RVS Teacher, Ecole Edwards -The story of our beautiful Canada 150 Identity quilt starts with an old photograph. As the 2016-2017 school year was about to begin, and I began to review the Grade 5 program, I decided I wanted to share my learning about my Metis identity with my students. I realized that I could use my voice to ensure that my students would learn about an FNMI perspective through engaging programming.
While I researched resources for Social Studies, I was reminded of a recent visit to my parents’ place in Edmonton with my daughter. We usually have lunch sitting on the back deck in the warm summer sun. After all the greeting hugs and the delicious food, we begin our family visit. During these times we
usually talk about what is happening in our lives, tell stories, tease one another, and laugh. On this particular visit, my daughter was talking about her newest learning as a humanities student focusing on Indigenous Women in Canada. Mom brought out all the vintage photos in their collection and with that a photograph of my Great Great Grandmother, Angele Chalifoux (nee Delorme dit Lemay). Dad’s Metis ancestry is something that my Daughter and I share a keen interest in. In the photo, Angele is a beautiful Indigenous woman sitting proudly with her mustached third husband George Chalifoux. Behind them is a rough sawn log cabin with rifles adorning the exterior walls. The photograph is striking. Both my daughter and I were immediately smitten.
Upon researching Angele’s life through online archival research, I came to learn that prior to this particular photo being taken, she was in fact one of the infamous Edmonton Stragglers. She was one of 84 band members, mostly single women and their children who were struck from Treaty in 1877 by Timothy P. Wadsworth an “Indian Agent” negotiating the relocation of Papaschase reserve- for not being a close enough relative to Chief Papaschase. As a result, Angele left Treaty and applied for Half-Breed (Metis) Scrip, refunding the government $47 worth of Treaty payments. Angele was widowed, starving and supporting her children on her own. Being struck from Treaty made it next to impossible for her to survive, without a “reserve” community to rely on, therefore she assumed a new identity through the “half-breed” commission. All of this information was new to my family. While Angele was a familiar person in a photo, she also had a story, and a fleeting identity. A story that is well documented by government records, yet a story we didn’t know.
I thought about my connection to this information, and how it had affected the identities of my family members before me, and how it will affect the identity of those after me, and ultimately how it affects my identity now. I also considered how I came to know this. I had to search for it, I had to do the work to learn about this history. At no time in my formal schooling was there a focus on the perspective of the FNMI population and history in Alberta. My Father was taught to be ashamed of his Metis ancestry and identity. He told me that I didn’t have to tell anyone about it when we researched and engaged our Metis membership.
Any knowledge of the Metis in Alberta was not taught to me by formal school history, but through a strong connection to the land and an oral history. Fortunately, my father has always lived with a very close connection to the land. He taught us to appreciate and utilize the natural world in a respectful way. At school, I was the only 13-year-old girl who had experienced handling a hunting rifle and hunting knife, shooting and skinning an animal, and then consuming it. Dad taught us about trapping; showing us his father’s rusty old traps and pelt stretchers. My Grandfather, a trilingual man, would regale us with legends of the Whiskey Jack, tell us stories about his trap line, and talk of his days as a fiddler.
To develop an authentic understanding of a FMNI perspective, I started the journey by carefully selecting a number of historical novels written by Indigenous Canadian authors for my daily read aloud time. My first pick was Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s Fatty Legs. A story about an Inuit girl’s experience in a residential school. Students were hooked after the first chapter! We also read historical fiction about the other important groups of people existing and surviving in Canada pre and post Confederation who also suffered oppression and hardship. Many books were written from the perspective of a child in the context of hardship, collaboration and problem solving. We also looked closely at archival photos of the First People in Alberta and Canada, and the assortment of immigrant groups to help develop a context for students to make a connection to the past by comparing it to today. Learners connected strongly to the idea that their identity, like Angele’s, is ever evolving.
This rich content led to exquisite conversations and naturally scaffolded activities for highly motivating writing experiences connecting the qualities of the people of the past, the present and the future. Many students have developed a taste for historical learning and thinking far beyond my imagination. As a culminating activity we decided to make a quilt to tell the stories of Canada in the past and the present using symbols to portray the identities of important groups of people in Canadian history. Each child carefully chose a symbol to represent their identity as a young Canadian at this point in time, these are included on the quilt. Students insisted that I include my identity as a Metis person on the quilt, I chose an infinity symbol. Lastly, each physical region of Canada is represented by a symbol on the quilt.
It is the student’s wishes that our quilt is given to a child in need. Our quilt tells the varied stories of the people of Canada pieced together with a common thread of collaboration. We are currently searching for an agency that will ensure that our quilt is delivered to a child who deserves warmth, happiness, joy, hope, comfort inspiration and security. It is our hope that this quilt will deliver those things and so will our community. In my heart, I hope this child has a mother like Angele Delorme dit Lemay; a strong, determined, resilient woman.