“The Métis: Then – Now – Tomorrow”

By Richard Cuddy, President, MNO Credit River Métis Council

The Credit River Métis Council - Métis Youth ConferenceRichard Cuddy, MNO Credit River Council President (left) and Talitha Tolles,
MNO Credit River Council Youth Representative (centre) presented Métis Memories of
Residential Schools
, a library resource, to David Suzuki Secondary School (DSSS)
, Jeanne Gray (right).

On May 24, 2012, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Credit River Métis Council , the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB) and the Peel District School Board (PDSB) with financial assistance from the Ministry of Education held a Métis Youth Conference for students from the Region of Peel. The title of the conference was “The Métis: Then – Now – Tomorrow”. The conference was hosted by Principal Jeanne Gray and the PDSB’s newest secondary school,David Suzuki Secondary School (DSSS), in Brampton. One hundred and thirty students from grades seven through ten (representing 13 schools from across the Region of Peel) were offered the opportunity to learn, explore and celebrate Métis heritage, culture and identity.

Ian Pettigrew is the Instructional Coordinator for the PDSB and the conference was the realization of a two year dream for him. Ian had approached the CRMC in late 2011 to discuss the conference project and was offered thefull support of council. Talitha Tolles, the CRMC Youth Rep., immediately began collaborations with the conference partners. The amount of passionate, hard work Talitha and Ian had put into the conference was evident on May 24th.

The day began with opening remarks from Principal Jeanne Gray, DSSS; Ian Pettigrew, PDSB; Richard Cuddy, MNO Credit River Council President and Talitha Tolles. Ian asked the students for a show of hands.”How many people in this room know someone who is Métis? Look around; about a half a dozen or so.” (The Métis are the largest segment of the Aboriginal population in Peel.)

The keynote speaker was well-known Métis birch bark canoe builder, Marcel Labelle (Mahigan). Mahigan is also a traditional story teller who never fails to captivate an audience with stories from his “backyard” and with his canoe display. The story of Marcel’s journey may make you laugh and cry, but it will always make you feel honoured to have listened and proud to be Métis.

After Marcel’s address, students chose two break-out sessions from the six offered during the day.

“Proud to be Métis” was facilitated by Joyce Tolles (MNO Credit River Council Secretary Treasurer) and Jim Tolles who offered a hands-on presentation about trapping, hunting and fire starting.

“Voyageurs” was presented by Chris McLeod (MNO Education Officer) who gave students the historical background of the Métis people. Chris was wearing traditional Métis clothing and at one point, dressed a volunteer in a capote and sash. “It was a fantastic event,” Chris remarked.

“The Métis: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” was offered by Joe Paquette (President of the Métis Nation of Ontario Veterans’ Council) who involved the students in role playing to illustrate his stories of Métis culture. “Thank you to all of you for the great day. It was a great success and we should do it again,” Joe enthused.

“My Life as a Métis Woman”, was facilitated by Talitha Tolles (MNO Credit River Council Youth Rep.) who offered a woman’sperspective on growing up Métis. She illustrated her story with a PowerPoint production and MNO Credit River Council Vice-president, Bill Morrison, led a walkthrough of the MNO Credit River Council Consultation Trailer set up outside the school.

“Health and Healing: Past and Present” was a discussion about traditional Métis healing and health concerns lead by Simon Bain (MNO Community Healing and Wellness Coordinator).

“Getting Jiggy with It!”was a brief history of Métis dance, some lessons and the opportunity to step to the fiddle music with Ginny Gonneau (Ontario Métis Youth ISPAYIN Project Representative). “The students really loved the jigging workshop. Even the teachers participated!” Ginny exclaimed.

Closing remarks were provided by Ian Pettigrew who again asked the audience for a show of hands. “How many people in this room now are certain that they know someone who is Métis? Look around; we all do.”

Richard Cuddy and Talitha Tolles wound up the session with the presentation of a book accepted by DSSS Principal, Jeanne Gray. Richard said: “In March of this year, I attended a conference in Saskatchewan called ‘Nobody’s Children – A Métis Nation Residential Schools Conference’. I received a copy of the book Métis Memories of Residential Schools. On behalf of the MNO Credit River Council and our Youth Rep. Talitha Tolles, we would like to donate this book to the school and would be honoured to have it used as a resource in your library.”

Principal Gray thanked Talitha and the CRMC and said she was pleased to have received the library’s first indigenous resource for the new Native Studies curriculum that will begin next year.

The MNO commends all those involved including the MNO Credit River Métis Councillors and citizens; Talitha Tolles; the MNO staff and citizens; Ian Pettigrew (PDSB); Dan Reidy (DPCDSB); the Ontario Ministry of Education; the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board; the Peel District School Board; the David Suzuki Secondary School staff and the 130 students who came to learn with open hearts and minds.