The kitchen table is usually a place for conversation, especially in Métis communities, and that’s the inspiration behind a Winnipeg Art Gallery series of talks on Métis identity and culture.
“It’s the site of knowledge transmission,” said Julia Lafreniere, head of Indigenous initiatives at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and creator of the Métis Kitchen Table Teachings series.
“It’s also where communities gather, play music, and even discuss politics.”
Lafreniere, who identifies as Métis with roots in Camperville, Man., said she was also inspired by two exhibitions highlighting Métis artists: Tracy Fehr’s Heartbeat of A Nation: Métis Women 250 Years and Rosalie Favel’s Family Legacy.
The series, in partnership with the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Infinity Women Secretariat, began in the summer, and the last will be Oct. 27.
“I knew that there was a need for education around Métis stories and culture,” she said, adding a lot of people don’t know Métis history and how they came to be here.
She also saw Métis Kitchen Table Teachings as a platform to discuss issues of concern to the Métis community.
Last Monday, five people discussed Métis identity on a panel called Race Shifting, Identity Theft, and Protecting Métis Culture.
Kyra De La Ronde, one of the panellists, is the chairperson of the Manitoba Métis Federation Provincial Youth Advisory Committee.
“We’re at a really pinnacle moment within the Métis Nation, where there are people who are protecting us, and people wanting to further us,” she said.
“We’re not trying to gate keep, and we’re not trying to exclude, we’re really just trying to preserve and protect the culture and the identity that we have.”
Last Wednesday, William Benoit, the advisor for internal Indigenous engagement at Library and Archives Canada, talked about scrip. Scrip was a coupon or an entitlement to land given to Métis families by the Canadian government.
“The process said, we may give you and your children land, but we’re not going to tell you where you’re going to get it,” he said.
“You could be from one place, and get land from another place. The Métis are family-oriented. We like our families, we like to stay near our families, we like to do things with our families.”
Families were essentially broken up by what was a kind of lottery process.
But Benoit also said the process of scrip was in a way, beautiful.
“You see the man or the woman standing in front of a committee making their mark,” he said during the discussion.
“So it’s not just somebody [else] saying that they’re a half-breed, but what they’re doing is saying it themselves, and they’re signing it.”
In the final Kitchen Table Teaching this week, Métis author Chantal Fiola will discuss her new book Returning to Ceremony, a follow-up to Rekindling the Sacred Fire.
Lafreniere said Fiola’s research discovered that prior to the church having a large influence in Métis communities, they practised Indigenous ceremonies, and what it means to reclaim those practices.