Getting back in touch with their Métis roots

Métis youth unplug from everyday life to embrace their culture

At the Canadian Ecology Centre in Mattawa, there was no Wi-Fi or internet access for the Métis youth taking part in the 2016 Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Infinite Reach March Break Camp and they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Joel came to the camp from Milton, which has a population of approximately 150,000 people, and doesn’t often get the chance to connect with his Métis heritage in such a crowded place. He’s grateful to have had a chance to surround himself with nature and the open air of the Mattawa region.

“It’s important for youth to have opportunities like this,” he shared in an interview. “Youth in today’s society don’t typically connect with their heritage like this. So getting a chance to really immerse yourself in the culture is very, very important because you don’t get to learn about it any better than this.”

While taking part in outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, fire-building and nightly campfires, the youth were also able to speak and interact with MNO Infinite Reach Facilitators, Traditional Knowledge Holders and Métis elders.

Senator Cecile Coutu of the MNO Sudbury Métis Council attended the March Break Camp to be there for the youth. Her presence as an elder helped them on their road to rediscover their heritage, helping with finger-weaving or Métis beadwork as well as being someone for the youth to talk to.

“[Being here is] going to answer a lot of their questions, like ‘Where do we come from?’ and ‘Who are we?’ It gives them more clarity,” she said.

Nelson Montreuil taught them about trapping—a historic cornerstone of Métis culture. Roger Labelle hosted a lesson on skinning and stretching pelts and Joe Paquette, a frequent presenter at the March Break Camp, led a lesson in the art of fire-starting. These lessons focused on teaching the youth about the Métis Way of Life. Paquette has noticed that the youth are eager to learn more about the wilderness and their culture.

“It wasn’t that long ago that the youth were afraid to stand and be afraid of who they are. I think we’ve surpassed that…it’s a good stage in the development,” he said.

Kevin travelled from Courtice to attend the March Break Camp. He recently learned of his Métis heritage, and his experience in Mattawa has helped him discover more about himself and to meet other Métis youth around his age.

“The highlight was the collaboration with Métis people and everyone here. They were very nice, generous and overall a very great team. I got to sing songs, dance, and it’s really adventurous. We got to go out in the wild; the elders would teach us survival skills and it was very, very amazing,” Kevin said.

And no matter where you’re from or what language you speak, it’s easy to make friends.

C’est très intéressant spécialement parce que c’est très comme dans le bois pi y’a pas d’internet, y’a pas rien, t’es juste comme connecté avec le dehors. Même si tu connais personne, tout l’monde sont comme très gentils pi tu peux faire des amis super vite,” said Roni, a Métis youth from Sudbury.

The MNO Infinite Reach March Break Camp explores Métis heritage but it also helps the youth connect for their future. Wanda Botsford, an MNO Education Officer, has witnessed this first-hand.

“It helps them to think about what they want to do for career choices plus it also helps our youth become connected to the land, to the culture and even to people. When I talk to some of our youth who were participants two or three years ago, they mention that they still stay in touch with the people that were here and they look forward to seeing them again.”

The 2016 MNO Infinite Reach March Break Camp was held from March 13 to 17 and is an annual event hosted by the MNO.

Published on: March 18, 2016