A Métis History

My name is Ry Moran. This piece, entitled A Métis History, is just that, one of many histories that are lived this moment across Canada and parts of the United States.  

The writing below is my own journey through the discovery of my family heritage.  There are many Metis people out there who also lost connection to their roots. It is my hope that this writing helps illustrate one journey on the path of rediscovery.

My Background

My families’ story is the same as many other Metis families. We came from the Red River. I am a Todd and Moran. Following the ‘rebellion’ and the Metis struggle in Batoche, our family, like many other families, chose to sweep our identity under the rug.

For a long time, my family denied any connection to the Metis. Despite this, questions kept arising for which we didn’t really have solid answers. My grandmother, father and aunts all have dark skin. When asked why our family had dark skin, we had no answers. Throughout the younger years of my life, I was told that this dark skin color was a result of being French. This never really made any sense to me.

There was also my great-grandmother whose primary language was Michif French. I don’t recall ever meeting her, although at some point in my life I did. My aunt tells me that Granny only learned to speak English late in life, and they still didn’t speak that much.

When my sister was born, my mother noticed a strange looking birthmark on her. When my mom asked the doctor about this mark, the doctor told her it was ‘Mongolian spot;” something found on people of Asian or aboriginal descent. Somewhat puzzled by the revelation, my mom asked my grandmother if, by any chance, we had any aboriginal blood in the family. My grandmother’s response to this was a very certain ‘no.’

It was not until my aunt, then a professor at the University of Alberta, took a harder look at our family history that our roots as Métis people became clear. It took digging through the archives of the Hudson’s Bay and other archives to trace our line to the original settlement at Red River.

This answered the questions of where some of the more mysterious aspects of our history came from, however it did little to solve any of questions regarding how to actually feel and be Métis. It turned out, that in fact, that the discovery of our heritage only gave us a whole new set of questions.

Questioning and Exploring Identity

Upon learning of my Métis history, for many years, I did not know what this meant. I can remember saying to some of my friends that I was Métis with terse breath, like I was uttering something not truly valid. I knew no Métis people outside of those in my own family, and my entire family found ourselves reflecting on what this history meant to us.

For a long time, I half-hoped someone would tell me what this ‘new’ Métis identity meant; for someone to say ‘that’s great, here’s the whole scoop.” More often than not, however, I was met with strange looks or chastised for looking for a government hand-out.

I didn’t understand what it meant to be Métis and I didn’t yet know how to feel Métis in my heart. Because I didn’t hold a feeling in my heart, I couldn’t express to other people what it meant to be Métis. I was in limbo.

As I thought through the nature of my identity more, I found myself asking what were the important things in my life. For whatever reason, I had always had a deep respect and appreciation for aboriginal culture and saw this aboriginal culture all over the world.

I also reflected upon my deep love and respect for nature. While the love of nature is by no means the sole hallmark of an aboriginal approach to the world, I did feel as though the life and power visible in Mother Nature represented a connection to a spirit or religious power.

I can vividly remember my first trip to Carmanah Valley. It was the first time I truly felt the raw spirit of the land as though I was connected to a larger power.

These connections became more powerful in my life as I further explored my aboriginal past. I began to talk to more people, to question different forms of aboriginal existence, to read old oral histories, study different ways of approaching life with nature and conceptions of the aboriginal spirit. I found the more I learned, the more the spirit in my heart grew.

The soul inside of me grew to understand the world through a different lens; one in which all creatures on this planet posses a spirit. I came to understand that these spirits have an equal right to life, an equal footing on this planet as us. As it was once described to me, the aboriginal goal in life was to walk softly among them, to not ‘hurt their feelings.’

While my heart was now beginning to learn ancient ways of approaching life on planet earth, I still had little understanding of how my own Métis background fit into the whole picture. Being raised on the coast meant that I had greater ties to salmon and whales than I did to Buffalo and Red River Carts.

The real point where the Métis spirit was truly awakened in me came during my first trip to the Prairies in 2005 when I received the Pierre Falcon Award for Artistic Achievement from the Métis National Council. At the ceremony, I found myself surrounded by other Métis people, people that shared my families’ story, long lost relatives with common ancestry, and people that looked and thought in similar ways to my own family.

I also found myself at the grave of Louis Riel, and in the museum that features many artifacts from his life. I was deeply humbled and very moved as I witnessed the lasting effect that Riel has on the country of Canada and the struggle of the Métis people.

It was at this point that much of the history came to a head for me. I suddenly realized that all of those feelings I held in my heart were certainly influenced by First Nations culture, but they were the feelings of a Métis raised on the coast. The approach and perspective we hold as Métis people is that of both sides; We blend of the two worlds and this gives us a unique perspective on the world that surrounds us.

I also was profoundly saddened when the reality of our history came to bear upon me. I realized many reasons my family ended up on the coast were the result of the blood and tears that were shed in Batoche, Red River and all the other Métis communities that had to fight for their existence.

Much of my study and reading after that profound trip to the Prairies revolved around piecing together the story of the Métis and other aboriginal cultures of the Great Plains. I needed to know what, when, who, how and why the free aboriginal landscape of the Plains changed so drastically.

Much of the content you read on this site is a result of this process of discovery for me. I am by no means an expert on the history and there are many fantastic resources out there to pursue.

My hope with this writing is that if you are new to the culture or have recently discovered your family roots, perhaps my story will help. If you are not Metis, perhaps this story will give you a sense of what our history is as Metis people.

We have a fascinating number of rich and vibrant cultures in Canada that have been buried from public view for many years. Let’s make my story – one of cultural rebirth, revival and celebration – occur for all nations across Canada.