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article imageCelebrating Métis heritage and culture at Oshawa's Memorial Park Special

By Katie Ryalen     Jun 22, 2013 in Lifestyle
Oshawa - This weekend, the Oshawa and Durham Region Métis Council hosts its 7th annual Métis Heritage Celebration. The event includes traditional games, art, craft goods, music and dancing.
Periods of rain, sometimes significant, sent visitors scurrying beneath trees, display tents and even inside teepees. But the overcast sky could not dim the enthusiasm which prevailed on day one of the 7th annual Métis Heritage Celebration in Oshawa's downtown Memorial Park.
As its name suggests, the event is a celebration of Métis heritage, culture and history, and is part of a larger movement by the wider Métis community to revive and reinforce knowledge about its people and traditions.
"The Métis helped grow Canada," says former Niagara Region Métis Council president, Rick Paquette. "But that was never taught in schools before, so much of our culture and history was lost. Now there is a lot being done through the education system and also museums to bring back that knowledge and preserve it for future generations."
The Métis Nation, which traces its roots back to the 18th and 19th century fur trade in North America, is one of the recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and is the result of the marriage of First Nations women and European traders.
Historically, there was a distinction between the French Métis who were the descendants of francophone voyageur fathers, and the Anglo-Métis born of English and Scottish fathers. Today, though, the Métis Nation considers its members to be those who are descended from these various European and First Nations unions, and celebrates a collective Métis tradition.
John Somosi of the Saskatchewan Métis displays his traditional craftwork at the Métis Heritage Cel...
John Somosi of the Saskatchewan Métis displays his traditional craftwork at the Métis Heritage Celebration
"We joke that the arrival of the Europeans gave birth to the Métis Nation," says John Somosi, who is of the Saskatchewan Métis. "Today we think of the Métis as a bridge between the [European and First Nations] cultures."
It's a bridge which Somosi continues to build with his organization Sky Buffalo. He spends his summers travelling to events and Pow Wow across Canada and the United States, providing cultural workshops, performing, and selling his hand-crafted Native leather goods, jewelry and drums.
Somosi is also involved with Hats for Hides, a program run by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources which provides Aboriginal crafters and producers with raw goods like leather and fur. "They're collected from local hunters," he explains. "There is no waste. [The hunters] eat the meat and we use the parts like the hides and the hooves to produce these goods from which we make a living."
One of the most prominent craft items to be seen at the Métis Heritage Celebration, worn by many visitors and participants, was the traditional sash. "Our sash identifies us as Métis," explains Bernice Paradis of the Georgian Bay Métis Council. "In the days of the fur trade it had many uses. For one, it could be used to pull people out of the water if their canoes capsized."
"It could also be used for carrying things, as a saddle blanket, a backpack," adds Pat Taylor, women's representative for the Council. "Women might even unravel a thread from their sash and use it for sewing. Today, the sash is worn for events, and is given in honour. You can buy them here today, but then you would typically give it to someone in honour of something."
Pat Taylor (left) and Bernice Paradis of the Georgian Bay Métis Council wear their traditional Mét...
Pat Taylor (left) and Bernice Paradis of the Georgian Bay Métis Council wear their traditional Métis sashes
The colours of the sash are standard, and each one is significant. Red is the historical depicted colour for the Métis sash, blue and white are the colours of the Métis Nation flag. "There's also yellow," Taylor adds, "which symbolizes the sunshine and our evolving as a people through Louis Riel, black represents the hundred years that our people were repressed, and green represents moving forward and our people being fruitful."
Despite the rain, the event saw a fair number of visitors on its first day. It has grown since its first year. According to the Oshawa and Durham Region Métis Council, last year the event attracted as many as 4,000 visitors.
Joseph Size and his son Raven have braved the weather to visit the event for their fourth year. "I've been coming ever since Raven was born," says Size, who while sheltering from a sudden downpour takes time to smudge the air with the smoke of sweetgrass. "It lightens the mood," he says of the ritual, "cleanses the air and the area. I also dropped tobacco here, to give thanks, and to ask that everyone here be watched over, protected, and to keep the land sacred."
For Joseph Size, it is important that his son grow up knowing his Métis heritage. "I'm Cree," he says. "When I was young my family couldn't care for me, so I was adopted into a [non-Aboriginal] family. There's nothing wrong with that, but I grew up with a lot of questions that I didn't have answers to. Raven's mother is Métis—Mohawk and French—so for me, it's really important that he's raised with the culture. I want him to grow up with all of this being normal, and a part of his life.
"He's starting to understand," Size adds. "He's putting things together in his mind, like the drums and the crafts."
Joseph Size and his son Raven visit the Métis Heritage Celebration in Oshawa
Joseph Size and his son Raven visit the Métis Heritage Celebration in Oshawa
In addition to its art and craft goods displays, the event will feature traditional Métis music, dancing (called jigging), drumming, storytelling, and games. Hank Rowlinson of the Métis Nation of Ontario explains what kind of games are traditional to the Métis culture.
"There is the hatchet throw," he says, "and we'll have that here today. Way back when, they also had sling shot and air rifle contests, they had bag carrying and cream can races, to see how much weight they could carry or how far they could go. This is what they did back in the day. The Métis and the Europeans, they all got together at the trading post, spent weeks there, and played these games to keep active and for bragging rights." Smiling, Rowlinson adds, "the Métis are a very competitive people, you see."
The Métis Heritage Celebration will continue Sunday, June 23rd at Oshawa's Memorial Park. Admission is free, and whether Métis, First Nations, or non-Aboriginal, all members of the public are welcome.
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