- Rekindling the Sacred Fire: Métis Ancestry and Anishinaabe Spirituality by Chantal Fiola
The last few years have seen a resurgence of Métis studies and, more importantly, legal cases ruling on the behalf of the Métis Nation. Alongside these important new publications and recent events, Chantal Fiola’s Rekindling the Sacred Fire: Métis Ancestry and Anishinaabe Spirituality firmly pushes Métis studies forward in ways that intimately integrate Métis sovereignty in ongoing dialogue with those of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe, including the Saulteaux, Odawa, and Potawatomi) and Nêhiyawak (Cree).
Fiola (Métis Anishinaabekwe) commences Rekindling the Sacred Fire by citing Eddie Benton-Banai’s telling of the Neesh-wa-swi’ ishoko-day-kawn (Seven Fires Ceremony, also spelled niizhwaaswi ishkoden) and employs the teachings of the Midewiwin (Midewin, known in English as the Grand Medicine Society). Throughout Rekindling the Sacred Spirit, Benton-Banai and Midewiwin function as a crucial framework for how Fiola positions Métis decolonial praxis in relationship to Anishinaabe and other Indigenous knowledges. Early in the book, Fiola asserts, using oral history testimony, that Louis Riel—the Métis leader hanged in 1885 for leading two armed insurrections—was “according to oral history, adopted by a Midewiwin family and became Midewiwin himself ” (3). Whether or not Fiola substantiates this statement with additional archival documents, it serves—much like the famous quote attributed to Riel, “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when [End Page 131] they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back”—as a gesture that reindigenizes Métis studies.
Through her writing, Fiola—trained in Indigenous studies, women’s studies, and equity studies—challenges the Eurocentric dominance that pervades many studies of the Métis Nation. To do this, Fiola links her work as a decolonial scholar in ways that are intentionally tied to Anishinaabe spiritual practices and, by extension, affixes Métis sovereignties to Anishinaabe ones. When read alongside other recent texts in Métis studies, such as those by Brenda Macdougall, Chris Andersen, Michel Hogue, and Nichole St-Onge and Carolyn Podruchny, Fiola expands the field by offering an unapologetic indigenist perspective that links the stories and practices of contemporary Métis people to those of their Anishinaabeg relations. While many recent texts in Métis studies have employed a limited use of Métis nationhood, Fiola opens the dialogue by linking Métis sovereignty to Anishinaabeg spirituality and cultural practices. Fiola intentionally pushes Métis sovereignty—and prods scholars working on the topic—to better connect the Métis Nation with historic and contemporary Métis and Anishinaabe communities across Anishinaabewaki (Anishinaabeg territories).
Rekindling the Sacred Fire is divided into eight chapters, with strands that investigate identity and spirituality running throughout. Fiola opens the book with an investigation of the Anishinaabeg niizhwaaswi ishkoden as told by Bawdwaywidun (Eddie Benton-Banai), grand chief of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge. In this chapter, Fiola weaves together Métis and Anishinaabeg issues with personal biography, establishing Rekindling the Sacred Fire, as she writes, as a “humble effort to contribute to the work of the Oshkibimaadiziig [New People of the Seventh Fire Prophecy]—to pick up the pieces, dig up the medicines, decolonize ourselves—and help our peoples find wholeness again” (12). With this pronouncement, Fiola clearly positions the book, and her work as a scholar more generally, within a decolonial and indigenist context.
The subsequent chapters are titled “Spirituality and Identity,” “Understanding the Colonial Context of Métis Spirituality and Identity,” “A Métis Anishinaabe Study,” “Residence, Education, Employment, Ancestry, and Status,” “Family History,” “Self-identification and Personal Experiences,” “Relationship with Anishinaabe Spirituality,” and “Lighting the Eighth Fire.” At its best, Rekindling the Sacred Fire pushes the boundaries of Métis studies and attempts to reorient how scholars [End Page 132] understand Métis religiosity and spirituality. To do this, however, the book is overdetermined by the Canadian (and U.S.) nation-state and its settler-colonial juridical structures.