By order of the mayor, November 11-16 is officially Métis Awareness Week in Prince Rupert, culminating on Saturday with Louis Riel Day which honours the Métis hero.
Mayor Lee Brain made the proclamation at the end of August with the goal of recognizing one of Prince Rupert’s smaller, but at the same time very vibrant, communities. Joy Sundin is the president of the Prince Rupert and District Métis Society, and talked about the many different cultural programs the group offers.
“During Seafest we were in the parade with a float, and we made bison and elk burgers. At the autumn equinox we had a kayaking afternoon and a potluck in the evening,” Sundin explained of some of the activities the organization has performed. Cooking classes, social times, women’s events, National Aboriginal Day and more have also been key parts of the group’s goal to connect Prince Rupert’s Métis community.
Sundin estimates that there are approximately 150 Métis members in Prince Rupert, with 20 or so on Haida Gwaii.
The total is small even compared to other towns along the highway, with Terrace having around 225, Smithers 200 and Prince George 400. By 2016 numbers British Columbia had more than 89,000 Métis people, putting the province on par population wise with Manitoba, the Métis homeland. Ontario and Alberta have the largest Métis populations in the country.
Sundin did not discover her Métis heritage until later in life, as her father did not want her to face the same discrimination he did growing up Métis. Upon learning her background though, Sundin has only become more determined to find out as much as she can about the history of her people and ancestors.
“Sometimes it’s overwhelming to try and understand it, and try and pass on knowledge you get to your children and siblings and cousins. Do you know how much Métis information is out there to learn about what your grandparents and great grandparents went through?” Sundin asked. “It’s all out there and it’s very exciting.”
The Métis organization has plenty planned in the near future as well, starting with the Louis Riel dance at the Moose Hall on Nov. 23. In true Métis fashion, fiddle music and jigging will highlight the dance. Sundin says there has been a spike in interest among people off all ages wanting to learn to play the fiddle. Those interested may be in luck, as Prince Rupert is home to a prominent Métis fiddler, Andrew Goulet. The group is on the lookout for fiddles in order to accommodate the demand.
Beading is also an important Métis tradition, and one Sundin hopes to build interest in through classes on traditional Métis flower beading in the near future. She also hopes to help people, including herself, rediscover the michif language of the Métis people.
The first day of Métis Awareness Week was fittingly Remembrance Day, with the Métis people having a long and proud history of service. The Métis were recently recognized at a ceremony in Ottawa for their service during World War II, with an acknowledgement that they were treated unfairly compared to other veterans upon their return home. Ottawa is currently in the process of compensating veterans for the injustice.
“We’ll wear our sashes on Remembrance Day in honour of the Métis people that were veterans. There’s a huge veteran organization part of the Métis Nation that are recognized, and we exalt them and say thank you, just as any Canadian,” Sundin explained. “That’s important, we’re all Canadians, we [Métis] just have a unique culture and a unique history.”
Alex Kurial | Journalist
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