Sunday, June 13, 2021

Red River Roots: Burial Sites on Residential Schools

Trigger warning: I will be discussing recent events regarding the Indian Residential School in Kamloops. 

In these Red River Roots posts, I’ve been figuring out who I am. Among other things, I am Métis. Feel free to click back to earlier posts if you are curious. My journey into understanding my Indigenous self, and how it sits beside my Settler self, has changed me fundamentally. I have a fresh and difficult view of who I am. This month it smacked me in the face and hurt my soul. Recently, 215 hidden corpses were revealed at the Indian Residential School in Kamloops. In my lifetime I have known family members who attended, or taught at, Residential Schools. They are now deceased.

I’ll be getting pretty wonky here. I will let fly with opinions, ideas and politics. Before I get into that, I pause. 

A moment, please, for children who didn’t get a chance.

So many abused children. So much erased family. So much pain, fear, and degradation. I thought I knew about Indian Residential Schools in Canada. No, I did not. I have so much to learn. Rest in power, little cousins.


The words we choose are powerful. They can undermine honesty, or reveal truth. After consideration, I offer these words… 

We are standing on the bodies of murdered children.

As I learn more accurate history, it becomes clear to me that the Canadian state was built, systematically, through the genocide of Indigenous Peoples. I’m sorry if you don’t like the word “genocide”, but it is the one we need. The Residential School system was part of a multi-pronged plan, calculated to destroy and assimilate Indigenous Peoples. It didn’t just happen randomly. It was not merely “a dark chapter we need to move on from”. It was pre-meditated. By the time the system had been running a few decades, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce (Canada’s Chief Medical Officer) revealed how horrific and damaging these institutions were. The Government silenced Bryce, and doubled down on the project.

As Settlers in Canada, our systems, wealth, and economy rely on the exploitation of lands and resources taken from Indigenous Peoples. It’s called colonization. All of this is accomplished, at the core, by the Government of Canada. It began before Confederation, and it continues to this day. Through creating and perpetuating the Residential Schools, it was the Government of Canada that abducted, abused, and killed Indigenous children to accomplish their goals.

The Government will point fingers at the Church and the RCMP to deflect from its own accountability. The Church is mightily responsible, but they delivered the program under the direction of Canada. The RCMP stole the children from their families and forced them into these institutions. They are culpable, but they were fulfilling their function as designed by the Government.

Those who know me will be familiar with my views on organized religion and cops. Nothing is churchier than Catholicism. Nothing is more coppish than the RCMP. I would love to see both those organizations dismantled and removed from the face of the earth. We certainly need to demand justice from churches and police for their part in Residential Schools. But… to focus primarily on them deflects responsibility from the real perpetrator. 

Settler friends and family, you might want to sit down for this. This real perpetrator? The “man behind the curtain”? That’s the Canadian Government. It serves us, it is elected by us and, in the end, the Canadian Government is us. 

All Settlers in Canada (meaning anyone who is not Indigenous) benefit mightily from the crimes committed against the Indigenous inhabitants of where we live. The theft of land and resources? The murder and assimilation of Native Peoples? These are tools that the British colonizers used to build the Nation of Canada that we live in today. It is a nation where Indigenous folks are rendered invisible, and where they must fight fiercely for any justice, or any scrap of what they are legally entitled to. 

My house is on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh Nations. It is worth a lot of money, and when I sell it I will reap the benefits of holding ownership of stolen lands. I walk past Hastings and Main, in downtown Vancouver, and watch  the distressing poverty and illness that overwhelms the urban Indigenous Peoples who live there. These people, and the damage they carry, are the result of the Residential School system. Many are members of the the Coast Salish Nations, upon who’s stolen land I own my home. I think about these things and worry. Settlers are perpetrators.

I know that an average Settler in today’s world likely didn’t engage in genocide. I did not personally and actively steal any land. That’s not the point. Past crimes may not be my fault. But it is absolutely my responsibility to do my best to reconcile. That means we, as Settlers, need to understand that we have reaped privilege from the horrors of the Residential Schools. If we want a decent world for all our kids to inhabit in the future, we need to work alongside our Indigenous partners to reconcile and create a decolonized Canada.

Things will not change unless we demand it. Even then, it will be difficult and slow. The British Colonial Government is designed to protect itself from accountability. While our current Prime Minister mouths mournful sentiments regarding the murdered children, he continues to litigate against them, using the taxpayer’s dime.

It is the obligation of today’s Settlers to do something that helps. I have some ideas. Here they are framed under two categories. I have a “to do” list, and also a “to don’t” list.

First… Some things I wIll not do…

I will not demand that the Settler justice system is immediately imposed on crime scenes like the Kamloops School. Remember that the RCMP and the Canadian Government are responsible for this. How can the criminals catch and punish the criminals? How can we imagine that Indigenous groups would trust them to come into their territory to supposedly “fix” this crime? Any approach to such a search and any application of justice must be led by Indigenous Peoples. Some leaders and nations are coming forward, demanding searches and accountability. This is appropriate. It should be their decision and their method.

I will not use misleading language. I won’t soften this. I won’t say “lost children” (as I have heard in the media lately). That’s vague and evasive. They are not lost. Thanks to the efforts of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, they have been found. I’ll say “murdered children”… or, more accurately, “abused and hidden murdered children”. Call it what it is. Feel the ugliness of it. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, check yourself.

I will not say “dark chapter of Canadian history”. This is not some dusty era from a long bygone age. This is current events, living history, today’s news in Canada. These schools were still in operation when I was a kid. First Nations people around my age may have attended Residential Schools. If they didn’t, their moms, dads, and grandparents certainly did. The generational trauma these institutions committed against First Nations is an open wound, throbbing in full effect today. It is devastating. Rather than “dark chapter of Canadian history”, I think I’ll say “ongoing genocide against Indigenous Peoples”. That feels more honest.

Also… Here are some things I will do…

I will learn, read, and listen.

To begin, it’s important to know, when it comes to the Indian Residential School system in Canada, a lot of work has already been done. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission wrapped up in 2015. You may remember it? It concerned itself precisely with the issue we’re looking at here. It offered 94 Calls to Action. I suggest you read them. They are the guide towards healing and reconciliation. So far,  only 10 have been (in some way) enacted. We need all those Calls to Action brought into powerful and lasting effect. This is the starting point. This is what we must demand of our politicians.

Last year I took this course called Indigenous Canada. It was created by First Nations faculty at the University of Alberta. It is helpful and free. I went from clueless to bare-bones knowledgable. If you are a middle-aged Settler like me, you were raised in a colonized school system, in a Settler culture rife with racism and stereotypes. Unless you undertake some kind of education like this, your chance of having clear and useful information about these issues is low. It’s time to become knowledgable. We may not agree on all the solutions, but we should at least be able to see the problems together.

I will listen to Indigenous voices. When learning about hidden children murdered at Residential Schools, I prefer Murray Sinclair. He’s a former Senator, and First Nations Lawyer and Judge. He was the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here he is in a video clip.


I watch APTN News. They cover the news from an Indigenous perspective. Settler voices and ideas will always dominate the media mix and they can be skewed in damaging ways. APTN brushes that aside in a refreshing manner.

I will engage with elected officials.

I dislike politicians. With few exceptions they are dishonest, self-interested, partisan puppets, but they are all we’ve got. Sometimes it is good write to them, and this is such a time. There is an election coming, and this should be issue number one, in my opinion. They will be counting the letters, for sure.  Let them know what you think and maybe they will do something. Make them worry about losing their job. Make them worry about being human beings. I suggest you make it short and fire it off as an email. That won’t take long. Here is what I sent to my MP, MLA, and the Prime Minister. Feel free to crib from it as you wish.

“Dear Politician,

In view of the recent uncovering of 215 hidden, murdered First Nations children on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, I urge you to demand the quick and effective implementation of all 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The ongoing colonization that the Canadian State visits upon Indigenous Peoples must be confronted and undone. This is an essential step. As a Settler Canadian, I share in the shame of this, and we all share in the responsibility for reconciliation.


Finally, I sent some money.

I am an Indigenous person, but I’m also a Settler with plenty of White Privilege. That translates to me being “wealthy”, even though many would say we’re just getting by. Bullshit. We’ll be fine. In response to the uncovering of murdered children in Kamloops, I donated to the following groups.

I sent money to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. They financed the search that led to the uncovering of 215 children on their territory. I imagine that costs money. I want to help them fund that.

I sent money to the Indian Residential School Survivor Society. The IRSSS helps the survivors that suffer among us to this day. 

I donated to UNYA, the Urban Native Youth Association. They help and support Indigenous kids here in Vancouver. I am all about that.

Which brings us back to children, which is why I wrote this. It wasn’t easy, but it is important. Since I’ve begun writing, more hidden, murdered children are being revealed in different locations in Canada. This is only going to get worse. I try to find ways to help.

Rest, little ones. We see you.

Monday, March 8, 2021

A Fat and Tangled Knot - Red River Roots, Part Two

These Red River posts are about me learning how to be Métis, and this one might make more sense if you read Part One first. Also... As I said before, I am not a history teacher, so if I get things wrong, please forgive my errors. I'm working on it. Ready? Here we go.

Last time, I said I want to work on a “fat and tangled knot”. This would be the “who am I” knot. I have been trying to place my (obscured) Métis-ness alongside my (obvious) Whiteness. I wonder what space I can take  as a Métis person in the twenty-first century. I don’t want to be some mouthy “Indigenous-Come-Lately”. On the other hand, as a Settler’s son, is White Supremacy all my fault? I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. 

Hold on, gentle reader. This is going to get a bit navel-gazey.

What should I call myself? Well… It never hurts to look at facts:

I have a SIN number, pay taxes, and have a Canadian Passport. So… clearly I am Canadian.

I am the son of a British immigrant. My dad was born in London in 1941. His family enjoyed the opportunities offered to Settlers in colonized Canada. They hit the prairies in two waves (1920s and 1940s), and took space that was made available to them by displacing Indigenous Peoples. Due to patriarchal colonial law, Dad being born in England entitles me to UK citizenship. So… clearly I am British. Go ahead and laugh.

My Mom was Métis. She was born and raised on the Red River in Manitoba.  Our French Settler ancestors  had been there for two hundred years by the time Mom was born. Our Cree and Assiniboine family had been there for thousands of years before that. I was born there, too, but grew up in White suburbia, away from where my kin built a Nation on the prairie. Still, I have the card. So… clearly I am Métis.

That's a fat and tangled knot...

This leads me to another another label. I think it helps.


It’s a slippery term. I heard it for the first time about a year ago. I think it’s useful. I have floated this label with various friends and family that have helpful opinions. University professor friends, Métis cousins, and a leader in my anti-racism group have all chimed in on “White-coded”. It has resulted in diverse viewpoints, some unenthusiastic. This pushback led me to put the idea on the shelf for a spell and think on it while I tried to find a good definition.

Here is where I defer to Chelsea Vowel. She is a Métis writer, lawyer, and all-around badass. I am a fan. She’s a super-hero when it comes to unraveling Indigenous issues. Chelsea said on her Twitter:

“… (White-Coded) means "viewed as white". So you look white, and ppl treat you as white. Just based on your looks.

I'm here to dismantle my own Whiteness too, yes. I am not hiding from that, my dad is White.

I am White coded, I benefit from White privilege in ways I understand, and in ways I don't even know I don't know about.” (Boldface emphasis is mine.)

Bingo. I feel this. It applies. So… Clearly I am a White-coded Métis.

How did that happen? I mean,150 years ago Mom’s family was just Métis-coded Métis.

As I did family research, I tried to imagine the generational trauma my family carried after Red River and Batoche. Even today, looking at family, I get a whiff of those events. I also traced the changes in our culture and make-up as the 20th century marched along.

During her life, if Mom and her family claimed anything at all, they claimed to be French. I’ve done the genealogy. My earliest French Ancestor lived on the St. Lawrence River sometime in the late 1600’s. That’s early colonizing days, long before Canada was even thought of.  A hundred years later my French family was in the prairies, hunting, trading, farming, and intermarrying with the First Nations families there. They were busily forming the new Métis Nation.

A lot happened over the next century, and by 1900 Mom’s family were Métis-coded Métis, living over on Red River lot # 12. The folks who lived in those houses were survivors and children of the (then-recent) Reign of Terror, and fallout from Batoche. They certainly lived in the shadow of racism from White Settler Canada. 

After that came my grandpa’s generation, born around 1920. The continuing surges of White Settler immigrants meant that Métis kids often married non-Métis spouses. My Grandpa Antione married a poor girl of Scottish descent. She was Gramma Jessie to me, and  and you couldn’t ask for a better grandma. I see Grandpa’s generation as the first step towards White-coding. French was no longer the household language. Grandma spoke English. My Grandpa Antoine actually went by "Tony".

Métis family ties prevailed, though. My mom told me stories of her childhood visits to “the farm”. This place belonged to my grandpa’s cousin (Joachim Perrault) in St. Pierre-Jolys, fifty kilometres south of Winnipeg. This is where my Grandpa Antoine was born. Apparently the fall harvest parties were quite a thing, and when Mom was a girl they would all go. She told me they would make blood sausage from a freshly-slaughtered hog. I adore this mental image. It sounds like Métis family culture was still running pretty strong, down on the farm, back in the ’50’s. Also, my Scots-descended grandmother had people there who spoke English. This was new.

My Grandpa enjoys the harvest party with his family.

My mother did not identify as Métis. As I said, if Mom's family self-identified at all, it was as French. But calling yourself French in this context was a cover. It implied Whiteness and was meant to hide the fact that you were Indigenous. Some passed easier than others, and I think my mom was one of them. When I was a kid, my Great Aunt (an enormous nun) looked me in the eye and told me there was no First Nations ancestry in our family. She actually said “Indian Blood”. Am I even allowed to say that today? She was slightly offended at the thought, so complete was her denial and racial shame. I mean… I have the family tree. Both her parents were clearly Métis, historically. I have a copy of the government scrip papers for her Grandmother, Mathilde Carrière, survivor of Batoche, which clearly labeled her as “half-breed”.

So…  It was fine to be French, but being Métis sure didn’t help you. In this way, the Métis could be White-coded after the Red River and North West Resistances. It helped avoid some of the racism that was visited upon them.

My mom grew up in this. She was raised in an intensely Catholic culture that she rejected later in life. She spoke French fluently in school and professionally, but I almost never saw her do it at home. She married a rail-thin, charismatic White boy (a musician, no less!) who was born in England and raised in Alberta. Within two years, she moved with him across the country and left Winnipeg and the French, Catholic, Métis thing behind. There’s the next degree of White coding. Here’s where me and my brothers enter the scene.

Me and my brothers in White Suburbia, early 1970s.

When I was a kid in the ’60’s and 70’s, I grew up in White suburbia, with a delicious dose of British Ex-pat / American culture. Marmite toast, Sunday roast, Evel Knievel, Disney on TV… The Métis thing didn’t come up much. When someone did mention it, it was often awkward. I remember an uncle making a joke about being a “Mighty Métis Warrior” while  he twirled an imaginary moustache, using a voice and accent that could only be called racist today. The funny thing? We actually are descended from mighty Métis warriors. This is true. The unfunny thing? I have also used this accent for comedic effect, in a more ignorant time. I am ashamed of that.

And my First Nations kin? The ones who historically married with my Métis family and engaged in the buffalo hunts and Resistances a mere 100 years before my birth? My four times great-uncle, (and mighty Métis warrior) Gabriel Dumont, spoke six languages: Michif (the language of the Métis), Blackfoot, Sioux, Cree, Crow, and French. No English, though. I’d say we were vibrantly connected to the First Peoples of the plains in those days.  


My strongest childhood memory of First Nations Peoples were the alcoholic homeless folks on the streets of Calgary. There was also a touristy “Indian Village” at the Calgary Stampede that freaked me out. I was afraid of them. This was my own racism, which has led to years of unconscious bias. I did not feel or know the connection we shared. This journey from Indigenous superstar Gabriel Dumont to a kid afraid of his First Nations family took less than 100 years. Such is the power of colonialism.

Also… just to make things more awkward, I need to make clear that I love my White British Settler family and identify with them whole-heartedly. They are fantastic, supportive, accomplished kin. One day, I may focus on that side of my family in a different kind of blog post. I am of them. They have always been in my life, on my side, easy to find. 

And, also… they… <er>… we… are literally the default framing for colonized Canada. Oops. There’s my fat knot again. 

Anyone who looks at me will assume I am White. End of discussion. As I learn more of the sour and cruel history of Canada, I am appalled. Out of respect for the abuse and genocide First Nations endure, I may mention, occasionally, that I am White-coded. I do this not to excuse my Whiteness, nor to undermine my indigeneity. Rather, I do it to figure out my sometimes-confusing place in all this. It gives me perspective.

Here is some more wisdom from Chelsea Vowel:

“I don't agree that White-coded Métis have it hard, I'm sorry. I understand that it hurts sometimes to be misrecognized or doubted…

But that isn't oppression. When we are misrecognized as not being Indigenous at all, what does that do? It folds us into Whiteness.

…we also have to recognize how we benefit when we get misrecognized as White. And not just focus on feeling denied….

So yes. From time to time let's discuss how our Indigeneity gets overlooked, but let that be a tiny part of a more important discussion plz…

… as a White-coded Métis, I have to address my own privilege as part of dismantling Whiteness. Beyond merely saying I have that privilege.”

I’ll say it anyways. I have a ton of privilege, and that’s only the privilege I can see so far. I have never personally experienced the abuse that is the default for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I can walk anywhere in this country (as a middle-aged White dude) like I own the place. It’s in my snake brain. Anything different does not naturally occur to me. My entitlement is systemic and comes from the Whiteness that Chelsea references above . It’s the Golden Fucking Ticket, and, until recently, I didn’t even realize I had it.

I am starting to understand some truths, unveil my own racism, debunk some myths, and, thankfully, fortify my Red River Roots. As far as untangling  my “who the hell am I” knot, it appears I am a British, White-Coded Métis (French?), Canadian person. 

The problem is, having untangled that, I have a new and nastier knot…. It’s the “what can I do about it?” knot, and what, exactly, is “it”?

Well, here’s some stuff I need to do: I need to listen more and talk less. I need to respect, amplify, and support First Nations and Indigenous Peoples. I need to speak only from my own truth, and never presume upon theirs. I also need to step up and find ways to help. As Métis, I am a member of this Indigenous family and, as a White Settler, I am complicit in the crimes that have been committed against them. One coin, two sides. 

It is easy to reel off a starter list of abuses visited upon Indigenous Peoples: residential schools, the Indian act, numbered treaties, over-policing and incarceration, the displacement of the Inuit… I could go on and on.

I believe we need to learn about the past and present so we can identify and dismantle the White Supremacy that is is woven into Canada. There isn’t a lack of information, I believe, but a willful misinformation, reinforced over generations. This fog of racism is so thick that it makes it difficult for average, contemporary White Settlers to even glimpse the problem. You can’t fix a problem if you can’t see it. And we White Settlers have had the blinders on for hundreds of years. 

So many of the conflicts that Settler culture has with Indigenous Peoples are founded in falsehood, or, if you're being polite, misunderstanding. It would take another blog post to begin to debunk the broader myths. Thankfully, more talented people that I have done it already (remember Métis Superstar Chelsea Vowel?)

Big picture? What is that new “it” in my fat and tangled knot of “What can I do about it?”

“It” is the relationship that Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian state are trapped in. “It” is the result of centuries of colonialism and cruel, bad-faith policies. We need to repair and, ultimately, recreate “it”. If we work on this together, as Indigenous Peoples and Settlers, perhaps reconciliation will be possible. Canada, as a nation, could become more stable and more just.

I am keen to help tackle... "it".


I have referenced, linked, and quoted Chelsea Vowel in this post. I thank her for her intelligent and fun guidance through Indigenous puzzles, and for help with the term "White-coded". If she ever reads this I hope she forgives my treatment of her Twitter posts, which I edited and added bold type to. This link should take you to an unadulterated feed, if you wish to investigate. Again, I am indebted to family and friends for their feedback as I juggle these ideas. I have been helped  greatly. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Seven Memories Ten Years Later

Today would have been my Mom’s birthday. Last week we gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of her dying. Over the years the tone of that gathering has, understandably, evolved. It is certainly much less raw now. A decade passes.

I’m an atheist. I have no belief in the afterlife… but I still feel a connection to Mom in my memories of the experiences we shared. As my brothers, my dad, and I were wrapping up our graveside visit last week, I said, “I think about her every day.” 

Here are seven ways I thought of my mom over the past week.

Mom enjoyed getting rid of us. I remember (infrequently) catching her having a late breakfast on a weekday. She would wait until we were all out of her hair, then she would make toast and munch it in front of the TV. She also got into the habit of never having a shower while we were home, especially in the morning time when the War of the Water Pressure was on. If you accidentally flushed the toilet while Mom was upstairs in her shower, you’d hear her shouts of rage as the cold water drained from the system and she got scalded. If you knew what was good for you you’d be out of the house by the time she came down those stairs.

Mom liked lilacs. I have memories of them from my early childhood. Mom may have had them growing in the yard in Calgary back in the 1970’s. They would be cut and gathered in a vase in the living room, smelling sweet and strong. Years later, when I was a teenager, my friends and I were hiking around Lily Point in Point Roberts. There was a lilac bush there, some remnant of inhabitants long gone. I cut some blooms with my Swiss army knife and brought them home to her. I feel warm today when I remember her genuine happiness at the unexpected gift.

Munch like no one is watching...
Munch like no one is watching.

Mom liked a good wine gossip. Once I was old enough to enjoy the effects of alcohol, I was gradually permitted entry into the realm of the Aunties. Mom’s nearest and dearest would gather, sometimes under cover of night… sometimes day drinking… and destroy a bottle or three of affordable white. Did the discourse veer into the the catty? Perhaps. Did my mother have a capacity for hilarious and cutting assessments? Certainly. Was I always delighted at the privilege of participating in such home truth and laughter? Absolutely.

Some party in Regina...

Mom purposely did not teach me how to read a clock. I never learned until it came up in my grade two classroom curriculum. Up until then she would often send me to bed hours before bedtime. I mean… how was I to know? Also, in retrospect, how could I blame her? That’s evil genius.

Mom could make delicious mushrooms. When I was little I would smell them from my bed as she and Dad cooked their Friday night steak dinner, having ditched us. Have I mentioned she didn’t teach me how to read a clock so she could send us to bed early? I think she basically fried white button mushrooms in butter, soy sauce and Lee & Perrins. Hot pan. Delicious. A forbidden childhood aroma.

Mom loved tea parties, but not with me. She bought a vast set of many teeny tiny dishes and would have tea parties with her grandchildren in the sunny back yard of her home. Oh… there was high-pitched chit chat. She was also an enthusiastic customer at the Preschooler Restaurant of Plastic Food. Imaginary money was paid. Imaginary tips were generous. I feel warm today when I remember her genuine happiness in our children, her grandchildren.

Mom did not have a driver’s license until the mid-seventies. So, by my math, she did not drive until she was over thirty. She was a young mom in the suburbs of Calgary, with four children, no car, and a need to buy groceries. I recall a sunny winter’s day when she undertook the project, getting all four of us in our skidoo-suits and boots and scarves and mittens and toques. She put my two youngest brothers on a  toboggan, leaving me and my brother Pat to shamble alongside. She hauled it all to the mall several blocks away, then bought groceries with us at her heels, distracting her like a pack of puppies. We always wanted, but did not get, the sugary cereal. After an arduous hour of thrifty choices and childish petitions, she loaded the food, and the two smaller children, back on the toboggan and dragged us all home in the snow. I am weary just thinking about it. 

She was a hero. I also imagine she was channeling her ancestors. Although mom didn’t identify as Métis, that strikes me as some seriously frontier Indigenous mom stuff. She was, definitively, a loving and magical prairie mother. I imagine there were mushrooms and steak, and wine, in those bags on the toboggan. It was entirely likely we’d be sent to bed by six pm.

There. That’s seven. I will never run out.

Back when we were just getting started...

Saturday, November 14, 2020

This Métis Thing - Red River Roots

First, a disclaimer: I am not writing this to educate anyone about Métis or Canadian history. I am no historian. If you find errors, exaggerations, or artistic licence here, please forgive me. It’s not my intent, but it is my shortcoming. 

So. Not a history book… This is a blog.

I am Métis, but feel like I don't know nearly enough about it. I've been looking at this over the past years, and I'm ready to start sharing. What I am trying to do here is figure out this Métis thing.

Let's start with family history. 

One of the biggies when you read history in Canada is the Red River Resistance. It’s generally on the Top Ten List. The story often begins with a yarn about how, way back in ye olden times, a farmer in the sleepy Red River Valley noticed uninvited surveyors on his land. I don’t think of it as all that long ago, really: one hundred and fifty years or so. It was October, in the fall of ’69. (That’s 1869, with apologies to any Bryan Adams fans out there.) 

In 1869, Canada was all fresh and zippy from the recent Confederation of 1867. The thing is… the Red River Settlement, where these surveyors were busy with what could only be called land speculation, was not a part of this new British Dominion. Canada, as far as residents of the Red River were concerned, was a neighbouring nation, kinda like the USA. Oh, things were in the works, for sure. The new Canadian Government was negotiating for huge tracts of land from the Hudson Bay Company, (which had been the primary Colonial presence up until then.) John A. MacDonald, Canada’s ambitious, racist, and genocidal founding father, was keen to grab this area for his proper immigrant nation. By proper he meant White Protestant farmers from the United Kingdom. The Métis who lived there were not consulted.

So… remember that farmer on his land, just farming? Back in the fall of ’69? He was more than just a farmer. He was also a superb buffalo hunter and Captain of the hunt. I imagine him on a horse with a rifle, frost in the air, his beard fluttering in the breeze… Anyways, he was my great-grandpa, four generations up. His name was André Nault. Nault is my family name… my Mom’s maiden name. He was very French, and very Catholic, as were most of his family and neighbours in the area. Grandpa André was raised there, the son of French Settlers. His wife lived with him on the Red River. She was French, too. They had lots of kids, lots of kin. 

This is Grandpa André and his family, about a year before things went nuts.
This is badass buffalo hunter Grandpa André and his family, about a year before things went nuts.

They were part of the Métis community that was growing and thriving in the prairies. First Nations and Settlers had been intermarrying for a while by the time Grandpa André spotted those surveyors. Everyone was someone’s cousin. They had been hunting, trading (remember the Hudson’s Bay Company?) and farming for about a hundred years. My Grandpa André was White, but he was an accepted member of the Métis community, and he knew trouble when he saw it.

Concerned about these strangers with surveying tools, Grandpa André started talking to his neighbours. They hurried to get word to his cousin (that’s my first cousin, four times removed.) This guy was known to be smart. He was educated from a stint in the seminary in Montreal. That didn’t work out for him, so he had come home to his people in the Métis community at Red River. My cousin’s name is synonymous with the Red River Resistance. He was Louis Riel, a bit of a rock star… the bad boy of Canadian history. Controversial to this day. Cousin Louis knew trouble when he heard it, so he joined this bunch of relatives and neighbours to go have a chat with these strange trespassers. Good thing, because he was the only one who spoke any English.

Classic shot of Cousin Louis, bad boy of Canadian history.

What happens next is key to my story. I am trying to share what I have learned about myself as I figure out this Métis thing. My conclusion? I am, actually, Métis A F.

So… Grandpa André rounded up some men for support. They confronted the Canadian Government’s surveyors that day. They shut them down and sent them packing. In doing so, these men sparked the Red River Resistance, one of Canadian History’s Biggest Hits. They were my family, and they are my history. Of the 16 Métis men who showed up to represent on Grandpa André’s farm, eleven of them are in my family tree. Four of them are my direct ancestors.

Here are my four grandpas that were involved in that First Act of Resistance, back in 1869:  

One was André’s neighbour, Édouard Perreault dit Morin. Years later his granddaughter (Marie Perrault) would be married to my Great-Grandpa (Damase) Nault. That makes Edouard my four times grandpa. Some historical accounts have Grandpa Édouard noticing the surveyors first, but I’m going with Grandpa André. Whatever… Choose your own adventure. The Perraults lived on Red River Lot # 13. They were next to the Naults, who were on Lot # 12. These families were neighbours for generations, up to the days of my Mother’s youth in the 1950s. More on that another time, perhaps.

Grandpa Édouard.

Of course, Grandpa André Nault was a big part of the confrontation with the Canadian surveyors. After stopping them, the Red River Resistance kicked in, big time. André went on to be a Captain in Manitoba’s Provisional Government under Cousin Louis Riel. He led and participated in many important armed resistances. He was in charge of executing a Canadian anti-Métis agitator named Thomas Scott. (Guy was a total dick, BTW.) This caused a massive political uproar in English Canada, for which the Métis and Grandpa André paid a high price (not to mention Cousin Louis). Ultimately Grandpa André was assaulted, imprisoned for a year, then pardoned. 

Side note: Grandpa André had three brothers with him against those surveyors. My four times great-uncles. I had lots of kin there that day.

Other grandpas present were two generations of Carrières. The group of Métis that Louis Riel gathered included Elie Carrière and his son, Damase. Elie was a mature 48-years-old at the time. He’s my four times grandpa. Damase would have been a strapping fella of 18 years. I like to think of him as feisty. He was my three times grandpa. His story is sad and relevant. More about him later. 

Three times Grandpa Damase Carrière. Like I said. Feisty.

Cousin Louis’ Provisional Government negotiated with Canada and made a deal. The Red River Resistance ended with the creation of Manitoba (as Canada’s first western province). The execution of Thomas Scott led to John A. Macdonald undertaking what became known as the reign of terror. He sent a Canadian militia against the Métis in Red River to “establish order”. 

This militia (The Red River Expeditionary Force) would become the RCMP in later years. It had British and French Canadian soldiers, but it also included a special component for the Métis. John A. Macdonald was a member of the Orange Lodge (a staunchly Protestant fraternal order). He had canvassed this group for racist, anti-French, anti-Catholic immigrants to join up and go teach those Half Breeds a lesson. 

It was during this time that Grandpa André was bayonetted by Orangemen thugs. This militia was so effective in abusing the Métis that many fled the Red River, creating a Métis diaspora across the prairies, especially in Northern Saskatchewan, notably in a place called Batoche. 

It took fifteen years, but the Canadian government wanted to have another go at the Métis. They wanted Batoche. Cousin Louis Riel was drawn out of exile (in Montana) to lead the Métis. Those who went to fetch him were all my kin: there was Napoléon Nault (my three times great-uncle), Gabriel Dumont (legendary military leader and hunter, also my four times great-uncle), and…  my three times Grandpa Damase Carrière! He lived in Batoche by then. He had a family. 

In 1885 He defended his home against a military attack from the Canadian government that used all kinds of cool, new technology. Trains, a steam boat, and even a nifty gatling gun were brought in. The Métis ran out of bullets, but apparently, up until then, they had held out pretty well. Grandpa Damase broke his leg. When the Canadian troops caught him they thought he might look a bit like the famous Louis Riel, so they tied a rope around Grandpa Damase’s neck and dragged him around with a horse, killing and mutilating him. I have visited the group grave where he is buried. 

The group grave in Batoche. RIP Grandpa Damase.

After the Métis’ defeat at Batoche, Cousin Louis Riel surrendered himself to the Canadian Military in hopes of brokering some kind of peace and clemency for the survivors. You probably know he was hanged for treason. 

So, as I said, three time Grandpa Damase Carrière was an interesting person, for me at least. He was 18 years old for the Red River Resistance, representing Métis and stopping surveyors. He was driven away by the “reign of terror” in the new Manitoba. Finally, he instigated, fought for, and died in Batoche (sometimes called the North West Resistance). He and his wife had a daughter named Mathilde. She was 10-years-old when the Canadian troops were mangling her dad’s corpse in Batoche. 

She was also my great-great-grandma. She was married to a guy I actually met. He was my mom’s great- grandpa, a family favourite, Alexandre Nault. He was a son of four times Grandpa André. We called him Papère. He lived to be ninety. More on them another time, I hope.

Great-Great-Grandma Mathilde, survivor of Batoche, with my three times Grandpa Alexandre Nault. He was son of legendary political resister and buffalo hunter, Grandpa André Nault. I have no idea who the kid is.

Okay… if you’re still with me, thanks and congratulations. Because now, this is where the connection gets real for me. With the edge of my fingertips I can reach these people. We have gone from 150 years ago at the Red River Resistance, to my birth, in pretty much the same location, in 1964. 

Why did I lack a sense of culture and family pride in these events? The stories of my several Grandpas resisting John A. MacDonald’s surveyors, sparking a movement, creating a province, igniting the birth of Western Canada? That shit is certainly badass. Why was it not handed down and celebrated? Why did I need to do research in my middle age to begin to understand it?

Well… Racism. 

You see… I have plenty of First Nations family. They coyly show up as my research deepens. Hard to track, un-named, a “Cree Woman” or “Assiniboine” marrying a French trader back in the late-17 to mid-1800s, especially in the Perrault and Carrière families. Their children show up in records with an “HB” written next to their names. Half Breed was the term the Canadian government used to define us. It’s a pejorative today, but it used to be on the official documents. In the eye of the White Settlers and the British Colonizing State, the Métis were less than human. These children are my Métis family and I am of them.

But I am also White. My Dad was born in London, England. I have plenty of UK ancestry, too. As a Métis person I am an Indigenous Canadian, but I was raised in White culture and can’t jig to save my life. We never made bannock (although my tourtière is off the chain). I have never  suffered the systemic racism that is the default for the First Nations and Indigenous Peoples of Canada. My Whiteness protects me from that. I hope to examine this in a future post. It is a fat and tangled knot.

What about Mom, raised on Red River Lot # 12 amongst all the Naults, Carrières, and Perraults? It is certainly ancestral Métis land. It’s where Grandpa André spotted those surveyors in 1869. It's where I met his son, my Papère, ninety-five years later. In hushed ways, Mom and her siblings, as far as I can tell, were the first generation that kinda “passed” for White. Or did they? Family lore recalls someone calling Mom something worse than Half Breed, in my lifetime. I do know that circumstances moved our family west, all the way to Vancouver, and Mom left most of that behind, and was happier for it.

Assimilation, colonization, generational trauma, abuse, addiction, residential schools… these are part of the Indigenous story of Canada, and part of my own family story. These will be much more difficult to examine and discuss than just working on a family tree and reading some history. More fat knots to untangle.

The path forward is decolonization, anti-racism, reconciliation, and the dismantling of White supremacy. Tall order... That’s where I find myself today as I try to figure out this Métis thing. Wish me luck.

I bought my sash online.

*Note. This bit of writing was inspired by chats with family members and cousins, especially Derrick Nault, who got me going with a list of men who stopped the surveyors and nudged me, generally.  Another mentor (and fact-checker) is my pal, Erin Dolmage, who teaches at Seneca College. The history I shared is helped by my recent readings, mostly of The North-West is our Mother, by Jean Teillet, and Chester Brown’s graphic novel Louis Riel. There are conflicts in facts. Your milage may vary. Also… the free online course, Indigenous Canada, from UofA was extremely helpful.  Finally, a lot of this stuff just comes from working on the family tree on and connecting the dots. Thanks. Merci. Miigwetch.

Click here to go to Part Two.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Vanity in a time of plague... 3

So, that's been a crazy couple weeks, huh?

I think I'll call it "The Tightening".

14 Days ago, on March 16th. Things were starting to close down. My boss had called me a few days earlier, on a sunny Friday, and told me I'd have no work for the foreseeable future. This surprised me, but in retrospect I can't imagine why. The week prior, in a more innocent time, I had booked a massage and a haircut for that day, so it was on my Monday agenda. We had my final guests in my Airbnb leaving that morning. Cancellations had already emptied out the rest of March, and half of April... so the writing was on the wall. My guests caught an earlier flight to Edmonton because COVID was causing cancellations. The world was beginning to clench. Travel bans followed.

I went to my massage at 10 am. There was a sign on the door instructing me to immediately go to the bathroom and wash my hands. Fine by me! The place is generally quiet, so it was interesting to see that it was even more so. The therapists huddled, proccupied.  I wondered if they would be able to continue. I haven't checked in since, but I assume they have shut down for the foreseeable future.

I went home and cleaned the basement Airbnb. I invoked my new amped up cleaning regimen with extra disinfectant on all the surfaces. We had family coming in from out of town for the night. I lysoled and bleached the fuck out of everything and laundered every possible linen, blanket, and towel. Then I headed out to my retro barbershop with my punk rock barber.

The place was busy. Early spring, sunshine, folks needed cuts. There were even dads in with their boys. But... the energy was off. Pandemic chat dominated.  Usually we shared loud funny anecdotes with f-bombs, but my barber was subdued, which was unlike him. I told him that I was out of work for the foreseeable future. He was quiet. I wondered aloud about how many people we all knew  already had COVID-19, and how we would likely find out in a couple weeks, when it the incubation period had passed. When I left, my Barber wished me luck in "riding out the ripple". I saw on Instagram 4 hours later that he had closed the shop due to public health concerns. Since then the governments have required it, anyways... so I guess he was ahead of the curve.

 I got home mid-afternoon, in time to continue laundering linens for family visitors that night. I couldn't shake that mild feeling of anxiety that has since become a dark passenger in life. Family arrived and we ordered pizza. I took a phone call on the patio from my boss, who sadly informed me he was shutting down the company until further notice because of the dangers of coronavirus infection. He's also an economist and told me about the historical precedent of economic collapse, devalued currencies, and rampant inflation. Not uplifting. We wished each other well and agreed we'd hope for the best. See ya when I do...

When I came back into the house my wife and her cousin were having a serious chat. Turns out her kid had been coughed on by another kid that day. And that other kid was running a fever.


We agreed that her kid would have a shower and change clothes, and we could eat pizza together at a distance. Which we did. My son came to visit from university and joined us. It was slightly tense. The next day our family visitors went home. I left the basement empty for a day before going downstairs and spraying everything with lysol. It's been two weeks since that night. No one got sick. But still, creeping paranoia... what a drag.

10 Days Ago, March 20th. This was the last day someone other than my wife or myself has been inside our house. Our friend needed to use some of our freezer space to lay in some food because the food shops were getting bought out by hoarders. There's that anxiety again...  We said sure because we have a small deep freeze in the workshop. He came over and we kept our distance while he packaged up his purchases in our kitchen. We put his food in the freezer and then had coffee and a nice chat on the patio, all sitting about 10 feet apart. It was weird, social distancing like that, but it was the right thing to do. I still felt like I was pushing it, as far as the protocols were concerned. After he left I cleaned the kitchen thoroughly.

9 Days Ago, March 21st. This was the last day anyone came to our house but did not enter. Our concerns about social distancing increased, but we had this "thing" planned. We agreed that we could have a quick visit and pass along some sourdough starter to an old friend. We sat well apart, on lawn chairs in the front yard of the house. We ate cookies and drank coffee and tried not to be bummed out by the weird of it all. When they left it was awkward, and again, I felt like I was pushing it. Dishes went straight into the dishwasher. We washed our hands promptly.

8 Days Ago, March 22nd. This was the day I called my son, who lives in Vancouver, but in a place on campus at UBC. We'd been planning to get him to come over for supper. After reflection, we realized that it was not a great idea to potentially infect each other with COVID-19 for the sake of ham and mashed potatoes. We agreed that we would need to being social distancing with our son unless he choses, at some point in the future, to move back home. Pretty much all my friends with kids at UNI have had them move back, but our son is just across town. It's fine, I said, but... there's that anxiety. Instead of having him over, I put together a box of food and toilet paper and we dropped it with him,  chatting across his backyard from 2 metres away. His birthday's coming up... I bet it'll be a weird one.

5 Days Ago, March 25th. I have chosen Wednesdays to be my "out in the world day". I made my lists and went to the local mall for prescriptions, food, and booze. I spent twice as much on booze as I did on food. People mostly looked kinda freaked out. It was just so slightly tense. We stood on our spots that were indicated by tape on the floor. I felt like I was in some kind of 70's dystopian film. Occasionally someone would ignore the 2 metre rule and come into my bubble, which is the new definition of being an asshole. I was in and out in about 90 minutes. Done. Next Wednesday is Costco. We're almost out of dog food.

Over the past week, we have managed to turn the home office into a work space for my wife so she can work from home. It is not the most perfect fit, but it works for now. We have had multiple visits with friends and family via zoom. It's nice, but also awkward and new. It's the new normal. This week I will face the end of month bills knowing that I have a cushion and can pay everything, but my income evaporated a couple weeks ago. Poof. So, pencils will be sharpened and plans will be made over April. We'll be fine, I guess. I feel sorry for other people who don't have a cushion.

0 Days Ago. Today. March 30th. Here we are. Two weeks ago I said goodbye to my Airbnb Guests, and managed to weasel in a massage and a haircut just moments before these services were closed down. We had a mild COVID-19 scare, which has since proven to be, thankfully, unjustified. Now it's just me and the wife and the dog in the house. She works from home. I go shopping once per week. We interact with people thorough our tech, or from 2 metres away if we have to. I ride my bike for exercise, but I sure don't get close to folks or interact with them. I worry that one day I'll be told not to do that.

And, of course, money is tight, but I guess that's one of the reasons I call it "The Tightening".

I realize that we all have stories like this. I just wanted to share mine.

Be well. Stay in. Maybe have a beer?


ps. This morning, just before I posted this, I got a new Airbnb booking for August. Wifey and I shared a chuckle over our morning coffee. A young couple from Utah seem to be planning for a post-COVID future by mid-summer, even though the border is currently closed. Bless them. I appreciate their optimism, if not their realism.