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Metis Elder, cultural advocate passes away

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Terry Lusty, Sweetgrass Writer, St. Albert








The Metis community has bid farewell to one of its most respected and accomplished women, a veritable giant in terms of her efforts and accomplishments.

On April 26, funeral services for the late Dr. Anne Anderson-Irvine were held at the St. Albert Catholic Church. It was a time of celebration as well as sorrow said her favorite niece, Elaine Rowe, in her eulogy.

This "tall, strong, independent woman. . . made her mark," particularly in fulfilling her mother's wishes "to keep the language and culture of Metis people alive."

Officiating at the service was her grandson, Father Gary Laboucane, who said a Metis Elder once described Dr. Anne as, "the heart of the [Metis] Nation." As well, he stated, "she was always ready to build things that would last a long time. . . people."

Dr. Anne knew and helped a lot of people and vice-versa.

"To us, Dr. Anne was special. . . a teacher," said Metis president, Audrey Poitras. Longtime friend and fellow-Elder, Sophie Hiebert remembered Dr. Anne as "always working for the betterment of her people."

Irene Morin recalled helping her to translate Cree-English tapes, Noweta assisted her in gathering medicinal herbs, and Joe Blyan helped confirm certain Cree words for her books.

Many remarked how nice a service it was for Dr. Anne.

Born to Betsy and William Joseph Gairdner in 1906 on a river lot farm east of St. Albert, Dr. Anne was one of 10 children of whom only two survive.

She went to Bellerose School, then spent three long, lonely years at the Grey Nun's Convent, a few miles from her home. After Grade 10, she had to stay home to help work her parent's mixed farm. Her dad died when she was 16 and she had to help with house work on neighboring farms to earn money to support her family.

In 1926, she married William Callihoe and moved to a farm north of Spruce Grove, raised two children, then learned to type - a skill that later proved instrumental to her in developing the dozens of manuscripts for her books.

Dr. Anne lived in Oregon for several years, and later married Joseph Anderson in 1947 from Frog Lake where she worked as a supervisor of the Fishing Lake Metis Settlement.

#She married Alex Irvine from Selkirk, Man. in 1979 and formed her own company, Cree Productions. She fought a long and hard battle with the schools in Edmonton and the University of Alberta to include Cree language instruction in their curricula.

She also developed the Dr. Anne Anderson Native Heritage and Cultural Centre, won the Alberta Achievement Award in 1975, the Order of Canada in 1979, plus an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alberta, and the Edmonton Female Citizenship Award. Edmonton also named a park after her which is located at 105 Avenue and 162 Street which hosts a beautiful life-size bronze buffalo sculpture.

At the time of her passing, the 91-year-old Anderson-Irvine was a grandmother, a retired nurse, a teacher and a linguist who authored more than 90 books on Metis history, Cree language, herbs, legends and children's coloring books. But, that's not all this grand lady of the Metis contributed. Lovingly, her labors also produced Cree language tapes. She collected artifacts and an extensive library of Native books which are housed by the Metis Nation of Alberta. Apart from her language tapes, Dr. Anne was probably best-known for her Cree Dictionary and her book, The First Metis . . . A New Nation.

Dr. Anne leaves behind her husband Alexander, children Patricia Robinson and Herbert Callihoe, sister Lena L'Hirondelle, brother Adolphus Gairdner, niece Elaine Rowe, three grandchildren and numerous friends and relatives.