Written Friday, May 13, 2011 at Wilde Tide Blog
I’ve known for about ten years that I’m of aboriginal ancestry on my mothers side. I’m Métis and getting my & my daughter’s “Métis status” is something I’ve wanted to do for years. Today the two of us went to the Nova Métis Society in Surrey and met the lovely couple who volunteer there weekly and keep the place running. In the past you could walk in to any Métis organization, self-identify as mixed ancestry and become a member. That is no longer the case.
In the summer of 2003 the supreme court of Canada’s Powley decision provided guidance on who can claim Aboriginal rights. Being “Métis” does not encompass just anyone who is of mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry. The term “Métis” refers to distinctive peoples of mixed ancestry who developed their own customs, practices, traditions and recognizable group identities separate from their Indian, Inuit and European ancestors. In practical terms this means you must have proof of Métis ancestry documents to at least 1901; in the case of the Nova Métis society and the Métis National Council they want to see five generations and evidence of an ancestor who received a land grant or a scrip grant under the Manitoba Act or the Dominion Lands Act, or who was recognized as a Métis in other government, church or community records.
I was excited with anticipation but also nervous that we would not be approved. My research, and that done by my mom and a couple of aunts, showed the names of my grandparents, great-grand parents going back more than five generations along with deep connections to the Métis homeland in the Red River Valley. I even have a photo showing my great-grandmother at 16, her mother and her two grandmothers! Still it all had to be confirmed by governmental archival and consensus type documents.
My Great-Grandmother Melanie at 16 on the right,
Her mother on the left and two Grandmothers in the Centre.
Her cousin front left and brother with hat off.
It took almost two hours to do research but right in hard print before our eyes we got to see confirmation that generations of my family were listed. My mom’s family names such as Parisien, Marjore & St. Denis are common and well-known names in Metis history and geneology. As we sat at the table covered in books we talked about other things that I knew about my family-in particular my Grandmother. She was the secretary for the Saskatchewan Métis association back in the late 1960’s during the time when Métis people started a new round of political activism. My mom left her family and did not have much to do with them after she got married so all I knew growing up was that she had been really poor and embarrased to be from the “wrong side of the tracks”. Yes, I knew I had cousins, aunts & uncles in Saskatchewan and an aunt who had married a first nations man and lived on a reserve but as far as I was concerned my mom’s family really consisted of just of my “Nanny” who came to visit a few months each year to escape the winter. I remember knowing that she had been a social worker and had raised a couple of foster kids after her children had grown up but that really didn’t mean a lot to me when all I knew was a Nan who came and baked buns, bread and pies and taught me how to play crib.
Bead work by Métis artist Lisa Shepherd
I knew that somehow I had aboriginal ancestry but had no idea what that involved. Only two times in my life do I ever remember my Nan saying anything about our background. The first was when I was very young and she told me a traditional aboriginal tale about how the Bear lost his tail. Then when I was in my early twenties and we were in an antique store together, she told me furtively and in a very quiet voice that I should take note of some beadwork because it was the same as my great-grandmother did and that I should remember that one of my great-grandmothers had fought in the Louis Riel rebellion; she said that they ran out of ammunition and that they put buttons into their guns and fired them at the soldiers. She said it quickly, in a very low tone and then walked away from me–thinking back it’s one of those moments when I wish I had had enough insight to realize the import of what she said; one thing is clear in my mind though–she may have said it quietly and quickly but there was a note of pride when she said that I should remember this fact about my family. More than likely, knowing my mother did not want to have anything to do with her past, Nan was being discreet and did not want to get in trouble with her daughter.
It was not long after seeing my great-grandfathers name in one of the books at the office and after we had started talking about my Grandmother that I started having a shaky feeling inside. After that we finished up the rest of the process and were told we can expect to get our Métis Nations cards some time in the next six to eight weeks. I still have to get a couple of birth certificates as absolute proof but there is no doubt that Keeley and I are of Métis origin and we have been accepted and recognized as such. We left the office with a book about Métis history, a Métis cookbook, Métis magazines on art and culture and the sense that we have a new-found family.
It’s been several hours since we’ve been home but the shaky feeling is still with me and I feel like weeping. It’s a very clear sign that I have a lot of un-resolved issues about this and that I’m about to embark on a rather unexpected emotional journey. Most of it, I feel certain, is related to my Grandmother and mother’s relationship and the sorrow that I can feel just under the surface at not really knowing the dynamic woman I suspect my Grandmother was.
Susan L. Greig/Salynne Wilde ©2011