Community connections between the Chicot and West Nipissing: “li Mitifs sont tissés serrés comme la Fléchée”

Up until the World Wars, people who left communities were oddities. People grew deep roots in their community; in the case of Métis communities, these roots even predate the arrival of European Settlers.

Voyageurs, well, were travelers – yet as we’ve seen in records, they came back, they kept ties with their kin and their communities. These connections survived through many generations, despite the difficulties in communication. The postal service was a lifeline between kin. Many pints of maple syrup made their way West while lots of Serviceberry Pellican (how us kids called Pemmican) made its way East.

Kin were remembered by nicknames, stories, songs and tall tales; as time passed, everything was embellished and exaggerated to keep the listener enthralled and ensure the story was passed down to the next generation. Yet, the tales stayed true enough that if you did meet the subject in question, you instantly recognized them and felt like you’d known them forever.

By the early eighties, which coincides when the beginning of modern technologies, most of our town folk who were the storytellers had left us. As time passed, the stories became more and more doubted and modern day amenities made the idea that it was possible to keep connected became seen as ludicrous. Funnily enough, before technology, we had no way of verifying these stories – yet we knew them to be true. Today, we’re programmed to see everything through the fake news lens.

It always give me a thrill me when someone who I don’t know personally, but with whom I share many kinship connections, shares stories we’ve both heard from different yet common sources.

Here is one case. This picture and story was posted by Mrs Viviane Roberge, who maintains a wonderful Facebook page about events past and present of the town of St-Gabriel de Brandon, where I was born.

Most of these names are all very familiar to me: although not direct ancestors, Celina Corriveau and Calixte Courchesne are the grandparents of my uncle, Rolland Desrochers. We are related through his wife, my aunt Jeanne Mathews.

I had the pleasure of spending many of Summer vacations with Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Rolland. Although they had moved down to Florida back in the 50s or 60s, they came back almost every Summer and stayed with my grandfather while they visited with their respective families. Uncle Rolland’s brother owned the garage in town and the family was well-known hotel and shopkeepers.Uncle Rolland’s family were seasoned travelers. Like many families from our community, they had been to many places, like the Voyageurs our ancestors all were. Uncle Rolland regaled us with stories of cousins they’d meet during their many travels in a succession of fancy home on wheels.Uncle Rolland’s grandfather Calixte Courchene had left St-Gabriel de Brandon several times, going as far South as Lowell, Massachusetts before setting roots West in the Temiskaming town of Lavigne, where Calixte passed away in 1940. His son Télesphore made sure that all of Calixte’s six wives were named in his burial record.CalisteCourchesnesepulcre

Télesphore Courchesne war born in St-Gabriel de Brandon in 1897, of Calixte’s second wife, Marie Louise Allard:telesphorecourchesnebirth

Telesphore Courchesne

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Télesphore married Marie Anne Aubin in 1920. Himself recognized as a Knowledge Keeper by the Centre franco-ontarien de folklore: https://www.cfof.on.ca/porteurs-de-tradition.One son, Narcisse, followed his father’s footsteps and became the region’s Knowledge Keeper. He published over a dozen books on the region of West Nipissing and is also co-founder of the Sudbury Area History and Genealogy Society. Having become an expert in this field, he helped several members of his community produce their family trees and obtain their Métis cards.

Narcisse Courchesne

     Until Mrs. Viviane Roberge posted in her group St-Gabriel de Brandon, d’une génération à l’autre, I had no idea of this Knowledge Keeper’s name, but I had heard stories of Uncle Rolland’s cousin who even made the trip all the way back to the Chicot to visit his father’s birthplace.I wish I knew this when I had the absolute privilege to visit the area at the invitation of members of Parliament Marc Serré of the riding of Sudbury and Paul Lefebvre of the riding of Nickel Belt back in the Summer of 2017!

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Gathering of concerned MNO citizens and the Metis Federation of Canada, August 2017 from left: Robert Pilon, Saskatchewan Métis, President Johanne Brissette, Chicot river Métis, Treasurer Dr. Keen Savard, French river Métis, Consultant Marc Serré, MP for Sudbury Paul Lefebvre, MP for Nickel Belt

If you are related to Calixte, Télesphore and Narcisse and would like to chat about our communities, please drop me a line!

 

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White people: stop defining us and defiling our symbolism.

I first saw this picture last week. Several people alerted me to this image. The graphic rates well for shock effect. It was published to accompany an article published in the September edition of Maisonneuve magazine, to go along with Halifax’s Saint-Mary University professor Darryl Leroux’s article “Self-Made Métis,” in which he writes how tens of thousands of Canadians have begun calling themselves Métis, and now they’re trying to get the courts to agree. 

I can’t tell you who the artist is or whether s.he is Indigenous. It’s obvious that whoever made this drawing knows something about Indigenous symbolism and was going for a shock factor.

Everyone should be concerned about this image.

Who might fit a stereotypical image of the Noble Indian?

Before you continue reading, stop. Ask yourself if your grandchildren’s grandchildren would loose claim to your Nation, to your community, based on how s.he may physically appear on the outside.

The drawing is being used as a commentary on identity politics between First Nations without status and Métis from outside the branded Métis “Nation” (a specific geographic area that excludes parts of BC and Ontario, as well as all of the NWT, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.)

Let’s face facts:

This picture is violent in nature. It’s blasphemous. It’s full of imagery and innuendos intended to send a clear message of segregation. The image clearly mirrors disrespect for Indigenous symbolism by way of poking fun of sacred objects such as the Medicine Wheel and traditional Regalia. It uses the stereotype of a Caucasian, Aryan-looking male desecrating the Peaked Hood  worn as part of the women of the Wabanaki Confederacy Regalia.

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Traditionally embroidered with beaded swirls, the Peaked Hood is sacred to the woman of the Confederacy. In this case, a Christian crucifix that looks like a Nazi cross replaces the bottom embroidery.

The Peaked Hood is placed on top of a camouflage-coloured baseball cap that would somehow imply that everybody seeking to assert Indigenous identity is doing so for hunting privileges.

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Along with the rappala fishing lure that misappropriates the use of the Sacred Medicine Wheel, while featuring colours of the four directions in wrong order, the graphic seeks to reaffirm the trope that Indigenous Peoples get free, unlimited money and harvesting rights in Canada.

The Fleurs de Lys: an image associated with the French-Indian war, a symbol used by Louis Riel’s provisional government. The Fleur de Lys was a symbol of resistance to the Hudson Bay Company and to British colonization.

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In what should be seriously examined as an affront to all Métis, the artist misuses the Fleurs de Lys, a symbol close to the heart of every Métis with French ancestry as well as every First Nation  who held alliances with France.

S.he makes it about how Québécois identity is not compatible with Indigenous identity and reduces the history of Indigenous Peoples to British colonial rule.

Last but not least, the red nose. Symbolism of the drunk native. Reducing to a stereotype the blood quantum theory at the basis of the Indian act.

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One can assume the image content displays that whatever DNA is left in a mixed-blood native individual is a genetic leftover of generational alcohol dependency. The drunken Indian stereotype, one of the most harmful discriminatory tropes associated with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, seemingly is what remains during Whitewashing, all cultural traits diminish and are lost yet only the worst stereotype remains, carrying forward to future generations.

I’m sure I’m missing a few more imageries in this egregious art piece. I’ve relied on the keen eye of a few Métis and First Nation artists (who wish to remain anonymous).

Readers may or may not agree on the definitions of Indigenous identity.  These are important, crucial discussions that should not be influenced by White academia, in my opinion, no more than the criteria that states community acceptance be dictated by its Own People and not by the Settler’s governments.

We owe it to ourselves to speak out. We need to do it for our grandchildren’s grandchildren; those not yet born, for whom we hold land, traditions and culture.

The image has been made public and no copyright infringement is intended during this artistic critique and study of this work. 

ALL OUR RELATIONS

The Lakota saying: Mitákuye Oyás’iŋThe phrase translates in English as “all my relatives,” “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys. (p.160,  ISBN 0-8061-3649-9.)

We are all related. All my relations.

What does that mean to me?

As the eldest of the eldest of the eldest, I benefited from knowing five of my great-grandparents – three of them with verifiable connections with a First Nation ancestor. All from the same historic communities in Lanaudière, Québec. All of them with kinship connections: cousins, aunties, uncles who settled in the West. All of them with kinship to Voyageurs, or Voyageurs themselves.

As every generation passes, as more of the elders passed on, the thread between kinship becomes thinner. To the glee of Colonizers. To the glee of Settler Governments.

Here are a few kinship connections. No matter which ancestor I choose, I can link them to each other, no matter where their travels have taken them and their descendants:

Here are a few examples: (click to see)

 

Our ancestors who were alive during the hanging of Louis Riel and who were able to recount our kinship connections passed on.

Settler Governments were able to begin to legislate the Rights of Métis.

1982: Enter Section 35 of the Constitution Act:

35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.

(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

1993: Enter the Powley Test.

Let’s see if I can answer it with empirical evidence:

1. The characterization of the right claimed (eg: was it hunting for food?): Not claiming anything – yet.

2. Whether the claimant is a member of a contemporary Métis community:   Yes.

3. Identification of the historic Métis community:                    Lanaudière, Québec

4. Identification of the contemporary Métis community:         Lanaudière, Québec

5. The historical time-frame of the practice:                                 17th C to present

6. Whether the practice is integral to the culture of the claimant:                Yes.

7. Whether the proposed practice is continued by the Métis community:    Yes.

8. Whether the right was extinguished:                                              No. Occurring on unceded land. 

9. Whether the right was infringed upon:                                          To be continued

10. If the right was infringed, can that infringement can be justified:     To be continued

This exercise has allowed me to verify the empirical proof of my family’s oral history. It’s a pretty big deal to me. I wish to express gratitude to Dr. Sebastien Malette, Professor of Indigenous Law (Métis Rights) at Carleton University in Ottawa. I met Sebastien on the comment board at http://apihtawikosisan.com/2015/03/the-mythology-of-metissage-settler-moves-to-innocence/#comments on March 11, 2015. He has since then become a good friend, mentor and ally. If I would ever do a PhD, he’d be the guy who I’d beg to be my Advisor. Merci, cher Seb.