Riel was a Métis leader and Canadian politician who was instrumental in bringing Manitoba into Confederation and led two uprisings against the Dominion of Canada.
Like much of the history taught in Canada over the last 100 years, what happened, and how it has been described, is now being examined through the lens of colonization.
As many of the approximately 90,000 Métis people living in B.C. prepared to recognize Louis Riel Day last week on Tuesday, Nov. 16, we took the opportunity to ask two PHSA staff about their experiences and what it means to be Métis.
As Manager of Indigenous Cancer Control for BC Cancer, Ashley Turner feels lucky to be well versed on her family background.
“I always knew I was Indigenous,” she says. “I’m extremely fortunate to have grown up in Métis culture, so I know who I am culturally and historically.”
For her, that means being raised amidst the cultural traditions such as fiddle music, traditional dance and gatherings with food and stories from elders, which is how many people in the 39 Métis Chartered Communities in B.C.
recognize Louis Riel Day.
Ashley knows there is plenty of learning and understanding needed to help move the discussion about what it means to be Métis forward. It’s one of the reasons she’s an active member of Métis Nation BC (MNBC)
so she can be apart of raising awareness of her culture and its significance.
"As Métis, we know our history hasn’t been captured in a meaningful way.” – Ashley Turner
Nancy Aldoff, Provincial Practice Leader at BC Cancer’s Breast Screening program, is also Métis, something her parents engrained in their children to be proud of.
"My father participated and took us to many Pow Wows and rodeos on Alberta and Montana Reserves as I was growing up. Looking back, I really appreciate the memories I have of childhood celebrations.”
"My grandmother, Flora Cayene, was Cree but died before I was born. In honour of her, I named my daughter Cayanne, who is becoming more active as part of MNBC and eager to know more about her Métis ancestry. My son, too, is proud of his heritage.”
Nancy’s connection to the Métis culture has led to her attending numerous events where she speaks to Indigenous women about their health needs and the importance of getting regular breast cancer screening.
While she hasn’t always recognized Louis Riel Day in the past, she’s become more aware of the significance of the events that took place and is proud of the role they’ve played in shaping Canada.
"I’ve always known about Louis Riel growing up,” she explains, “But my 1970s education didn’t disclose the colonization and assimilation forced on Indigenous people that took place in Canadian history. My children and I will recognize Louis Riel Day and I’ll continue to talk to them about how my grandmother’s history and our ancestors have shaped our family."
"We should never forget to recognize the incredible commitment of Louis Riel and the Métis people standing up against the Canadian government the way they did.” – Nancy Aldoff
As Cultural Wellness Manager of Métis Nation BC, Don Corrigal is well aware of the overall lack of understanding of the history of the Métis people, including the economic impact they’ve have had on our country.
“Back in the 1700s, the Métis ran most of the fur trading routes in Canada until the train arrived,” he explains, “as well as controlled production and distribution of one of the largest commodities in the country at the time – pemmican.”
While his connection with Louis Riel is less pronounced than some, he uses the occasion to spend the day focusing on his family, “speaking to my kids and grandkids about the value of our Métis culture and traditions.” He’s also clear that without the resistance of Louis Riel and the Métis people, Canada would look much different that it does today.
Both Nancy and Ashley welcome the increased awareness and recognition of Indigenous cultural practices and people that PHSA has brought in recent years.
“I'm so proud to be working for PHSA, in a place where the executive leadership team are people who respect all diversity,” says Nancy.
When it comes to learning more about the Métis, Ashley’s advice is “to be curious, to get over the fear and guilt of asking a ‘stupid question’” she says.
“If you’re coming from a place of genuine curiosity and compassion, then it’s OK to ask questions.” – Ashley Turner
For Ashley, Louis Riel Day holds a more personal meaning, as it happens to be her birthday.
“I’ve always thought it’s a little macabre to celebrate the day he was murdered,” she says. “But what he died fighting for are the values we’re still trying to advocate for within our communities and, 150 years later, Métis families still exist and are still passing down traditions, still thriving.”
For those people wanting to know more about Métis history and culture, there are a variety of resources available, including Kaa-Wiichihitoyaahk, an MNBC book