Five short months ago I discovered my Métis ancestry. In an effort to work towards Truth and Reconciliation, and to understand my family roots, I set an intention to actively learn more. I have spent the summer, reading, participating in conversations within the Metis community, researching our family ancestry, taking the University of Alberta Indigenous Canada course and most recently, travelling to Edmonton to visit historic sites where my ancestors lived.
I walk this journey delicately, mindful not to appropriate a culture that is not mine. While I have Métis ancestry, I am aware of the mixed feelings that emerge when people announce they have ‘discovered they are Indigenous’. I recognize the privilege I grew up with, never experiencing racism. I am aware that my fair complexion has granted me favourable treatment, even more so than my mom and her siblings just one generation back who were often questioned about their ethnicity. Their truth was hidden from them, and their Métis culture was not passed down. As our truth unfolds, we are learning and unlearning.
The word metis means mixed ancestry, while the word Métis refers to a distinct culture originating in the early 1700’s in Red River, Manitoba when Scottish and French fur traders married Cree and Ojibway women and created their own language, songs, dance, traditions and governance. Within Canada, to be Métis, one must be able to meet the following criteria:
- Self identify as Métis
- Prove family lineage back to the Métis Nation in Red River
- Be accepted by the Métis community
Our Métis ancestry comes from my mom’s side of the family. Her mom (my Nanna) grew up in the prairies, eventually moving to BC to pursue a nursing career. All four of her grandparents were Métis. From Red River, her grandparents and great grandparents travelled west and played a prominent role in the development of Fort Edmonton in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
With flights from Abbotsford to Edmonton costing less than a tank of gas, we decided to embark on a four day journey to Edmonton. We had no idea how rich in history our days would be.
My mom comes from the Fraser family. Colin Fraser was a piper for George Simpson, governor of the Hudson Bay Company. He manned Jasper House for 18 years and worked out of Fort Edmonton. His wife, Nancy Beaudry, and mother of their 12 children, was at one point the oldest living person in Edmonton.
We decided to visit their gravesites in the Edmonton Cemetery. (We had no idea the graveyard went on for five city blocks so finding their graves was a bit like being on the Amazing Race. With determination and very poor navigation skills we made it and said hello.)
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Edmonton was to visit the brand new Indigenous Peoples Experience in Fort Edmonton Park. Fort Edmonton Park is now a historic site where visitors can spend the day walking through the old town, while staff dressed in period costumes teach of Edmonton’s early history. The Indigenous Peoples Experience is a new addition to the park and showcases Canada’s history of Indigenous people including First Nations, Métis and Inuit. The multimedia exhibit is a blend of displays, stories and artifacts, intentionally woven throughout the seasons, each representing a phase of life. I was moved by the words so eloquently projected on the walls.
Mid way through, we turned the corner and entered a room telling the story of Canada’s Métis. We expected to read and learn. We did not expect to see a photo of my mom’s grandma as a child with her siblings and their mother (Nancy) on the very first panel. The photo described Nancy Beaudry as a Métis Matriarch. We learned that the Fraser family owned some of the original plots of land along the North Saskatchewan River where Fort Edmonton Park is now located. Jasper House Hotel (the trading post where Colin and Nancy lived) is situated within the park along 1855 Street. As we walked through the Metis exhibit we saw photo after photo of our ancestors. My mom, now in her 70’s, only learned she was Metis last winter. It was awesome to watch her step into the Métis exhibit and find her past.
The Indigenous Peoples Experience concludes with a video presentation highlighting the mistreatment of Indigenous people, showing graphic images from residential schools. Following the film, a staff member stepped forward to share her personal story of her mom’s survival at residential school. The film concludes with gratitude, thanking guests for working towards Truth and Reconciliation. These words inspired me:
The word ‘Wâhkôhtôwin’ projects near the exit, meaning ‘All my Relations’ or ‘We are all related’, inviting all people of all cultures to walk together.
We flew to Edmonton to learn of our ancestry. We flew home knowing our family. We are all related.