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Métis community celebrates Riel Day
Educators, community members, and students gathered to honour Louis Riel Day this year with singing, dancing, art, and food at the University of Saskatchewan College of Education Student's Lounge.
Master of Ceremonies Murray Hamilton
said the celebration was meant to commemorate, recognize, and educate in the spirit of the Métis peoples, including those who were involved in the 1885
"It's not like we were alive in 1885 and suddenly disappeared," said guest speaker Christi Belcourt.
"We haven't gone anywhere, we're still
Holding the event were the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) and the Gabriel Dumont College Student Representative Council.
Those in attendance included Elder Rose Fleury of Duck Lake, Professor Ron Laliberte, Senator Lillian Dyck, John and Vicky Arcand, lawyer and columnist Paul Chartrand, and President Robert Doucette and other executive members of Métis Nation Saskatchewan. They joined dozens of students, community members, and school children mainly of Métis heritage to celebrate culture and history, and past and present Métis achievers, contributors, and artists.
Belcourt, a reknowned painter with northern Albertan roots, has an art show at Saskatoon's Red Shift Gallery and resides on Manitoulin Island.
Along with her siblings she excels as an artist, and she presented a short film that was shot by her brother Shane, which was a reflection on her painting.
She spoke briefly afterwards about her struggle to regain cultural values and teachings while pursuing her passion in art.
"My grandmother knew about plants from her grandmother," said Belcourt. She added that this knowledge was lost as families moved away from anything associated with "being Indian" towards the mainstream, especially post-Resistance.
"The desire was to get their families out of poverty. The (Cree and Michif) language was lost within one generation, a common story," she said.
Belcourt's father Tony is one of five portraits of influential Métis of her times - her family moved to Ottawa when he was elected president of the Native Council of Canada. She also painted Maria Campbell, Steve Powley, Harry Daniels, and Gabriel Dumont.
"Remembrance Day isn't just about the Great Wars on another continent it's about our people who fought and suffered and died for us in 1885," noted Belcourt. Famous not only as "The Flower Beadwork People" he said they were known also for their love of life, laughter, music, dance, and way of celebrating.
Belcourt read a 1985 Glenbow Museum Exhibit write-up stating the fanciful Métis beadwork design had more in common with English gardens.
Belcourt said she disagreed with the
statement and instead pointed out the accurate detail in flower, berry, and
"The person who made this knew the land and paid close attention to the land," she said. "We had to for food, for our family, for medicines we needed to know these things."
Noting Métis people did not just exist in the past but continue to change and evolve - she said culturally the protocol is to always acknowledge sources - not trying to pass off other's creations as your own.
"It's much more powerful to share teachings and history that way," said Belcourt, citing many of her sources of inspiration. One beaded item was recovered when a son went to collect his deceased mother's possessions and was told she'd left nothing behind. They'd all been thrown out - he found them in the dumpster behind the building. She tells this story in this woman's memory, incorporating part of her designs in her
Métis artist Sherry Farrel Racette shared many pictures with Belcourt after visiting an Earl's castle in Great Britain, demanding to see and photograph the collection of Métis artisanship kept by himself and his
Belcourt borrows some designs and makes sure to acknowledge them. Creating others from careful observation of nature, she painstakingly "dots" each line to make a painted beadwork pattern.
"Our people have special connections to the earth, animals, insects, birds, and plants. We watch and soak it in, asking, 'What's this and what can I learn from this?'," she said.
She stated each person was here for a reason and each have their own path to
"Be bold, be blissful celebrate it and don't allow yourself to become depressed... give it your all," she said, adding those who dislike what they're doing should find something else to honour the uniqueness of their individual giftedness.
Students Jana Ross, Kelsey Pilon, and Rhonda Millar shared their creative gifts of song, verse, recitation, and dance, with Don Freed songs and verse.
Jigging was led by Lorraine Naytowhow, followed by refreshments and visiting, after several songs featuring the talented composer and traditional musician John Arcand, master of the Métis fiddle and recipient of the Order of Canada, accompanied by his wife Vicky on guitar.
Hamilton noted part of the afternoon's purpose was to recognize and commemorate Riel, and his legitimate
"In 1870 he formed a provisional government and sent people to Ottawa the Métis people's government, and the Canadian state," said Hamilton, speaking of the Métis culture and perspective, and the importance of engaging local institutions such as the University of Saskatchewan, which tabled a document in 2003 calling for change that unfortunately hasn't been revisited since.
"As for the Canadian government - that remains unfinished business," Hamilton added.
"We have battles that still need to be fought. But we've come a long long way."
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