Métis students gain a deeper understanding of cultural identity

Click the video above to view a glimpse into the 2016 MNO Summer Youth Cultural
Program training.

It was an experience to be remembered for 25 students from across the province of Ontario who spent a week—from May 29 to June 3, 2016—immersed in Métis history and culture at Old Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay for the sixth annual Métis Nation of Ontario’s (MNO) Summer Youth Cultural Program (SYCP) training.

Métis youth from six communities—Toronto, Ottawa, Midland, North Bay, Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie—bunked at Old Fort William Historical Park to gain further understanding of the Métis way-of-life as it was 200 years ago. The students will carry these teachings to their local communities through interpretation at events throughout the summer.

SYCP_2016_group shot
SYCP youth at the Old Fort William Historical Park in  Thunder Bay. 
Back row: (L-R) Breton Burke, Shanese Steele, Ishmael Van Der
Rassel, Warren McFadden, Simone Blais, Julia Simon. 
Middle Row:
(L-R) Riley Smith, Melissa St. Amant, Abby Denning, Katie Plante,
Sarah Bibeau, Dana Carson, Jordyn Playne, Breanne Martin. 
Front
row: (L-R) Katelyn Lacroix, Jacob Crawford, Joanna 
Burt, Mattingly
Turgeon, Karly Chapman, Cassidy Eames, 
Tessa Hope, Janique
Belcourt, Valerie Labelle-Savard, 
Courtney Vaughan, Gerald Lavallee.
Click here to view a larger version.

“The program gives the youth numerous opportunities to experience what it is to be Métis in a way they’ve never experienced before and to explore their identities in a new way,” said Scott Carpenter, MNO Manager of Education, Way of Life and Special Projects.

At Fort William, students were provided with authentic hands-on learning experience in a vibrant and lively re-enactment site set in the time period of 1815. Workshops included everything from canoe building, fish cleaning, blacksmithing, and Michif language to artisan crafts like mukuk making, tinsmithing a tin cup, constructing a Jacobs’s ladder and beading.

“The experience takes them back to their roots and they are able to explore their history, which is often forgotten in the school system,” said Jade Bourbonnière,SYCP_2016_Cassidy EamesSYCP Facilitator Cassidy Eames beading at Old Fort William Historical
Park. Click here to view a larger version.
 MNO Interim Supervisor of Summer Youth Projects.

Bourbonnière emphasized the importance of carrying the knowledge back to local communities because it provides a “deeper understanding of Métis culture and helps to engage the public in our historical and modern day presence.”

The summer youth gained a heightened consciousness of not only traditional cultural practices, but gained an understanding of Métis people as an integral part of the cultural fabric and identity of Canada today.

“When it comes to Métis people, there’s a lack of awareness about who they are, where they are, and their history in Ontario,” said Brian Tucker, MNO SYCP_2016_woodcuttingSYCP Leads Katelyn Lacroix (middle) and Breton Burke (left) learn
traditional woodcutting techniques. Click here to view a larger version. 
Associate Director of Educationand Way of Life.

Tucker hosted a workshop that provided an introduction to the Métis way-of-life through land use, harvesting, fishing, hunting, trapping, and medicine.

“It is important that Métis youth have opportunities to connect to their culture and that they learn about the variety and depth of the Métis way-of-life in all of its complexities,” said Tucker, who provided students with a hands-on fish cleaning demonstration.

Shanese Steele, a MNO SYCP youth participant from Toronto, said her favourite part of the program was the fish cleaning.“It reminded me of my childhood. I did a lot of fishing with my grandfather and it was nice to re-experience that.”

Steele, who is enrolled in an Indigenous Studies Program, pointed out the lack of knowledge about Métis people and culture in the education system. Through the teachings of the MNO SYCP, she was surprised to learn not only about the amount of work that went into being a Métis Voyageur, but also how hard the women worked to support the men. Steele is excited to share this knowledge with her community.

“Learning about the life of Métis women in places like Fort William and their experiences on the voyageur path and as women, is the most important thing I’ve learned,” added Steele.

The MNO SYCP is a way for the youth to share their rich culture with their local communities. The students will spend the rest of the year carrying their newfound knowledge to youth and elders alike at their local day camps, museums, festivals, and anywhere that cultural programming could be beneficial.

“I think this work is important because Métis culture isn’t really taught in schools much, so there’s a lot of people in our country who don’t even know Métis people exist,” said Steele. “Or they only think that that Métis people were Voyageurs, or that it happened for a short period and that was the end of their history.”

The Métis way-of-life is multi-faceted and has many dimensions to it. In Thunder Bay, students were able to get a sense of all of those aspects from music, dance, language and food, to family community, connection, and land and water use.

“I’m a huge history buff and I love learning new things,” said Riley Smith, a MNO SYCP youth participant from Sault Ste. Marie. “It is a great experience for me to learn about a culture that I didn’t really grow up knowing. It means a lot to me.”

Many of the students were very interested in the historical aspects of the program—how people lived, what kind of food they ate, and how they traded.

“I like connecting with my culture when I’m here,” said Gerald Lavallee, a MNO SYCP youth participant from North Bay. “I feel like I’m connecting with my roots and my ancestors.”

Fort William is a unique backdrop for this kind of experiential learning experience because of its historical significance, its resources, and staff specialized skill set. It provides a place for students to be organically immersed in history.

“I think this work is really important because it helps us rediscover our language, culture and heritage in a new, authentic way,” said Lavallee. “It gives us a good idea of where we come from and where we are going in the future.”

Lavallee’s ancestry and identity are high priority and he highlights the importance of the MNO SYCP program for the new generation of Métis youth leaders. “It connects us across the Nation. It builds our communities and teaches us the skills that we can then pass on not only to our families but to our communities in general so that they can have better idea of who the Métis people are, what our culture is, and what we do.”

Lavallee, who took part in the 2014 Métis Canoe Expedition, emphasizes the importance of leadership and knowledge sharing.“When we come together like this, we are able to build those connections that will last for decades. Our youth will turn into the adults of the Nation and so it is so important that we learn and connect to our culture now, especially for some of us that might have been disconnected in the past.”

Many of the students at this years’ camp carry a strong sense of their Métis cultural identity and understanding of their past, present, and future.

“Being Métis is kind of like a bridge that connects two cultures together and is a way to connect people,” said Katelyn LaCroix, a MNO SYCP youth participant from Midland who has a Métis interpreter in her ancestry.

To others, a sense of Métis identity comes from a spiritual connection to the land or having a sense of community, resilience and strength. “Being Métis is really embracing differences into a unique synthesis of a culture. Everyone is so different and they take different things and make something new out of it,” said Dana Carson a MNO SYCP participant from Toronto.

MNO SYCP youth participant Melissa St. Amant from Midland shares a similar sentiment. “Being Métis means honoring my culture, being part of a large community that is almost like my second family and participating in my heritage.”

Click here for a sampling of some of the activities the MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program have been up to this summer.

Published on: July 19, 2016

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