MANITOBA Métis Federation President David Chartrand repeatedly made inflammatory statements about Métis spirituality via Le Metis newsletter and social media in December. Responding to an alleged statement made by the Métis National Council (MNC) that the Catholic Church took away the spirituality of the Métis, robbing us of sweat lodges and drums, Chartrand claimed that these spiritual traditions have never been part of Red River Métis spirituality, and that to say otherwise distorts Métis identity, undermines First Nations identity, and highlights the dangers of race-shifting; he encouraged Métis to re-commit to Catholicism.
Outraged, many Métis are voicing their disagreement with Chartrands problematic comments.
While I appreciate Chartrands ongoing efforts to address race-shifting (white settlers who claim Métis identity, rights and have infiltrated the Métis Nation), I must address his false statements about Métis spirituality in the hopes of mitigating the harm they have caused.
Having researched Métis relationships with ceremonies for 15 years through a PhD in Indigenous studies, tenure and promotion to associate professor, the publication of two books on the topic, and committing my life to these spiritual traditions I have often encountered the stereotype that all Métis are Christian (especially Roman Catholic) and do not participate in ceremonies. The colonial legacy of forced assimilation (church, residential school, 60s Scoop and legislation banning ceremonies for over half a century) has resulted in an intergenerational disconnection of many Métis from the spiritual ways of our ancestors. (See my first book, Rekindling the Sacred Fire.)
Through archival research, including correspondence by the earliest priests to arrive in the Red River Colony, I have found evidence of historic Métis participation in ceremonies.
Métis oral history confirms that some Métis families held onto ceremonies despite overwhelming pressures to assimilate. I had the pleasure of spending time with a matriarch of the Métis nation, Elder Maria Campbell, on her land near Batoche, Sask., during the summer of 2018. Campbell, herself a respected spiritual-lodge conductor for more than 20 years, told me that some Métis people have been going to ceremonies, such as sweat lodges, for as long as Métis have existed.
She shared with me that famed Métis leader Gabriel Dumont practised traditional spirituality. I later devoured books she recommended and learned that Dumont was a sweat lodge conductor, a pipe carrier, and regularly used traditional medicines, including smudging Louis Riels graveside and his mourners.
There exist a few publications that discuss the inclusion of ceremonies in Métis spirituality historically, including Métis Legacy II, published in 2006 by the MMFs Pemmican Publications. Therein, we learn of the Nêhiyaw-Pwat (Iron Confederacy, an alliance between the Plains Cree, Assiniboine, Saulteaux, and Métis) and a gathering in the early 1800s where the Cree gifted the Sundance ceremony to the Métis and Saulteaux.
Lest anyone think that Métis people only participated in ceremonies historically, I interviewed 50 Métis people for my books. In Returning to Ceremony: Spirituality in Manitoba Métis Communities, 32 Métis people from six historic Red River Métis communities , including Chartrands home community of Duck Bay, discuss their journey of reconnection to ceremony.
I have come to understand that Métis spirituality exists on a continuum with Christianity (especially Catholicism) on one end, traditional Indigenous spirituality on the other, and blends of both in the centre. Métis spirituality includes ceremonies, historically and contemporarily. Métis people are currently experiencing a spiritual resurgence as many of us are finding our way back to the spiritual lodges of our ancestors.
Chartrand often states that the Métis are a maternal nation; however, his recent statements erase the contributions of our maternal relations (our First Nation relatives, then Métis grandmothers and mothers) who first taught us these spiritual traditions. While I doubt it was his intention, such erasure amounts to misogyny. I encourage him not to disrespect our ancestors, the youth who are hungry for ceremony, and the Métis elders and spiritual teachers who are welcoming them into their sweat lodges.
The MMF is having an election in 2022. Métis citizens will be looking for candidates who can unite the Métis across all our beautiful differences, while addressing the problem of race-shifting.
To Métis who feel called to ceremony: know that some of your (Métis) ancestors participated in ceremonies, and it is your birthright to seek them out.
Miigwetch, my relatives.
Chantal Fiola is a citizen of the MMF, an associate professor in Urban and Inner-City Studies, and Distinguished Indigenous Scholars Chair at the University of Winnipeg.