Submitted by: Jennifer Lafontaine, MNO citizen

Métis digital stories for healing, connection and community
MNO Toronto and York Region Métis Council members and digital storytelling
organizers and participants attend the Louis Riel Day celebration.

Over four full Saturdays in November 2014, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Toronto and York Region Métis Council (TYRMC) partnered with Community Story Collective artists Jennifer LaFontaine, who is also an MNO citizen, and Emmy Pantin on the Métis Digital Storytelling Project.

“I think the benefit of digital storytelling is three-fold: it brings Metis people together, shows us how similar we are in our lives, and it will help preserve what being Métis means Jennifer LaFontaineJennifer LaFontaine (left), MNO citizen and Métis
Digital Storytelling Project organizer, sits with a
participant during the workshop.
to us in 2014 for future generations,” explains Jennifer.

At the workshop, six community members learned how to create 2-5 minute videos that were life story based. Community members ranged in ages from 20 to 60, which provided the opportunity for multi-generational sharing and learning.

Each session opened with cultural teachings from our Knowledge Keepers who shared medicine, smudging, sang, told stories and gave teachings on politics, identity, mental health, spirituality and community. One community member said that “the knowledge keepers were so inspirational; they gave me ideas for my own story and reassured me that I belonged in this space.

Joe PaquetteJoe Paquette (right), MNO Knowledge Keeper
and MNO Veterans’ Council President, stands
with a participant during the workshop.
The digital storytelling component of the workshop began with a storytelling circle. Participants shared stories of addiction, homelessness, losing our sense of place, reunification with family, denial of culture, two-spirited identity, residential schools, historical research and finding community. Within the circle, there was a constant affirmation of identity, with many participants feeling that they are always measuring “how Métis” they are or what right they have to claim this cultural identity. One community member noted that they “learned that many urban Métis people struggle with and are insecure in their identity as a result of colonization.”

After the storytelling circle, each participant crafted a script, recorded their voices telling their story and then created storyboards to plan the visual and audio elements. Participants also received a video-editing lesson. With support from the artists, every participant successfully completed their video.

On Saturday November 15, 2014, the MNO TYRMC hosted a Louis Riel Day potluck filled with jigging, fiddling and a special screening of the digital stories. Over 60 people attended the event, including all of the storytellers along with many family and friends.

Every storyteller also had the opportunity to speak to the audience about their experiences with the digital storytelling project. The entire community was very accepting and encouraging and honoured every storyteller.

One community member wrote to the council after the event saying “thanks for a wonderful afternoon. It was indeed a celebration of many things—good food, meeting new friends, music, dancing, sharing…[we] enjoyed it all. The digital stories were particularly moving. The sharing of our stories helps us understand one another and appreciate the long roads some have travelled.” Digital storytelling organizers noted that little reminders such as this is why we went on this journey together—for healing, connection and community.

The digital stories will be screened at the MNO TYRMC Annual General Meeting on Saturday, April 11, 2015 from 12:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 252 Bloor Street West, 12th floor. They will also be added to the MNO TYRMC website in the upcoming weeks.

This project was made possible through the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council.

The organizers would like to thank the following Knowledge Keepers for providing guidance and support for this project: Joseph Paquette, MNO Veterans’ Council President; Constance Simmonds; Dr. Lynn Lavallee; and Dr. Alis Kennedy, O.Ont., C.D., O.M.C., MNO Veterans’ Council Senator.

They would also like to thank the following MNO TYRMC members who volunteered their time to help make this project such a success: Tera Beaulieu, President; Marilyn Hew, Secretary/Treasurer; Todd Ross, Interim Chair; Brenda Stewart, Women’s Representative; Derek Johnstone, Councillor; and Christine Skura, Youth Representative.