This First Person column is written by Josée Bergeron, who lives in Kelowna, B.C. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
I held the envelope in my hands, noticing its subtle weight. It had arrived so quickly that I thought a rejection letter lurked inside saying, “No, you aren’t Métis.”
Growing up, my father would talk about the Métis people, Louis Riel and the Red River Rebellion. He would proudly take out a blurry photocopy of the land scrip application signed by my “half-breed” ancestor Augustus Harrison in 1876 and carefully trace my finger along the line of surnames of our family tree to me.
“We are Métis,” my father told me often, but that’s where the connection to our identity ended, or so I believed.
Although we live in Kelowna, B.C., my father grew up in the 1960s in Ross, Man. — a small town about 50 kilometres east of Winnipeg. The second of five children, he spent his childhood wandering thick swamp lands and running barefoot through trembling aspen and white birch forests hunting for prairie chickens and grouse to help feed his family. Every day after school, even at minus thirty-five degrees, he checked trap lines for foxes, coyotes, muskrats and mink to skin and sell to the Hudson’s Bay Company for a few extra dollars. It wasn’t sport; it was subsistence living.
“What was it like being Métis when you were little?” I asked my father one time.
“I didn’t know I was Métis,” he said. “I didn’t find out until I was a young adult.”
My heart squeezed and I held my breath.
“When I was a child, being Métis was not a good thing,” he said. “It was a derogatory term, a slur. It meant you were a drunkard, a troublemaker, poor, or all the above. You didn’t want people to know you were Métis. My parents never told me.”
That didn’t stop other children from their jeering. My father remembers one time in elementary school when another child called him “Espèce de Michif,” meaning he looked or acted Métis. His dark hair, eyes and sun-kissed skin made him stand out from other children.
“What are you talking about? I’m not Métis!” he recalls shouting back at the boy. Many years later, his aunt told him the truth and he was surprised. But he decided it was best for people to not know. His family didn’t speak well of the Métis families in the community and the stigma associated with being Métis ran deep. This shame was unknowingly passed down to me.
I used to be a closet Métis — ashamed of my identity.
Over a decade, however, the knots of shame that filled my belly were teased apart through gentle micro-validations that came from family and friends as well as shifts in Canadian society and discourse. My aunt (my father’s youngest sibling) was the first of the five siblings to apply and successfully receive her Métis ID card through the Manitoba Métis Federation several years ago. My first cousin embodies his Métis identity with pride and became the president of the Métis student association at the University of Manitoba in 2016. Then in 2022, my father applied for his B.C. Métis ID card because that’s the province he was living in and encouraged me to do the same.
Although I knew that I was Red River Métis based on my lineage, the shame I associated with being Métis, compounded with the shame of the loss of culture and language, had me peering across a chasm.
Would the Métis Nation embrace me as their own?
So when I tore open the envelope and cradled the contents — my Métis ID Card and a welcome letter from the B.C. Métis Federation (BCMF) — in my hands, I was surprised. Delighted by the affirming news, I tucked the card into my wallet, preparing for the journey ahead.
Now I can officially call myself Métis!
Shortly after receiving my card, around March 2023, I took my baby for his three-month vaccinations. The public health nurse asked me a variety of routine screening questions including, “Do you identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuk?”
Without my ID card, I would have denied being Métis. This time my ID card held space in my wallet. “I’m Métis,” I told the nurse, nervously. That small moment marked the first time I acknowledged my identity to a stranger. She nodded, checked a box and we moved on.
As the year unfolded, I slowly became more comfortable and confident in my identity as a Métis. I spoke more openly about it with others, on my blog and social media platforms and with my children. I started to search for meaningful ways to incorporate Métis culture into family life. I read books to my children written by Métis authors. I started wearing items made by Métis artisans. I started to connect with my local Métis community. Still, I felt anxious about living out my identity authentically.
My Métis identity card was a necessary part of the journey. It’s surprising how validating that little piece of plastic felt. But as I researched more about Métis political landscape in my desire to learn more about my heritage, the more I became confused. Like my father, I believed that the BCMF represented the Red River Métis here in British Columbia. Yet news about the Manitoba Métis Federation and other First Nations denouncing Métis colonialism in British Columbia left me unsettled. In their view, the Métis did not have a claim to traditional territory beyond the Rockies.
I have been keenly aware of individuals pretending to be Indigenous — some call them pretendians.
When my BCMF card arrived, it felt like I had been given permission to fully embrace the Red River Métis culture, language, and history as part of my own, and yet I had unknowingly waded into a quagmire of Indigenous politics that threatened to sink my newfound confidence. My BCMF ID card wouldn’t be recognized by the Manitoba Métis Federation. Others in the community wouldn’t even recognize my claim to being Métis. Again, I wondered if I was Métis enough.
I could have let this setback send me adrift. Instead, I trusted my roots. Like a young willow tree along the banks of the Red River, I held on knowing that I am on a journey of discovery and self-acceptance — one that I am excited to be on for myself, my children and the Métis Nation. I know where my family comes from. I have applied for citizenship from the Manitoba Métis Federation and, like my family members, I look forward to being fully embraced by the Métis Nation hopefully in the near future.
However, through this experience, I’ve discovered that embracing one’s identity is a unique and evolving experience. For me, being Métis started with a genuine, authentic desire for connection and healing, and these things take time, perhaps a lifetime.
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This article is from from cbc.ca (CBC NEWS CANADA)