Dec 15, 2016
Posted in: culture
By Kim Kovacs and Jed Huntley
On October 5, 2016, 12 second-year students from SUNTEP Prince Albert and eight second-year students from SUNTEP Regina travelled to Winnipeg to engage in four intense days of learning about their Métis history and culture, their ancestors, themselves, and each other. Accompanied by SUNTEP faculty Russell Fayant and Jed Huntley, respected community members Vivian Meabry and Joe Welsh, and library staff Nicolle DeGagné and Kim Kovacs, the students took full advantage of this valuable opportunity to solidify and internalize learning through in-person visits to many of the historically significant sites they have been reading and studying in the classroom. While SUNTEP Regina has been taking students enrolled in INDG 221 to Winnipeg for many years, this is only the second year that SUNTEP Prince Albert students have made the trip (last year a select group of second- and third- year students went as part of a professional development initiative, and this year was the first time the Winnipeg experience has been tied to the second-year INDG 280 class). The trip provides students from both programs with a unique opportunity to form connections and friendships that will be renewed at cultural camps later in their academic careers.
Despite winter driving conditions, the Prince Albert students arrived in Winnipeg on Wednesday evening just in time to join the Regina group on a privately guided tour of portions of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, including those dealing with residential schools and Métis Road Allowance communities. Students spent Thursday doing genealogical research at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives and the Centre du Patrimoine at the Société historique de Saint-Boniface, where many of them were able to discover interesting details about their ancestors, or fill in gaps and missing connections in their family histories. The students then visited the Riel statue before laying tobacco at the monument for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women at the Forks. After exploring a nearby Métis-themed playground, the Prince Albert and Regina groups headed indoors for supper and to warm up in preparation for a moonlit visit to the St. Boniface Cathedral and Louis Riel’s grave, as well as the controversial Lemay-Gaboury monument to Riel; followed by a group debrief back at the hotel around 9:00 pm.
The students were in the vans bright and early on Friday morning, with Prince Albert students meeting Lawrence Barkwell at the Manitoba Metis Federation, while Regina students headed off to explore the St. Boniface graveyard and Le Musée de Saint-Boniface housed in the building where Louis Riel first attended school. This was followed by a whirlwind tour through the Manitoba Museum to see relevant highlights, including the Nonsuch replica, fur trade artifacts, the Métis kitchen, and Cuthbert Grant’s medicine chest. Neechi Commons, an Indigenous-owned and operated arts and food co-operative in Winnipeg’s North End community, provided students with delicious food and a chance to fuel up and warm up for the afternoon’s activities. Heavy rain prevented a stop at the Seven Oaks Battle site, but both groups of students were treated to a rare tour of the inside of buildings at Lower Fort Garry, including the Furloft/Saleshop and the Big House. ………..Thanks go to Parks Canada staff for their willingness to accommodate such a large group in the off-season. Quick stops were made at St. Andrew’s Church, Captain William Kennedy’s house, and the Polo Park Mall for a bite to eat and to warm up before heading back out into the rain to stand next to the walls of Upper Fort Garry while remembering the history that unfolded there in 1869-1870. Elzear Goulet Park, a profoundly moving piece of landscape architecture created to honour the memory of one of the casualties of Wolseley’s 1870 reign of terror, was the final stop of the evening before returning to the hotel for the nightly group debrief.
The Prince Albert and Regina groups moved together on Saturday, visiting Riel House before heading out to St. Norbert to see the Delorme House and conduct a final group debrief. They then preceded to the Riel-Ritchot Monument, the Chapelle de Notre-Dame du Bon Secours, and the peaceful St. Norbert Cemetery. Students paused for a photo at La Barrière, grabbed a quick bite to eat at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, and then it was back into the vans to visit Cuthbert Grant’s Mill, where Nancy and Ken Fluto provided a warm welcome and a tour despite the mill being closed for the season. After a visit to St. Francois Xavier Church and cemetery to look for ancestors’ names, and a quick stop for a final group photo at the White Horse Plains monument, the Prince Albert and Regina students said their goodbyes until culture camp next year and started on the long drive back home, their “culture cups overflowing.”
Despite the tight schedule, the long days, and the inclement weather, the group debriefs were marked by insightful comments and a heightened cultural awareness that demonstrated students’ engagement in deep, meaningful learning about the struggles and accomplishments of their ancestors and their solidifying pride in their identity, as well as a sense of purpose for the future. As one student from Prince Albert commented, “We can share the stories and knowledge we have gained to make youth more aware and more proud of their Métis culture and history. Many Métis are unaware of [our] rich history.”
Special thanks go to Vivian Meabry and Joe Welsh for patiently sharing their knowledge, humour, and wisdom with students and staff alike, to the Institute for its continued support of these essential and transformative off-campus experiential learning opportunities, and to everyone else who contributed to make the trip a success again this year