My Insights as an Indigenous Adoptee
On January 20th, 2018 I attended my first North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA) annual general assembly. This AGA was important to me because I did not grow up with my Metis culture or with my biological family. I was adopted at birth and I found my birth father, Bill Enge, the President of the NSMA in 2006. When I met him, at the age of 26, I was given the gift of learning what it meant to be Métis. His position as a political leader and champion of Métis rights has given me a thorough education. I am grateful to be connected to my culture and I would like to share my story of reunion with my family and why I’m a proud Métis cultural ambassador.
First, let me share my personal journey of reuniting with my family (also available on the Women Warriors podcast) and my re-education as an Indigenous adoptee learning my culture.
The first act that my biological mother committed on my behalf was to give me up for adoption. She tells me when we have reunited 29 years later that her mother gave her an ultimatum, give me up for adoption or be cut off from all family support. It was 1980 and her family was wealthy, conservative, and White. Her mother disapproved of my Métis father and racism separated us.
Here begins my lifelong journey back to my ancestral homeland and culture.
I grew up in the agricultural community of Castor, Alberta, a population of one thousand, consisting of members of predominately European descent. My parents were of French and German descent, and we were raised in the Roman Catholic faith. I used to sneak into my parent’s filing cabinet and look at my adoption papers – Metis descent. What did that mean? I had no idea what a Metis was, and there was no cultural activities or education in my small community.
The questions surrounding my identity peaked after working and traveling around the world on board a cruise ship for a year and realizing the importance of knowing where you are from – your roots and heritage.
I stepped off the plane in Yellowknife to meet my birth father, and my family, the Enge’s and experienced an immediate sense of belonging. I had read about the concept of blood memory – a term used in Indigenous culture referring to memory stored in the cells and passed on genetically. I felt connected to my biological family, and I was grateful for the opportunity to meet all of them including my grandmother, Anne, a respected Métis Elder, and leader. She was a true Matriarch and a strong Indigenous woman that had overcome great odds in her lifetime to make meaningful contributions to Yellowknife.
For the past eleven years, Bill has been an important part of my life. He has taught me about our family history including our ancestral ties to Francois Beaulieu (II), “Le Patriarche” – a legend in Northern Métis history, and our rightful claim, as Powley-tested North Slave Métis, to our ancestral homelands, the region north and east of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories.
Since I’ve known him, Bill has always been locked in litigation with the Crown. We have celebrated several legal victories together, including the 2013 Bathurst Caribou lawsuit, and most recently the Federal Court of Canada decision that the North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA) was not adequately consulted by Canada respecting the Northwest Territory Métis Nation Land and Resources Agreement-in-Principle signed July 31, 2015 (NWTMN AiP).
When I met my distant cousin, Julie Lys this past summer she talked about the importance of knowing family genealogy. I understand this knowledge on a deep level. To me, it’s more than a piece of paper with a map of your family tree. It’s the stories that come with that lineage and the strength that is born out of knowing who you are. I will never take my family history for granted, because for most of my life – 26 years, I didn’t have it. I am proud Métis because I know the battle stories of my ancestors and family members, and I honor their struggle with a great sense of pride, and enthusiasm in sharing my culture.
How I Know My Cat is Metis
Every morning, around 6 am this cat comes into my room, and he lets out the loudest, most demanding MEOW for his food. He doesn’t quit until that bowl is in front of him. He’s a vocal advocate for his rights, exactly as the Metis have been to get their rights recognized as one of the three Aboriginal groups in S.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. This cat has the makeup of a Metis – he won’t shut up until he’s recognized, he’s in it for the long haul and he makes sure he gets his fair share. Then he naps.
Women Warriors Updates
Several exciting announcements:
1) Women Warriors – 8 Weeks to Healthy Living is being piloted by the City of Calgary.
Location: Village Square Leisure Centre, 2623 56 Street NE, Calgary.
Dates: March 14, 21 April 4, 11, 18, 25 May 2
Time: 7:00 pm -8:15 pm.
Dr. Wicklum will be involved with the research for this program and hopefully our Master’s student, Megan will be a support. I will be training a facilitator of this program in late February.
The contact person for this pilot is:
Aboriginal Community Social Worker BSW, RSW.
The City of Calgary | email: Bev.Renaud@calgary.ca
* If you are interested in running a Women Warriors program in your community please contact me for details.
2) I have been invited by the editor of the Yellowknifer, James O’Connor to be a bi-weekly contributor. I will be sharing all my Metis insights and experience as the facilitator of Women Warriors with the residents of the Northwest Territories. You can access my op-ed pieces on the website Northern News Service Online. You can subscribe online or view articles on their Facebook page.
3) Women Warriors was featured in the Globe & Mail’s weekly newsletter, Amplify.
4) The Women Warriors podcast is now featured on Nuxalk Radio 91.1 FM, broadcasted from Bella Coola, BC.
* Nuxalk Radio aims to be a part of building a grassroots Indigenous radio network with the focus on maintaining our languages, healing and empowering our Nations.
* A recent review on iTunes from PepperK2 states, “This podcast is incredibly empowering. I listen to them with my daughter and she loves them too. Please make more!”
* Please do me a favor and leave a review on iTunes if you have received any benefit or enjoyment from my podcast.
5) I’m excited to announce that the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, which I featured in my newsletter, Reconciliation in Health Research: Spirituality and Science were awarded the $1 million dollars Arctic Inspiration Prize. NWT winners of $1 million prize promise ‘a brighter future’. I wrote an article for the Yellowknifer about it that will be published next Wednesday. We are in the midst of planning an Elder and researcher gathering in Yellowknife this coming summer/fall.
7) The funding fate of the Onion Lake Cree Nation program will be decided next Wednesday, February 7th. I will let you know the outcome as soon as I know.
I am still accepting the Power of Mentorship profiles. Due to the fact that this newsletter is lengthy with many updates, I will be sending out a separate mentorship newsletter this coming week. I’m excited to share with you the profiles of Tala Tootoosis and Marcel Petit. Please email me if you’re interested in contributing. Shelley@womenwarriors.club.