Stephen Quesnelle embraces his Métis heritage

By Victoria Gray of the Welland Tribune; original story can be viewed at: http://www.wellandtribune.ca/2012/11/25/stephen-quesnelle-embraces-his-metis-heritage

Stephen QuesnelleStephen Quesnelle, past president of The MNO Niagara Region Métis Council has
spent more than 20 years trying to educate people about Métis culture and instill pride
in other Métis.

Living in shame of a beautiful heritage doesn’t make sense to Stephen Quesnelle.

The past president of the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Niagara Region Métis Council understands how Métis people could feel shame, but he wants to help fill them with pride and teach the world just how the Métis shaped Canadian history.

“Louis Riel said ‘We would sleep for 100 years.’ Well it’s been just over 100 years and it’s time to wake up and show everybody who we are and to take pride in that the same way anyone is proud of their own heritage.”

Quesnelle wasn’t always proud.

He was born in Toronto in 1940 and grew up in Cabbage Town with his parents Medor and Selima, with an older brother and three younger sisters.

The couple moved to the big city to get away from racism in Midland before Quesnelle was born.

“They were tired of being treated like second-class citizens. My father was called half-breed and my mother was called squaw,” he said.

They told their five children never to admit there was any First Nations blood in the family.

They didn’t teach their children Métis customs or culture, and Quesnelle wasn’t allowed to speak French at school.

The word Métis was never mentioned in the house.

“I always knew I was different and people used to say I looked like First Nations when I tanned in the summer,” he said. “I just thought I was Aboriginal, I had no idea who the Métis were.”

Quesnelle was in construction most of his working life and met his second wife Margaret at a sign company in Brampton, but after falling two stories and breaking both legs in 1966 and having another fall in 1979 that damaged his back, he went into hotel management and then transport dispatching.

After 13 surgeries to repair the damage he stopped working and moved to Welland with his wife to be closer to one of their 10 children. He also has 16 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

He started researching the families genealogy in 1990 after his parents died and discovered his great-great grandfather, John B. Quesnelle was a blacksmith in the Royal Navy on Drummond Island and was forced to move to Georgian Bay along with many other Métis.

“Métis. I’m Métis. I found half-breeds, mixed-bloods. I knew I wasn’t full-blood, I knew I was different, but knowing made me want to learn everything I could about the my people because they didn’t teach it in school.”

With the assistance of the local MNO Métis Council in Welland, Quesnelle became an MNO citizen in 1999.

He asked Valerie Stewart, then President of the local MNO Métis Council if he could help out. He was 59 and old enough to serve as a senator on the council and served until 2007 when he found out the council lost its charter for inactivity.

He spearheaded the initiative the create another council, and in 2008 they held their Annual General Assembly and renamed the it the MNO Niagara Region Métis Council.

Quesnelle ran for president and was elected.

Three weeks later he had the City of Welland flying the Métis Flag for Louis Riel Day for a week. Now five municipalities fly the flag every year.

In 2008, he made sure a Métis float was entered into the Rose Parade and set up Métis encampments at Days in the Park.

He also started doing school presentations about Métis culture and history that year for both the District School Board of Niagara and the Niagara Catholic District School Board.

In 2009, he arranged for the MNO Niagara Council to join the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 4 Welland to march alongside each other in the Remembrance Day Parade in memory of the many Métis who fought and died while serving Canada.

Quesnelle has also sat on many boards and committees over the years. Since 1999 he has sat on the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Committee, proposal review committee of the Aboriginal Advisory committee with Family and Children Services Niagara to help bring an understanding of the cultural needs of Aboriginal children.

In 2010, he became a council member on the Aboriginal Education Committee representing students at Brock University and Niagara College. He fought for a Métis space in First Nations rooms.

In 2011, Quesnelle went to the Welland Historical Museum and helped them create the first Métis exhibit in Ontario and he sits on the Welland Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Welland Community Wellness complex Advisory committee.

He was also a recipient the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee award from MP Malcolm Allen.

“I didn’t start this work in search of a reward,” he said. “My only goal was to help the Métis people to once again be proud of their ancestry and to bring understanding of who the Métis are to the Niagara Region and the rest of Canada.”

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