We were already here, but we had also newly arrived. We are part Settler, part Indigenous. We wanted to Own Ourselves. Somewhere along the way, we became assimilated.
Acts between the mid-19th and 20th Century, beginning with the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857, people decided for us who was and who were no longer considered *Indian*.
Common grandparents died, kinships lost touch with each other, the valley between Métis families and First Nations widened with each additional generation separating us from our ancestors. Time passed, efforts were made to hide the oral history of our connections. Memories faded.
They tried to make us forget we were Indigenous.
Those of us who had heard the oral history firsthand had little ways of connecting the dots. We got busy going to Colonialist schools, getting Colonialist jobs, raising our kids in Colonialism. Life happenend.
We *almost* became the success of John A. MacDonald’s doctrine to “kill the Indian, save the Man”.
Those of us, for whom the memories of oral history was woven into our rituals, we remembered. We experienced the rituals of laying down tobacco we cultivated in our gardens, when we harvested from the trap line. We gave thanks every time we harvested from the hunt, from the garden, from the rivers. We never walked by a smoky open air fire without smudging.
Those of us, who celebrated in our communities with kin and linked by our far removed Indian kokoms, separated by generations, we remembered. The sound of the reels, and the steps of the jigs, the smell of the food and certain times of the year are triggers of floods of memories, each of us completing the other when we reconnect.
Why did our great-grandparents not assert our Indigeneity? FEAR.
FEAR was lived and was communicated by them. They had directly experienced the effects of the bad stuff.
I’ve always known that my great-grandparents’ families dispersed at the end of the 18th century. Some went further North (Abitibi) some went South (Massachusetts). Some came back, some never did. What was hardly ever spoken was the reason for the exodus.
Speaking with family members – who – like me, were young enough to bear direct witness to our great-grandparents’ evasiveness, we understood that there was fear behind what they shared and what they chose to try to forget.
My great-grandparents bore witness to the events coming from the Red River (1869-1870) and Batoche (1885). The People affected were their direct kin: their first, or second cousins, their aunts and oncles, the aunts and oncles of their parents. They weren’t isolated from the effects of the Red River Rebellion. Their own parents had lived their own Rebellion 50 years before (1837-1838). 48 years of Rebellions, between start to finish. With alot of laws in between: the Gradual Civilization Act (1857), the Indian Act (1867) and all its amendments, the Gradual Enfranchisement Act (1869).
The North-West Scrips to extinguish Aboriginal title. (1870s to 1920s). The Numbered Treaties. (1871 to 1921).
Acts to *civilize* us and Acts to entrap us.
The choices my ancestors made stemmed from two main options reflecting the Colonialist governments. Give up claim of Indigeneity or face segregation in these lands that were, on paper, supposed to be *given* to First Nations to occupy, but quickly became prisons for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t Assimilate?
By the 1960s, things started to look up. But by then, my grandparents’ generation had to deal with GUILT.
GUILT of land ownership, GUILT about voting. GUILT over their living conditions as compared to their distant cousins. GUILT over the knowledge of Indian Agents, and GUILT over the removal of First Nations kin.
By then, 3, 4 or even 5 generations had resulted in widening the gulf between Métis here and our kin out West.
By the 1980s, some of us knew that many Inuit and Métis families out West had experienced so much of the same treatment we witnessed in reserves where our First Nations ancestors’ great-grandchildren lived.
My father and I often talked about the inequalities of Indigenous Peoples. Prior to the Internet (as there was such a time!), such knowledge was limited to direct contacts made through traveling and living in other communities. The media rarely reported of the living conditions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. There wasn’t many ways to obtain information.
I still carry the guilt of my Métis kin and my Métis ancestors that is multiplied with every generation to have had to bear witness of the effects of Colonialism and its resulting trauma.
We should have stepped in, we should have done more. We should have stood up. We should have said “no”.
We gave up our hunting grounds and whatever residual, unspoken rights to municipal, provincial or federal governments by the 1970s, because we believed that the Colonialist governments were acting in the collective interest. We shared our traditions with everyone – Settler or not – because we thought it was the right thing to do.
By the late 1970s, it almost looked like MacDonald’s plan worked. Li Gens Libres weren’t.
I won’t judge my great-grandparents too harshly, as I know that hindsight isn’t 20/20, and that they did what they could under circumstances that I will never be able to fully grasp.
Today and for a while now, I work at reaffirming mine and my ancestors’ Indigeneity. I do it in fraternity and solidarity with every Indigenous Peoples and Persons that have suffered. I personally demand nothing, but offer my support and my understanding of the wrongs done by Colonialism to our Own.
For All Our Relations.