Authors: Deborah Ellis
The Canadian nation began with the fur trade. Beaver hats were all the rage in Europe and there was money to be made. The Hudson's Bay Company controlled this trade, and the European men brought over to work for the company fathered children with Aboriginal women. Their descendants are known as MÃ©tis. The MÃ©tis culture is distinctly different from First Nations culture, although with many shared points in history. Like First Nations, many MÃ©tis were forced into residential schools.
Danton is MÃ©tis. He plays with the MÃ©tis Fiddler Quartet. Their debut album,
North West Voyage Nord Ouest
, won the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Award for Traditional Album of the Year.
I am MÃ©tis. In Canada, that's a blend of Aboriginal and European. We have a very distinct culture with our own music and traditions. We came about when the French invaded Iroquois territory way back in the days of the fur trade. They say the first MÃ©tis appeared nine months after the first Frenchman landed! For a better definition, look it up in the Canadian constitution. It's all spelled out in there.
We were not included in the original treaties the government of Canada made with the First Nations. We had to live off-reserve and were not really accepted by either culture. So we created our own.
I play music in a family group called the MÃ©tis Fiddler Quartet. I have two older brothers and an older sister. We tour around and play music at festivals and all kinds of events.
I play the cello. My sister chose the cello for me when I was a baby. The family group already had fiddlers and guitar players. She said, “We need a cello.” So I learned. It's great.
I started playing when I was three. When you're that small you start with a viola or a small cello. I love the sound the cello makes. Mostly I'm a classical musician. I also play piano, guitar and bass guitar. It's fun to monkey around with different styles and instruments.
Although I do a lot of things that are not specifically MÃ©tis, like gymnastics, science, jazz, swimming and reading, being MÃ©tis is a big part of me. My MÃ©tis heritage is something I'm really proud of.
I'm related to Louis Riel way, way back. His grandmother was my great-great, like seven greats grandmother.
Louis Riel was a MÃ©tis leader who was hanged by the Canadian government for being a traitor, but really he was a hero.
It was in 1885. The MÃ©tis of Saskatchewan and Manitoba tried for a long time to get the Canadian government to acknowledge their rights to the land, but the government kept ignoring them. So they set up their own government. Louis Riel was their leader.
Things started to happen. Some soldiers got killed in Duck Lake. So the Canadian government got an army together to deal with the misbehaving MÃ©tis. And Louis Riel was hanged for treason.
We sing that history every time we perform. I feel it, probably because we have studied with some of the elders of MÃ©tis music, like Lawrence “Teddy Boy” Houle and James Flett. They showed us tunes, told us stories. Because of people like them, we know our history and can be proud of it.
It wasn't so easy for my grandmother, my mother's mother. She lived in a little French community in Manitoba and they were really poor. After the MÃ©tis rebellion was crushed, the government redistributed MÃ©tis land and the MÃ©tis got the less fertile bits. So generations had to deal with poverty. Then the government put MÃ©tis children into residential schools and you've heard about what a mess that was.
When my grandmother was a child it was against the law for her to speak French. English only was the rule. They had to hide their French books. It was a case of wanting to be proud of their heritage but also wanting to blend in.
We are so lucky to be alive at a time when we are encouraged to be proud of who we are and where we've come from. We don't have to hide anything. We can celebrate it!
We've played our music in a lot of places. We performed on TV, at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. And we played during the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, as part of the Indigenous Youth Gathering. That was amazing, being on such a big stage at such a huge event. And we're recording an album soon. I'm nervous about that. It's a big deal, at the best recording studio in Toronto.
Today's event is a lot smaller. We're at the Mississauga Waterfront Festival. Small events are good too because you can see the faces of the people. You can see that they are enjoying the music. One of the songs I love to play is a really fast jig from Nunavut. The elder who taught it to us said, “It's cold up there! People have to dance fast to keep warm!”
I attend a Francophone school. So many cultures come to my school, so many dialects of French, from Haiti, Somalia, Niger, all over. There are so many of us “different” ones at the school that there's no time for racism. We're all too busy just trying to get to know each other.
My brother had to deal with racism in university. You know, dumb kids making fun of him, making lame jokes. He never let it get to him. He kept playing his music and doing what he was meant to do. None of those idiots got to play at the Olympics!
The Quartet's debut album,
North West Voyage Nord Ouest
, is available through www.metisfiddlerquartet.com.
My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.
Seneca, 11, and
The Gathering of Nations is North America's largest powwow. Three thousand dancers from more than one hundred nations all over the continent compete for prizes and honors. Held at a stadium called The Pit at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, the Gathering has been coming together for over thirty years. In addition to the dancing there is a music stage showcasing Indigenous talent like the hip-hop group Red Power Squad, Miracle Dolls, the Cellicion Zuni dancers, Leanne Goose and the Navajo/Osage/Apache metal band Ethnic De Generation. There are Native foods, a massive arts and crafts market and the crowning of Miss Indian World.
Seneca and Ian are two young people attending the Gathering.
I'm a Fancy Shawl dancer and my sister, Jade, does the Jingle Dance. She's in fourth grade and her best subject is printing. I'm in fifth and reading is the thing I like most.
We've been coming to the Gathering of Nations since we were little. Our family is from the Laguna Pueblo, but we're spread out all over now. Some are in Gallup. Some are in Grants, some in Albuquerque. But we all get together at my grandmother's house in Casa Blanca on the pueblo.
I love it at the pueblo. It's not busy and crowded like the city. My grandmother has swings in her yard. We play soccer and tag â all kinds of games.
Me and my sister are Christian but we do Pueblo dancing too. Pueblo dancing is different from the dancing we're doing here at the Gathering. Fancy Shawl and Jingle dancing are more from the Plains nations. The Plains people like to share their traditional ways. That's one of the ways they keep their culture alive.
Pueblo culture is more just for us. We don't usually do it off the pueblo and there we just do it on feast and ceremony days. Pueblo clothes are different from the clothes we wear at powwows too.
Our grandmother is Cordelia Dempsey-Chee. She makes ceremonial masks out of clay. All the designs and colors have traditional meanings, but I don't know what all of them are. Our uncle is Arlan Dempsey. He makes sculptures of Pueblo dancers. Sometimes my sister and I get to help them. What I like best to do is make necklaces.
Our grandmother is a good storyteller. She tells us a lot of stories about when her great-great-grandfather was alive. Her great-great-grandfather is our great-great-great-grandfather. He lived in Tsiama village on the pueblo. Back then everyone lived like in old times, before modern things. I think I would like that, but I would miss some things too.
Grandma's father â our great-grandfather â went to the Carlisle Indian School back east. The government made him, even though he wanted to stay at home. But I think it's good that he went because he got to be there at the same time as Jim Thorpe, the famous Native runner. But he wasn't famous yet.
Grandma's family used to be sort of rich when she was a little girl. They had a ranch and they had seven kids and so much work to do they hired two African American families to help them. The men worked on the ranch and the women helped with the children. Grandma says they had so many eggs from their chickens that she and her sister used to throw eggs at each other as a game. And they had a big garden full of squash, corn and beans. Grandma said they lived by the railway tracks and lots of men would sneak onto trains because they couldn't afford a ticket, and they'd go from place to place looking for a job. My great-grandmother would give them food.
I'm not nervous anymore before dancing in a powwow. I used to be. I used to be scared that I'd do it wrong, but I'm not now. I just do my best. The judges look to see if you can keep the beat and if you are paying attention to the drum so that you stop dancing when the drumming stops.
The best part about being here is meeting kids from all over. You make a lot of new friends and celebrate your culture. And have fun!
I'm from Santo Domingo Pueblo. My family has been there for â I don't know. A long time. The pueblo used to be beside the Galisteo River, but the river flooded and destroyed all the homes, so the people moved to where the pueblo is now. That was over four hundred years ago, and I guess some of my ancestors go at least that far back. I don't think about it a lot. It's just where we're from.
A lot of people there still lead a very traditional life. Lots speak the language â Keresan. Children too.
It's a big place for art. Lots of people there make jewelry or pottery. It's right by an old turquoise mine, so people there have been making jewelry and things from turquoise forever. There's a big crafts market every Labor Day and people sell things from stalls along the road all the time.
August fourth is our big feast day. It's to honor St. Dominic. The pueblo is named after him, but that's the old way. The new way is to call it by its old name, which is Kewa. So we are from Kewa Pueblo.
On August fourth we have a big feast and a Corn Dance. Dancers come from other places to be a part of it. Thousands come. I'm not a dancer, but I do drumming at these special occasions and dances.
Something really bad happened there a year and a half ago. There was a big storm with lots of hail, hail the size of golf balls. It was really scary. It came down so heavy it put holes in people's cars and the roofs of their houses. Some of the homes were really old. People had lived in them for a long time, but they got flooded and destroyed, so people had to move out. And when the water dried up, it made everything moldy. You can't live in mold because it's too hard to breathe.
My dad started a foundation to help get money for the tribe to rebuild. Most people didn't have insurance. They lost everything. People were even staying in offices, just to have somewhere to stay. Dad helped do some of the actual building too.
Dad's done a lot of building in his life. He used to have a business but he lost it a couple of years ago when a fire burned up his truck and his tools. Now he and my mother make jewelry. They're good at it. They've done museum shows and other shows.
This is my first time at the Gathering of Nations. I didn't really get how big it was until I got here. There are people here from everywhere! Lots have been stopping by the booth, asking about the jewelry, just saying hello.
I don't generally see my parents during the week, so it's good to spend time with them. I go to the Santa Fe Indian School. It's a charter school, a boarding school. I'm in my second year there. I like it. The school looks good. It's not ugly. I stay in a dormitory and come home on weekends. Reading is what I like to do best. Math is sometimes a challenge.
It's a good school now because it's run by Native Americans. It used to be a boarding school run by the government. In the 1800s, kids would be taken from their families and forced to go. They'd cut the kids' hair, dress them up in military uniforms and make them march everywhere like little soldiers. And if any of them disobeyed or spoke any language that wasn't English, they got put in a jail at the back of the school and just left there.
I like being at home because we live on a ranch. We have a few horses and I like being around them.
It's a little overwhelming being here. So many people from so many places. It's really something to experience.