New book by Métis Nation of Alberta celebrates its citizens
The True Canadians: Forgotten Nevermore is a 122-page love letter to the citizens of the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA).
“When (MNA) Madam President Audrey Poitras and I first conceptualized this project about a year ago…what we wanted to create was something that Métis people could hold in their hands. They could flip through pages and point to pictures and say, ‘Oh, I know this person. I was there. I remember that.’ That's what we wanted to create, a keepsake. Something that was special to Métis people,” said co-author Patricia Russell.
But it’s even more than that, she says.
“The goal here is to provide our Métis citizens with our version of history and fully endorsed by the Métis Nation of Alberta, and at the same time to educate Canadians generally about this wonderful story of the resilience and the magnificence and artistic and musical and very, very fiercely political culture” of Métis.
The title of the book comes from the chorus of the Métis anthem: “We are proud to be Métis, watch our Nation rise again; Nevermore forgotten people, we’re the true Canadians.”
“It's the difference between being from a country or being of a country and by that we mean…the First Nations and the Inuit were here long before European settlers came to what became North America. So they were from here. Europeans all came from somewhere else. The only people who've really come of being of Canada are the Métis. Our people are the true Canadians,” said Russell.
The True Canadians provides a basic overall history of the challenges and accomplishments of Métis in what is widely considered the Métis homeland, described in the book as “stretched from the riverways of the Great Lakes in Ontario across the prairies to BC and into the Northwest Territories.”
The book ultimately focuses on the past 40 years and the evolution of the MNA.
Forty years was the timeframe Russell settled on because 2022 marked 40 years since Métis rights were enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1982.
Russell worked with co-author David Wylynko, both of them former journalists, to research the stories of and interview Métis people.
And even though Russell is no stranger to the stories of Métis, having been past communications manager for the MNA and having started the MNA magazine Otipemisiwak, she says she did learn a few things herself, including that historic Métis leader Louis Riel was elected to the federal Parliament three times.
She points out that there are many Métis people who aren’t aware of their history, and she attributes that loss to colonialism and residential schools. It’s the same means by which culture, language and traditions have been lost.
“I didn't know what it meant to be Métis truly and in a heartfelt way, until I was maybe 35-40 years old. I mean, I've always known I'm Métis, but the real essence of it, it didn't come to me until later in life,” said Russell, who is a descendant of the Ladouceur and Sanderson Métis families of Lac La Biche, Fort Chipewyan and Fort Fitzgerald in Alberta, and of Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, and Hay River in N.W.T.
For Métis and non-Métis readers alike, Russell wants them to understand the key role Métis people played in the development of Canada and its economy, harkening all the way back to the voyageurs.
The True Canadians offers details on the successes of legal battles fought by the MNA and negotiations with the provincial and federal governments to gain recognition. The authors also note battles lost in the legal field, such as the Hirsekorn case for harvesting rights for Métis in the south part of the province, and the failure of the Alberta government to advance negotiations for harvesting rights.
Even the most recent success of the MNA is captured vividly as “Métis citizens gave boisterous support,” says the text, which was shown in the successful ratification vote that took place last November of the constitution for the new Otipemisiwak Métis Government.
However, the dissension within the MNA that preceded and followed that vote, including ongoing legal action, is not examined.
That specific exclusion wasn’t something Russell wanted to speak to Windspeaker.com about “because I’m not a Métis politician.”
Russell said the book was vetted by MNA legal counsel and politicians.
“Certainly there's a range of subjects that could have also been included and perhaps even written in greater detail. But the intention was…looking at the successes and challenges overall over the past 40 years. The successes and challenges of the Métis Nation of Alberta,” she said.
The True Canadians also looks to the future. It highlights the MNA as an economic partner in the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group and other resource development; the MNA’s solar project at Métis Crossing; and its work in tourism.
“Going forward, there’s so much for the Métis citizens, so much in our future that is revitalization of our culture, of our taking ownership, of our history, of having back what was ours in the first place—the right to govern ourselves,” said Russell.
Russell and Wylynko have been touring the country with The True Canadians: Forgotten Nevermore with stops in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Saskatoon. The book was also launched mid-April in Edmonton and Calgary. The tour wraps up later this month in Yellowknife.
The book has been so popular that it is already in its second printing.
Russell says she is “extremely honoured” to be part of the project and not only as a co-author. The cover photo of the book includes beadwork undertaken by her mother for the uppers of an unfinished part of crow boots.
“She put her beading needle into the stroud and that's where it stayed for 45 years…when she put the project aside. The working project in progress. And you know what? We Métis people, our Nation, we’re a work in progress as well,” said Russell.
The True Canadians is available to MNA citizens at no cost by contacting the provincial office. The book can also be purchased at chain and independent bookstores or ordered online at Truecanadians.com.
The book is published by the MNA and distributed by Sandhill Book Marketing Ltd.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com