Navigating Metis Identity as an Indigenous Adoptee
*I have made a few addendums to the newsletter due to an email last night from someone respectfully asking that I remove their name. I’m a very accommodating person. Also, after I spoke with my dad last night he had a few excellent recommendations for me.
Last week I was scheduled to be interviewed by Metis podcaster, Darcy Robinson, host of the Jig is Up. He sent me an interview question that set off a wave of emotions and deep thoughts on my identity as an Indigenous adoptee. We had to reschedule the interview due to his work obligations, but I’m looking forward to sharing some of my insights with him.
What does being Metis mean to you and how does it impact you day to day, or does it?
I have always been open about growing up outside the Metis culture, because I don’t want to misrepresent or mislead anyone on my Indigenous identity. I reconnected with my birth father in my mid-20’s and my Metis identity evolved from there.
I didn’t grow up Metis. My culture was stolen away from me
By my white Grandmother that refused to acknowledge her daughter
Had sex with an Indian.
My grandmother didn’t know what a “Metis” was.
She only saw my dad’s dark complexion and black hair – at least he had blue eyes.
That’s the thing about us Metis, we’re tricky to spot.
Our colours range from Treaty to colonizer.
It’s what I love most about us, hybrids – the best of both worlds.
The first question I asked my dad when I found him,
What is a Metis?
He’s a political scientist and couldn’t help but write me an
It’s his pride and his nature.
The simple answer: Mixed-blood.
The complex answer: Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, and one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The use of the term Métis is complex and contentious, and has different historical and contemporary meanings. The term is used to describe communities of mixed European and Indigenous descent across Canada, and a specific community of people — defined as the Métis Nation — which originated largely in Western Canada and emerged as a political force in the 19th century, radiating outwards from the Red River Settlement. While the Canadian government politically marginalized the Métis after 1885, they have since been recognized as an Aboriginal people with rights enshrined in the Constitution of Canada and more clearly defined in a series of Supreme Court of Canada decisions.[i]
I read the definition,
But I didn’t feel it in my heart.
Like any child I had to watch my dad
And learn from his actions to find out.
After 10 years of being part of the culture, including living with my dad in Yellowknife, here are my top 5 lessons of being Metis.
Lesson 1: Know Where You Come From.
Metis identity is a complex issue. You better arm yourself with genealogy and legal documentation regarding your ancestry if you want to check mark the “Metis” box. We can trace our lineage back 200 years to Francois Beaulieu II, “Le Patriache”. My blood is Mecredis and Beaulieaus, and Irish and English. Our family occupied the North Slave Region of the Great Slave Lake prior to Jan, 1st 1921.
Why does this matter? Because of the Powley test and lawsuits and all the ways the government wanted to rid themselves of their legal obligations to Metis peoples. Also, because Metis are a distinct cultural group with Section 35 Aboriginal rights. You can’t claim Metis heritage because you think you might have some Native blood in you; the same way you can’t make yourself Japanese. You are either born into the culture, with the bloodline, or you are not.
Being in the North makes you aware of your family lines and heritage. People don’t ask, “What do you do?” They ask, “Who is your family?”
Lesson 2: Don’t Fake Your Metis Status
Refer to lesson 1 and NEVER claim to speak for Indigenous peoples unless you are one, and a community has claimed you. In this Canadaland article the author points out, “It’s certainly not a bad thing to have Indigenous friends, even close friends who feel like family. But no matter how many friends one has, it doesn’t make you First Nations, because to be First Nations, you must first belong to a nation.”[ii] There has been controversy over an author in Canada claiming Indigenous heritage. Feel free to investigate this controversy yourself. In the meantime, here’s a list of 11 Indigenous Authors You Should be Reading.
Lesson 3: It’s a Good Time in History to be Metis
The Daniels decision was a huge victory for Metis and non-Status Indians. The Supreme Court ruled that we fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government “which may serve now as a starting point for those pursuing land claims and additional government services, the court held that non-status Indians and Métis are considered “Indians” under Section 91(24) of the 1867 Constitutional Act.”[iii] Two important words to note – land claim. I’ve written about the North Slave Metis Alliances land claim in a previous newsletter “Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife (Part 4 of 4).”
Lesson 4: Learning the Culture – Bannock, Jigging, the Range & CKLB Saturday Request Show.
It’s hard to explain Northern living. It’s a unique hodgepodge of Indigenous cultures and peoples, with lots of laughs, some tough life lessons, and a lot of gossip.
Take it eeezzzz.
You’re gonna get a lickin.’
You want a good bannock slap?
Bannock is an art. Who knew four ingredients, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar could be so easy to mess up? I’ll leave it to the bannock pro’s. Here’s a traditional Red River Bannock recipe.
Jigging is in our genes. I had no idea what jigging was before I lived in the North. It turns out its part of our DNA. Turn on the Red River Jig and Metis can’t keep their feet still. Here’s a video of the history of the Metis Jig.
Making a trip to YK? A night out at the Gold Range gives you an insight to the culture and mixture of people in the North. There is nothing like the “Strange Range” on a Saturday night. Check out this article, “Yellowknife feels at home at the Range.”
No time to visit YK but want some insights about the North? Listen to the Dominion Diamond Saturday Afternoon Request Show hosted by Nadira Begg. I promise you, it will not disappoint as listeners from across the NWT call in to request their favourite songs. It usually involves some drinking, George Jones, and apologies.
Lesson 5: Prepare for a good lickin.’
I still remember what she said to me before she grabbed the collar of my shirt and punched me in the face, “You f**** white bitch hitting on my man.” I remember thinking “I’m METIS, b****!”
It was Saturday night and I was drunk walking home from the Raven, only one block from my dad’s condo. It was an oversight on my part – I should have known better to never go out alone. I was halfway home when a big Native guy I knew as a bouncer at the Raven stopped me on the street and asked me to jump in a cab with him and some girls. Apparently, one of the girls was his girlfriend and instead of being pissed off at him for asking me to come, she beat me up. He stood back and watched while a 220lb pissed off Native woman gave me a good lickin.’
I wasn’t prepared to fight back – I could barely comprehend what the hell was going on. I was in total denial asking myself, “Why is this happening?” and “Why isn’t he helping me?”
That night I learned some important lessons about living in Yellowknife. All forms of violence including physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, cultural, and lateral are a daily part of existence in the North. You can’t escape the North without knowing or hearing about the violence. On our last visit I was walking with my daughters to Subway and the drunks were scrapping and yelling “F*** You!” My kids were shocked and curious. I said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s the North.”
In summary, history tells us it isn’t easy being Metis. It’s been an uphill battle fighting to be recognized as Aboriginal peoples with the same rights as status Indians. It also tells us we’re not scarred of a fight. Nothing will stop a Metis with conviction in their heart and a good lawyer; the Daniels case was 17 years in the making. I’ve learned what it takes to be Metis through watching and listening to my family, mainly my dad. I’ve always had a warrior spirit, and now I recognize it as an inherited Metis heart.
*I want to clarify that I told the story of my assault because it is my lived experience as a Metis woman. If the foul language offends you, I apologize and made it less violent for you.
[i] Historic Canada. (2017). Metis. Retrieved September 10, 2017 from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/metis/
[ii] Canadaland. (August 4, 2017). Joseph Boyden Won’t Find Indigenous Identity In A Test Tube Of Spit. Retrieved on September 10, 2017 from http://www.canadalandshow.com/joseph-boyden-indigenous-dna/
[iii] CBC News Indigenous. (April 14, 2016). Unanimous ruling says Ottawa.
Big thanks to the women that I’ve already interviewed inlcuding Dr. Bourassa, Jean Cardinal, Chief Lady Bird, and Carly Morton. This coming week I have four interviews planned and two the following week. The release date of season 2 coincided with our 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Program, October 2nd. Please susbcribe to the Women Warriors podcast on iTunes or our website.