By ISABELLA BOURQUE
Métis week started off with a performance from the Edmonton Métis Cultural Dancers and a Workshop in Building Capacity for Reconciliation on Nov. 14 in the Cargill Theatre in the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre. The dance group consists of Lyle Donald and his family from Edmonton.
They performed various Métis dances such as: The Wheel of Four, The Métis Sash dance, Drops of Brandy dance, The Broom dance, and The Red River Jig. The dancers wore traditional ribbon shirts and the women wore long and fluffy skirts.
Donald emceed the performance and before each dance began, he told us the origin of how the dance came about, and what they represented. Many of the dances borrow aspects from European dances or are an amalgamation of different cultural dances stemming from Europe.
He talked about how Métis people are starting to lose their culture from being so urbanized. Because Métis isn’t just a culture comprised of one type of heritage, it is made up of French, Irish, Scottish, and First Nations, there is a fear of losing what it really means to be Métis. Donald expressed that it is so important for Métis people to hold on to their heritage, and the traditions that come with it, for fear of losing knowledge and culture in such a modern society.
Métis dances (and any and all traditional practices of First Nations groups) were banned by the government in 1895 up until 1951 to aid them in assimilating Indigenous peoples into being more European, which was part of the government’s mandate. Donald is currently writing a book about Métis dancing and getting the communities to learn and retain their traditional dances, so they won’t lose them again.
After we watched the dancers, we got to try some jigging ourselves! It had been years since I jigged so I took part in some of the dancing and learned some new steps. After the family taught us how to do some basic steps, we were out of breath and ready to get on to the workshop portion. In groups, the workshop participants discussed various questions and topics around things like monuments, arts and performance in relation to reconciliation and Indigenous practices.
The lunch and learn on Nov. 15 starred a conversation by Dr. Kisha Supernant about Métis archeology and the tracing of our Metis ancestors. The participants of the lunch and learn got to have some fabulous hamburger soup and bannock while they listened to Dr. Supernant’s work on the archeological analysis of her past family members in areas like Alberta and Saskatchewan. The talk was interesting because with her research, Dr. Supernant was able to see where families had lived, how many cabins could have been in the area, and what kind of life the Métis people lived so long ago. She even showed us some preserved beading that her and her graduate student had found upon digging at a site. She told us that normally, they would find thousands of loose beads around the digging sites of the former Métis homes, but that it was a one in a million chance that they found an actual pattern of a partially beaded flower amongst the ruins.
Finally, the Aboriginal Students’ Office had a table set up for Métis crafts and bannock on Friday, Nov. 16 to close out Métis week. The crafts were finger-weaving your own keychain sash and making a mini Métis flag. And then, of course, eating bannock, mmm.