From learning how to carve a paddle to creating miniature button blankets, Catherine Turner and Bryce Mercredi hope resources in the Comox Valley community will strengthen the growing Métis community in the region.
The duo are part of the Miki’siw Métis Association, an organization created in 2004 which focuses on building resources for individuals and families of Métis descent on northern Vancouver Island.
Mercredi, who is the president of the association, said there are 36 self-governing communities within the province, with citizenship processed by the Métis Nation British Columbia (MNBC).
The local association now has 320 members, and with more than 67,000 self-identified Métis in B.C., Mercredi added the organization serves a variety of roles in the Valley.
They are part of the Aboriginal Education Council ceremony in conjunction with School District 71 and there are resources for those who have recently discovered their Métis heritage.
“We have some people who come to us and they say they didn’t know I was Métis. There may also been a certain shame for being Métis,” noted Mercredi. “Now they say ‘I have a culture I didn’t know existed.’ “
He said in order to join, people can use genealogy records to show their Métis heritage. Churches and the Hudson’s Bay Company kept good records of family history, he said.
With the advent of the fur trade in west central North America during the 18th century, mixed children from European fur traders and aboriginal women grew with populations establishing distinct communities from those two cultures, and married among themselves.
From that, a new demographic of Aboriginal Peoples emerged — Métis — with their own culture, traditions, language and culture.
Member of Parliament and founder of Manitoba Louis Riel was a prominent Métis who led two resistance movements against the Canadian government, with Nov. 15 dedicated as Louis Riel day, added Mercredi.
Turner, with the help of funding, has created what she calls an opportunity for holistic health for Métis and all urban aboriginals.
Through creating partnerships with other organizations, elders and aboriginal health care providers, she developed a program for families to reconnect with their heritage.
Creating 10, three-month programs, a facilitator teaches for six weeks at various schools in SD 71 on a variety of topics.
“This community is rich with resources,” noted Turner, a founding member of the Wachiay Friendship Centre. “The program is the first of its kind (on the Island).”
The first season, which happens once a week, was taught by Tammi Compton, a K’ómoks Band member, who instructs, with support from two elders, on creating cedar bracelets.
Artist Randy Frank will offer instruction on paddle carving, while textile artist John Powell — design co-ordinator for the Vancouver 2010 Welcome Portion of the Olympics — will conduct a session on creating miniature button blankets.
Turner said there can be a disconnect from family and community for urban aboriginals, which makes up a huge aspect of the programming.
“This is a chance to reconnect, and get to know elders and their culture. A lot of the language and culture has been lost.”
For more information on the Miki’siw Métis Association, visit www.comoxvalleymetis.com.