoke English—but the adults spoke both French and English. She is my 3rd youngest sibbling soon to be retired from her home accounting business. “Shouldn’t we just be French Canadian?” (Most of my immediate family think that way!) I told her that my preoccupation with the Metis cause was a personal one and I wanted to help anyone (including family) to find their Metis heritage wherever I could. I’m retired from teaching and this is something that I can do with my free time.

What I didn’t tell her was that from a very early age I had an undeniable concern in anything “Indian”. Childish? Maybe. But I don’t feel that this was imaginative thinking. I read about and emulated Native Indian customs, especially described by Ernest Thompson Seton. Don’t get me wrong. I have long relinquished the idea of living the old “Indian” way as some people in the north still do. But I have retained among many things the idea of a profound respect for all living things and faith in the Great Spirit.

In my adolescent years the local forest was my playground; I set up teepees, camped and hunted partridge with a bow and arrow—one that I crafted myself; cooked over an open fire; often stalked deer downwind until I could easily have shot one with an arrow; ran miles through the forest as a “Indian brave” might have; explored the local forests and village sites of the Wyandot; I could  feel their presence; Metis–hell I was “Indian”! I didn’t know what a Metis was, but I was well aware of the derogatory meaning of the English word “half breed”.

From my grandfather I learned how to trap, dress and preserve animal skins; how to waterproof moccasins and where to fish in the local creeks for those tasty speckled trout. He spoke French. Not the French that you might hear in Quebec today, or in France, but   that  local accent that I fondly remember and could only speak when I began public school.

The more I learned about Indian culture the more I felt that these ancient  people were also kindred—without knowing for sure that they were really my physical ancestors. After reading volumes about North American history, I learned how contact with Europeans decimated their culture. As a result I was disheartened, disillusioned, and angry. These feelings, though diminished, has never left me throughout my life.

Somehow I determined that being “French Canadian” was culturally equivalent to being indigenous or “Indian”. My heritage, as I see it even now, is that I am a “Native” person who originally spoke French and later English. (I would be just as comfortable speaking an indigenous language). We are the new indigenous people whose cousins live on “Indian Reserves”. Our differences are negligible and artificially separated by the British/Ottawa imposed “Indian Act”. We, the descendants of the new world founders, are hybrids of European and First Nation culture! Unfortunately as a result of the Constitution Act we are further separated by being categorized as “Metis”, but my soul tells me that we are one and the same!

BREAKING NEWS:

This morning January 8. 2013 the Federal court rules that Metis and non-status Indians are "Indians" with equivalent rights given to Reservation Indians! Click on tab [We are "Indians"!]

Roland E. Belanger BA. BEd

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