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Meet the Ancestors!

By Karon Shmon, Director, GDI Culture and Heritage

Mar 31, 2023

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I recently accompanied the second year students from SUNTEP Saskatoon on a research trip to Winnipeg. The trip is a component of the Indigenous Studies class they are currently taking. The students raise funds for the trip by working bingos throughout the year.

We travelled by chartered bus, taking the better part of a day to travel. I kept my eyes on the landmarks, especially as we drew closer to Winnipeg as I knew we would be going through many of the historic places in which my ancestors lived before coming to Saskatchewan. White Horse Plain, St. François Xavier, and Headingley came into view, reminding me that these parishes were close to one another because the luxury of getting very far quickly just wasn’t available in earlier times.

The SUNTEP Saskatoon faculty put together a dream itinerary for a Métis research trip. Our primary purpose was to strengthen the students’ research skills through researching their ancestry at the Archives of Manitoba which also houses the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. After an excellent orientation from the staff, the students got to work utilizing the many sources of information available. I was delighted to see the students finding information about their ancestors through parish, immigration, employment, and scrip records. The St. Boniface Archives also proved to be a valuable and informative tool.

Other highlights of the trip included visiting The Forks which is located where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River. The Forks was a gathering place for millennia before European contact. Water travel was the main way to get around for most people and The Forks was a natural meeting place for trade, commerce, and a rest stop. Now it has a beautiful market square. It was here I had the opportunity to have a pickerel lunch which I admit to having twice. It was so good!

We also got to visit the Manitoba Museum and the Human Rights Museum. I was pleased to see there is a Métis story told at the Human Rights Museum, something often missing from other historical sites and places. We went to the St. Boniface Museum which covers the last several centuries of French and Catholic history. This, of course, also covers a lot of Métis history. We raised an eyebrow or two at some of the displays, such as a lock of Louis Riel’s hair and a piece of the rope by which he was hung. I am sure the museum curators grapple to find a balance between sharing history and the growing sensitivity to how our history is portrayed.

On the final evening, the faculty had planned a group dinner at which we celebrated our successful research trip. It was very rewarding to see the students connect to their ancestors and to see the importance of our place in our own and in Canada’s history. We could see how the Métis Nation evolved through the intersection of trade and commerce, social interaction, and familial and community ties. We came home with better research skills and a better sense of who we are as the Métis. We could see that we have much to be proud of and much to celebrate. I will never tire of seeing our youth achieve this.

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Gabriel Dumont Institue

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