Half-Breed to Metis – My Return from a ‘Savage’ Wilderness; PART 2

 Click here to read part one – How I acquired the title of dirty Indian…

Aside from having to dream up a name to match any exotic ancestry I could claim, my real family history was more colourful than that anyway. We were the stereotypes of typical Indigenous life. Those lives scorned without understanding of the history behind the creation of those stereotypes.

It was a life loaded with issues around unsteady work, alcohol abuse, abuses under every heading, police visits, child apprehension, foster homes and a single mother on welfare. We moved a lot – always new towns, new friends, new crosses to bear.

So, by the time I could think a little for myself, I couldn’t wait to move on.  At nearly 16 yrs. I did move – onto a grown-up job and night school to get a better job, all in the name of getting as far away as possible from my childhood hurts.

Several years later my life had taken shape in a measure of success and definitely I thought I’d finally escaped being a poor and dirty little Indian. It seemed like I’d escaped the legacy of that drama. As it turned out, despite education and job titles, that wasn’t exactly the case. The various abuses never really ended regardless of the dressing I put up around them. I became even more desperate for a sense of value, meaning and peace. 

It was a bit incredible and maybe even miraculous from where the answers to my prayerful pleading would begin – searching the internet for a history project.

While I was doing that search, I stumbled across some family tidbits in the history records. It was astounding to me to see names I knew connected to others I’d never known about. Inexplicably I began to hear the call of my grandmothers in them and I quickly became obsessed with genealogy. Something was being filled in me that I’d been completely unconscious about missing.  I found the past. I continued in my search for years, able to trace my family back to the 1700s.

The uncovered voices of my ancestors undid the pain of my childhood humiliations.  Unlike the shame-based history the old input and my fearful imagination had originally filled in for me, I learned that we came from fiercely able, independent, inspiring Peoples.  I learned, in addition to Cree and Metis, my people were Mohawk and Iroquois.

I learned my ancestors were skillful and adept providers who worked the land, and they were warriors – from the war of 1812, to the Louis Riel uprising, to World War 2 and the Korean War.   They were explorers and guides for famous European explorers; they were leaders and treaty signors.

They were exactly what one might dream their forbearers are.  It was breathtaking discovery for me, but I later realized that, as wonderful as it was to feel the pride of their accomplishments, they didn’t need to be all that for me to feel found.

It would have been just as healing simply to find where I came from; to learn who my people were as a people, not as the butt of the jokes so common then on the western prairies.  Not as the people we learned about in school who were so low that even as kids, when we played cowboys and Indians, none of us wanted to be the Indians.

Fast forward some decades to when my son and I were going to a western-themed party.  We got all geared up in our cowboy boots and hats, jeans and checked shirts.  When we got home, my son was a little miffed.  His history lessons have been quite different from mine. He wanted to know why we hadn’t instead dressed up as Indigenous.  It was a good question, but I couldn’t find a good answer.

Although I’d identified with my Metis and First Nations ancestry for several years by then, I began to feel I was falling too short on the allegiance that my grandmothers deserved. Especially with the amount of public misinformation about the Indigenous still the norm in general.

However, despite the longing, I still had one foot out the door, just in case.  Old fears take a very long time to heal, if they ever do.  When I finally decided to stand up and be counted, I applied for a Metis status card.

I’d like to set the record straight about how one goes about claiming that card.  Many comments in those newspaper and social media arenas revolve around thoughts like “well, pretty much everyone in Canada can claim some kind of Indigenous status now”.  No, they can’t.  You can’t just make a call and say, “Hello Government, I’m part-native, send me a card, thanks, and can I get free gas now like that Beiber kid”?

The application process took several months.  Actually, it took years counting the time it took to accumulate the various required records. I had to provide a genealogical history of 5 immediate generations of Indigenous ancestry with proof that included birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates.  It included scrip records, Hudson Bay Company work records, and other various historical records.  At a minimum, I had to link my direct ancestors to records known in western Canada at approximately 1860. Then all of this had to be verified by the society historians.

So that’s what I did, and now when I look into my mother’s eyes, I proudly see my history for thousands of years.  When my son looks in mine, he will see his own.  I turned away from that all those years ago when I thought I was meant to disown my heritage.

We talk a lot about how much the entire continent needs the true education on its own history, and that is absolute fact, but that’s just as true for many, if not most, of the Indigenous too.  We had our history taken from us long before we were even born and we know how terribly that changed us.

I can only feel sadness for that walk in the wilderness now, mine and all my relations of the last 5 generations who actually had our culture taken and even made illegal.  I know it doesn’t do any good to wonder about things that might have been, but sometimes I do.  I still have far too much to learn about them, and our ways.

On the day I received my official stamped Metis card, I stared at it and cried.  It was real, it was done, I’d stood up.  I really didn’t know then or even now, what difference in my life this official status will make.  I only know how I feel in those old wounded places in my heart.  I feel my grandmothers surrounding me now.   My grandmothers called for Pipisiw; my name is Pipisiw and I’ve come home.

Grandmothers

Miyo-W_hk_htowin
(All My Relations)

RL

I want to add a little thank you so, so much to the people who have emailed me to tell me how glad they are for any of us able to speak out. You are a huge part of what makes these efforts meaningful. You are the people who allow my heart to feel full and worthwhile.
Hiy hiy….

21 things you may not know about the Indian Act – The Indian Act has been in place for 140 years:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/21-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-indian-act-1.3533613
Artwork credit, with permission: Grandmother’s Prayers:
Simone Mcleod, http://www.fisherstarcreations.com/simonemcleod-acrylics Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anishinaabepaintersimonemcleod/info/?tab=page_info
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About Blog Woman!!!

Once in a while I can rock a thought. I simply believe in what I stand up for. I'd most like people to know that surviving the trials of mountains and monsters is more than resilience - it’s a path to your destiny. On a mostly weekly basis I throw out a grab-bag of facts, ideas or creativity; like a box of chocolates wrapped in ribbons of occasional profanity.... In other words, it's my party I can fun if I want to. So, let's talk.
This entry was posted in Abuse, First Nations, Genealogy, Indigenous Peoples, Life, Native Americans, Non-Fiction, Storytelling, Uncategorized, WPLongform and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Half-Breed to Metis – My Return from a ‘Savage’ Wilderness; PART 2

  1. B Harmony says:

    Powerful! What a legacy you are passing on to your son. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. davidprosser says:

    Congratulations on discovering your true heritage and being proud of it. Many of the people who decry you can’t trace their heritage back so far as in the UK many places didn’t keep records that far back, only starting in the early 1800’s. At least the First Nation’s people can be proud of their relationship with the land over the centuries while the rest of us are only now seeing the damage we’ve done. We should be looking to you for lessons.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lynn says:

    Robyn, how proud your grandmother must feel in knowing the journey you have taken to reach this point & achieve the goal of acquiring your status. I celebrate your desire to truly embrace your heritage & in doing so, discovering a past to be proud of. Beautifully written my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for following these two story parts, Lynn. I really appreciate the people taking the time to hear out my story, and thank you for your kind comment and encouragement. Hugs to you.

      Like

  4. trentpmcd says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Paul says:

    A wonderful story Robyn – and no doubt a difficult road you traveled. I’m sure your Grandmother is proud of you. You know I see you as a strong and independent woman who knows her own mind. The journey for you has been long and painful and, no doubt, there were times when you wondered if it was all worth it. When I think about all the others who share your ancestry and yet not your strength or perseverance, I am saddened by what the European cultures have done – the hatred and abuse and genocide and destruction of your culture. It is unthinkable that one people should treat another that way and I am ashamed.

    Thank you so very much for your honesty and strength.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As always, Paul, your support is so good for my heart… and as you’ve learned so many other people too.
      As for being led to the roads I’ve been, well I guess I know it could have been any one of the other roads like so many I know. I’ll never know for sure why not, but I do think the result is that I am meant to be one of us who speak out for all in whatever pitiful way I can manage.
      I know we all, well, most of us on the planet, go through days when we feel very small and insignificant, but I would love to be able to help my relations to know it was never the truth.

      Like

  6. What a gorgeous 2-part story. GORGEOUS! I’m heading back to your links to learn more (I’m so ignorant, I don’t even know the stereotypes!)
    Sharing this beautiful story….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good. I’m glad that you’ve come through this journey. We lose so much by trying to forget the past, when instead we should claim what is rightly ours, for the whole of humanity. Otherwise we might forget to be human. We need to know what bad things have happened as well as the good things. History should not be airbrushed.

    Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’m glad too. I was reminded today that part of my responsibilities are to carry a part of my culture with me wherever I go now. I have never been more proud in my life as now to do that… Thank you for visiting me today… I hope your mid-spring is going well for you. If you’d like to update me, and have the time, I would love to hear about it. You know the email… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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