May 26th, 2024

Miywasin Moment: Virtual symposium unites Métis coast to coast

By JoLynn Parenteau on May 18, 2022.

From left, musicians Leroy Constant, Jason Lepine, Melissa St. Goddard and Ben Page perform from the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Kwaata-nihtaawakihk - A Hard Birth exhibit.--VIDEO STILL COURTESY OF MAWACHIHITOTAAK MÉTIS STUDIES SYMPOSIUM

“I have only this to say to the Métis: Remain Métis, become more Métis then ever.” – Louis David Riel, Métis Nation founding father (1844-1885)

 

For four days in May, Turtle Island’s Métis community experienced a meeting of the minds like none other.

 

Culture enthusiasts across North America joined the Mawachihitotaak Métis Studies Symposium (May 3-6), a virtual platform for scholars, artists, language learners, and community leaders to share knowledge and engage in conversation.

 

More than thirty guest speakers offered workshops and panel discussions on many subjects. Dr. Kisha Supernant shared findings from the Exploring Métis Identity Through Archaeology (EMITA) research project within the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology at the University of Alberta. Métis midwives Cheryllee Bourgeois and Nathalie Pambrun shared birth stories passed down through generations and from their own practices. Postdoctoral fellow Kai Pyle of the University of Illinois colourfully illustrated Queer, Trans, and 2spirit Métis history from the 1700s to present day. Modern Métis-Irish dance fusion instructor and performer Danielle Enblom of Minneapolis spoke about discovering her heritage via a love of fiddle music and relatives’ stories.

 

Mawachihitotaak (pronounced mah-wah-chee-hee-toh-tack) means ‘let’s get together’ in Michif, the language of the Métis People. Language revitalization is a topic of wide discussion amongst the Métis. To open the conference in a good way, host Laura Forsythe, a scholar of the University of Winnipeg, welcomed Elder Verna DeMontigny of Manitoba who offered a Michif prayer for “discussions to bear fruit and achieve success.”

 

DeMontigny joined the symposium’s sessions on language revitalization as a respected knowledge holder. Together with the University of Manitoba’s Heather Souter, they offered perspective on varied language learning methods and variances in Michif dialects. Souter and DeMontigny co-founded Prairies to Woodlands, a non-profit focused on Southern Michif instruction. DeMontigny’s voice can be heard in Prairies to Woodlands’ talking dictionary at michif.org. In their workshop “Ota nda yanaan – We are Here”, Michif learner Lindsey Mazur shared that while she was once disconnected to her culture, she has always felt drawn to language learning. “My spirit knew, my blood knew, but my brain didn’t know (I was Métis)” said Mazur.

 

The Winnipeg Art Gallery (wag.ca) hosted a virtual tour of a remarkable exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Province of Manitoba. Kwaata-nihtaawakihk – A Hard Birth (pronounced kwa-ta knee-ta-wa-kick) features beadwork, film, performance art, photography, sculpture and textiles of 15 contemporary Métis, First Nations, and non-Indigenous artists and runs until September 3. It is said that the Métis Nation is the birthplace of Manitoba.

 

No Métis gathering is complete without live music. “For me the fiddle is our deep spiritual relation that calls our ancestors and honours their spirit,” shared symposium organizer Paul Gareau. WAG hosted a cheerful evening fiddle jam live from the Kwaata-nihtaawakihk exhibit. Musicians Leroy Constant on bass, Jason Lepine and Melissa St. Goddard on fiddles, and Ben Page on guitar entertained with familiar and new tunes such as “Maple Sugar” and “Fiddle Fingers” while attendees danced in their kitchens.

 

Keynote speaker Elder Dr. Maria Campbell closed the symposium with reflections on the ancient Nehiyaw (Cree) and Michif worldview of Wâhkôhtowin – the concept of kinship and connection between all people and all things. Recalling childhood memories, Dr. Campbell suggests defining culture by answering the question of “How did we live?” and sharing the “bundle of stories” we carry with us on our journey.

 

Mawachihitotaak was conceived to nourish our relationships and celebrate the different ways we carry and are building Métis knowledge across our homelands. To the organizers I say ‘kishchi maarsii’ – thank you very much. This writer wishes to express ‘nanâskomôwin’ (gratitude) for the ‘kinishtouhtaen’ (knowledge) and new connections that I now carry in my bundle.

 

“Every single individual is going to have their own way of expressing the spirit of their tradition and of their culture, whether it’s through music or dance or language or beadwork, or however we show it,” said dance instructor Enblom. “And then also communities are going to have their ways of being, and then the broader community’s way of being all becomes an expression of a moment in history. All of these traditions are relevant to the broad tapestry of who we all are as a People.”

 

JoLynn Parenteau is a Métis writer out of Miywasin Friendship Centre in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Column feedback can be sent to jolynn.parenteau@gmail.com.

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