One man’s search for his Métis roots sent me on a journey, too

I listened deeply when I heard that Métis people often ‘get less than-ed or othered,’ writes Wawmeesh Hamilton.

This is from our Urban Nation newsletter. You can subscribe here.

This week, we published my story about a Lower Mainland man’s journey to find out what it means to be Métis. It also turned into a journey of my own to find out who the Métis are.

It was a journey for me because I knew a little about the Métis, such as Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont and the Red River Rebellion, but I didn’t know about Métis culture and Métis people. The only time I’d been in close quarters with them was at a constitutional conference in 1991 in Ottawa involving Indigenous leaders and federal government officials. I remember watching the Métis delegation at that conference. They were part of the conference, but they seemed separate from Indigenous people there, othered. As I was to find, this is the story of their existence.

When I interviewed Métis entrepreneur Teara Fraser in August, she told me she feels welcome, valued and “very much a part of the Indigenous community in the Lower Mainland.” But she notices that Métis people still don’t always enjoy equal recognition, inside or outside the community.

“We get less than-ed or othered,” she said. She mentioned one university, for example, that would refer to Métis and Indigenous people —  “as though we’re not Indigenous.”

I heard Teara clearly that day. I couldn’t understand how Indigenous people historically suffered discrimination, yet some discriminate against Métis people now. I’m very curious to know if this is still the case and how.

When I began percolating our urban Indigenous culture series a few weeks later, I knew that Métis culture needed to be part of it, and not just because their population is growing in the Lower Mainland, or the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled two years ago that the federal government has a constitutional responsibility to them as an Indigenous people. It just boiled down to inclusion.

But who are the Métis, I wondered.

That’s when I turned to Richmond resident Chris Trottier, who I’d met through conversations on Twitter last spring. I told him about our project and interviewed him. He’d only discovered he was Métis at age 30, and for the last seven years he’s been searching for more information to find out what that really means. 

Chris Trottier is on a journey to learn more about his Métis heritage.

Chris’ story moved me. He grew up with no father to teach him about who he was. “All I knew was that my dad was some kind of Indian, I didn’t know what kind. It felt like I didn’t have an identity,” he says. “Everything was like one big void and others didn’t have that same void.”

At age 30, after 27 years apart, he finally reconnected with his father, who told him about their Métis heritage. Now grown, Chris is trying to reconcile who his people are and what that means for his identity.

I can’t help but think the answers he finds will allay some of the anguish he felt about his identity as a youth.

I respect Chris’ doggedness in finding his roots. It would have been easy not to pursue the truth about his heritage. I’ve known Indigenous people who hid the fact that they are Indigenous. Others have emphatically denied their Indigeneity for reasons known only to them. Chris didn’t have a rose-coloured vision of what he’d find. He just wants to know who he is and where he comes from.

I was also moved to meet Métis elder Ken Pruden. Like Chris, Ken didn’t find out he was Métis until his 30s. But he’s been an ardent student of Métis culture ever since, and has even counselled Métis prison inmates about their heritage.

Chris and Ken’s doggedness and determination speak to the resilience of the Métis people themselves; how the Metis became who they are and have come to where they are today.  I look forward to learning more as I continue to document urban Indigenous culture.

What you love

Vicki Lynne George loves the unique urban Indigenous culture that has emerged, but wishes she could stay more connected to her own culture, traditions and lands of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northern B.C.

“What I love about the community is that we bring perspective and ideas, and our tenacity and survival of being away from our communities and living off reserve,” Vicki Lynne George says; “basically fending for ourselves in the workplace and post-secondary.”

Vicki Lynne, who was born and raised in Vancouver and has worked as an executive and legal assistant here for 21 years, appreciates the unique perspectives that urban Indigenous people have developed over the years. It’s in the knowledge that different people bring from a variety of nations, she says, and the courage and resilience they bring with it.

“We bring a different perspective and knowledge than, say, on-reserve people have,” she says. “It’s different, and it’s something that isn’t talked about a lot. And I’ve always wondered why, because it’s not any different from whoever’s experience staying in Cranbrook and then living here in Vancouver.”

“Those two different realities aren’t spoken about in terms of on-reserve and off-reserve here in the Vancouver vicinity, and it should be,” she continues, “which is one of the reasons why I’m really glad that you guys are focusing on that.”

People are talking about 

  • The Regina Leader-Post writes about an Indigenous youth who made a name for himself in competitive online gaming, which he now wants to bring to other First Nations.

  • Flare ran this essay by New York-based Ojibwe journalist Christian Allaire about what it is like to be urban Indigenous.

  • In this story, CBC Unreserved went to Albuquerque, N.M. to look inside the Indigenous Comic Con.
  • Maclean’s ran this piece about a new network designed to connect and support Indigenous scholars.

Culture connections 

Glugwe Walkus says urban Indigenous kids in government care deserve better support to connect with their culture and elders.

Glugwe Walkus and Tyler McNulty both grew up in government care. In my colleague Brielle Morgan’s latest story, they talk about the importance of cultural connections for Indigenous youth in care — how they wish they’d been better supported to connect with the unique teachings and values of their nations while they were in foster care, and how much they’ve valued time with their elders and extended family.

Glugwe spoke to the pain that came with losing access to his grandparents in the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Nations’ traditional territory, while he was in care.

And Tyler said the cultural education he got while in care was “kind of generic.” He wants to learn about K’ómoks First Nation, where he came from. “I’d rather, like, sit there and actually hear a history lesson basically on where these people came from — what did they stand for, you know?”

Let’s gather 

If you know about an event that you think should be included in this newsletter next week, send me an email.

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