- The New PeopleReading for Peoplehood in Métis Literatures
While I was heavily involved in the Niagara Native community throughout my teenage years I had little sense of myself as Métis. I was born in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and spent the first few years of my life in a small town called Squamish, north of North Vancouver. My parents met at a party in the apartment building they both lived in in North Vancouver, and after marrying, they relocated to Squamish with their blended family. Neither of them was originally from the area. My dad moved to BC in the early 1970s from his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, after a stint in the Royal Canadian Navy and took up working for the railway. My mother also moved to BC in the early 1970s from her hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario, where she had been born and adopted into an English Mennonite family. She traveled to BC at the invitation of her then-boyfriend, an architect, bringing with her her two children from her first marriage. My parents were not married long, and I was just over two years old when my father died. Shrouded in a veil of grief and despair, my mother did the only thing she could clearly think to do: she returned to her hometown with her children in tow and drew on the support of her family.
Having been raised in St. Catharines meant that in many ways it was my home. Yet I was always keenly aware that I was not “from” there. My mother, as an adopted person, in spite of strong ties with her adoptive family, lacked a strong sense of connection to her hometown. In the absence of knowledge about her own birth family and history, she felt that it was important to provide me with as much connection to where I was born, and to my father’s family in Alberta, as she feasibly could so that I could grow up “knowing” who I was. My childhood sense of identity was therefore built by decoupage through the accumulation of [End Page 53] fragments of information from my mom. It was supplemented by fleeting contact with my grandma during her calls, letters, and visits from Edmonton to St. Catharines and numerous faded photographs of a life I had briefly been a part of yet could not remember. What stood out to me then, as it does now, is that words like “Cree” and “French” entered my vocabulary fairly early on as my mother sought to tell me “what” I was and as my grandma, when prodded, offered words like “breed” and “Scotch.”
As I reached my early teenage years, I was drawn into programming at my high school for urban Native kids. Through my school’s Native Circle initiative and my growing connection with the wider urban Native community, my identity as a Native person crystallized, and other Native people around me encouraged me to identify myself as “Native” rather than continually referring to myself as “part Cree.” I had been so used to referring to myself in parts that it was a relief to begin to see myself as whole and, truly, as complete, and I took this rearticulated sense of myself very seriously. I remember the first time a well-meaning non-Native friend suggested that I read a book by a woman often referred to as a “Métis author,” a writer named Maria Campbell. When I looked at the book jacket and saw the title Halfbreed, I scoffed, “Why would I want to read that? I’m not Métis or half-anything, I’m Native!”
In the wake of the formation of my identity as Native, I rebuked outsiders’ attempts to link myself to Campbell and her work for two reasons. First, I saw myself as a “whole” Native person, and that way of seeing myself was nurtured by the other members of the Native community around me. I struggled to assert this “whole” identity—meaning a way of understanding and expressing myself in mind, body, and spirit as a person who is marked by my completeness, not by a sense...