Saturday, January 26, 2013

Marie (Rollet) Hebert’s Indian children.

It is well known historically that Mrs. Hebert had many Indian/Metis children in her home for many years. She taught them how to be French. It is also known historically that between  1617 -1649 Champlain encouraged young French bachelors to marry available native/mixed blood girls especially the  girls taught by families in the Colony. Though Champlain died December 25, 1635 Marie Hebert continued with her teaching of native children.  If this is true, then many girls were available to be wives for French and Metis men. (Mrs. Hebert's young Native men also became citizens of the colony of New France and also intermarried with available Indian girls). Marie-Olivier Sylvestra is the only Indian girl that was recorded by her Godfather Olivier Le Tardif de Honnefleur to have been in the Hebert household.
Why are all these boys and girls not recorded in history or in documents of the Catholic Church? First it was unimportant. Everyone knew. Mrs Hebert’s children were not a secret! Everyone got on with life. Second the church was unable to reconstruct all burned records destroyed in fires before 1650. Thirdly Catholic priests did not always approve of Champlain’s ideas, thus did not record every nuance of life in the new land. Only followers of the Catholic church deserved to be recorded.

So who among the children of New France were Mrs. Hebert's Indian girls? We can only guess. But they would be, at the very least, those in our genealogies that do not have an origin. No Father. No Mother. No church records or adolescent histories. Those who also had only one (Christian) first name.
It surprises me that French and Acadian genealogists, historians and others refuse to acknowledge, even a little, Native ancestry for these Grandmothers and Grandfathers who cannot be positively identified.

After the English conquest of Acadia and New France many French families disassociated themselves from their Native heritage for fear of discrimination. Why then continue the deception or resistance? Could it be “pride and prejudice”? Maybe it’s been so long having one viewpoint that they are unable to stop and consider anything else. It is a fact that our unidentified ancestors lived in this new land, now called Canada, not in Europe and that without evidence to the contrary they have always lived here. This must be the first consideration. Otherwise they will forever be unidentified despite arguments that records will be found!

Dominique Côté, the chief of the Antaya First Nation: , (Notre vision tab) recounts her story online about the discovery that her Grandmother was a First Nation’s person. Dominique was one of the lucky ones! Her Grandmother was always listed by the family as European, born in France! But through a DNA test she discovered that she had Native markers. This pointed to a fact that at least one of her Grandmother’s was indeed Native. Why is she lucky? Because DNA testing cannot disclose fully for everyone if a person is a European/Native hybrid. (See my articles in DNA in this blog site). What is so compelling about her story is that her family deliberately concealed the truth for fear of discrimination (and possibly prejudice) for many generations.

Families with unidentified ancestral Grandmothers owe such Grandmothers an aboriginal identity without recrimination from those who disagree!

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!


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