On June 15, The College of the Rockies hosted its final speaker series event as part of its National Indigenous History Month programming. Marlin Ratch, a leading Métis Nation citizen based in Cranbrook, discussed for an hour over Zoom Métis culture, traditions, history and what distinguishes Métis from Canada’s First Nations and Inuit populations.
Ratch has been involved in the cultural, political and operations of the Métis Nation B.C. since 1995. He started as a career counsellor for the Métis Employment & Training program and as the communities’ executive assistant. He eventually moved up to the top job as its provincial director. He now volunteers his time in the Cranbrook, Kimberley area Métis community association as a secretary and treasurer.
Ratch began by giving a brief overview of Métis history. “We’re a distinct group of people. Our European fathers from places like France and England married women of the plains.” From that union came a new nation. Ratch discussed pivotal dates in Métis history, including the 1816 Battle of Seven Oaks, the 1869 Red River Rebellion (which led to a provisional Métis government), and the 1870 Treaty and Scrip program, which involved a coupon or entitlement to land. The Canadian government began implementing the scrip system by setting up tents for Métis people to make their land claim.
Métis applied for scrip in these tents. After redeeming them, they had to travel to the lands that corresponding to their scrip. “The system led to westward migration from the Red River Valley Settlement [present day Winnipeg and area] toward Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Dakotas and Montana,” Ratch said.
The land surveyed for Métis people was located in the southern parts of the Canadian prairies. It was hundreds of kilometres away from where the Métis lived. Taking advantage of the opportunity out west meant uprooting their lives. Moving west meant leaving behind much of their tight-knit family and community to begin a new life in a place they didn’t know, often travelling days to do so.
Meanwhile, speculators stood outside the tents asking to buy their scrip coupons for considerably less than they were worth. “Many Métis people, often impoverished, weighed their need for basic necessities and the risk of moving away from their families with scrip and decided to sell,” said Ratch.
Ratch discussed hallmarks of Métis culture like buffalo hunting, dress, song and dance. He discussed Métis Michif language and issues facing Métis today. Ratch finished his presentation by sharing a quote from controversial, revered Métis leader Louis Riel: “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”
James Rose, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer