In one corner of historic Fort Langley on Saturday, visitors were taking unsteady aim with bows and arrows at targets from behind a roped-off safety zone, while in another, Joseph Smith was rolling out bannock “with a bang” for frying outdoors, and indoors, Shelby Desjarlias, president of the Waceya Métis Society was reading stories for young people.
Waceya was one of five local Métis associations in the Lower Mainland who came together to celebrate Louis Riel Day and Métis culture at the Fort at 23433 Mavis Ave.
The event also featured music, dancing , a blacksmithing demonstration, historical lecture, Métis artifacts and artisans demonstrating finger weaving and moccasin making.
“We’re just out here to inform and introduce ourselves to the community and allow people to take pride in their heritage, to take pride in their culture,” Desjarlais said.
Desjarlais said census figures suggest there are thousands of people in the Langleys who self-identify as Métis, but only a few hundred who are members of Métis associations.
He’s hoping events like Louis Riel Day will encourage such people to investigated their history.
“If you know where you came from, and you know your past, and your background, it makes it easier to relate to other people.”
Riel is remembered as a Métis leader, who led two popular Métis governments, was central in bringing Manitoba into Confederation, and was executed for high treason for his role in the 1885 rebellion against Canadian encroachment on Métis lands.
He was initially dismissed as a rebel by Canadian historians, but that view has changed and many now see him as a charismatic leader who fought to protect his people.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, and one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”
The Métis National Council (MNC) defines the Métis homeland as the three Prairie provinces and parts of Ontario, B.C., the Northwest Territories and the northern United States.
Members of the Métis Nation have a common culture, ancestral language (Michif), history and political tradition, and are connected through an extensive network of kin relations.
Earlier this month, Métis and provincial government representatives met at the B.C. legislature, to proclaim Louis Riel Day in B.C. and celebrate the contribution of Métis people to B.C.
Deputy Premier Carole James, who is Métis, joined the president of Métis Nation BC, Clara Morin Dal Col, and representatives from Métis communities to watch the Métis flag raised in a sunrise ceremony.
“I am proud of my Métis heritage and I was moved to watch the flag rise in front of the people’s house,” James said. “The flag-raising is a symbol of the importance of the Métis people and culture and our commitment to work together to make life better for Métis people across British Columbia.”
Riel was a political leader and champion of Métis rights and culture, and has also been described as the father of Manitoba. He was executed by the Canadian government in 1885, following the Riel rebellion on the prairies.
The 2016 census shows that B.C. is home to nearly 90,000 self-identified Métis people, an increase of nearly 30,000 since 2006.
More information can be found at the Métis B.C. Nation website at https://www.mnbc.ca.
– with files from Black Press