I am Metis



I have always said that my family is Metis, but I had never claimed that title for my own. My skin is white. I felt that somehow disqualified me from claiming my truth and from claiming my people. I felt that I had not earned the right to be counted with my beautiful cinnamon-brown family, because I had not faced the same discrimination, systematic racism and struggles as they have. I felt disconnected from this part of myself until I heard a friend claim her place as an African. She was tall and confident and strong. And she was white. When I heard Idelette say that she was African, I knew that I, too, could claim my place beside my cousins.

I am Metis.


There is a river that flows through my city. It is actually two rivers that merge into one. You could say that the river is Metis. Two distinct bodies that merge into one: the Red river and the Assiniboine river. The Metis people are a merging of the white and the aboriginal. Both the river and the Metis are familiar, they feel like home, and yet they both hold a secret history that I am just discovering.

As a child, I camped on the banks of this river with my family. During the day, I would go frogging in the reeds with my cousins and watch the fishing boats float by. My cousins and I made up games and told make-believe stories about the adventurers who explored these banks generations before us. At night, my grandfather would tell us ghost stories around the campfire and I would stare into the darkness of the river and wonder if ghosts were real.

I was very young the first time I saw the Underwater Search and Recovery Unit on the banks of the river. It was set up at the foot of the bridge we’d cross every Sunday on our way to visit my grandparents. My dad explained that the police were searching for someone who had fallen.

I thought about the place by the river where we camped and picnicked. I thought about the swirling current that pulled at my legs as I waded at the banks. I thought about what it must be like to be pulled away by the current and swept beneath the murky waters.

“They should have been more careful, Dad,” I said.

If only being careful would have kept them safe. If only being careful could keep any of us safe. It is almost impossible to pin down an exact number, but right now, there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of unreported and unsolved cases of missing or murdered aboriginal people in Canada. Far too many of them have been found in the muddy waters of the rivers that flow through my city.

For far too long this has been a heartbreaking, hidden truth in my beloved country: Indigenous people die and no one mourns for them.

Canada has a complicated history with aboriginal people. There have been promises and treaties and good intentions, but there have also been lies and violence and racism. It’s a story of habitual of abuse of power and resources. A broad silencing of truth and the rewriting of history. There have been corruption and half-truths on both sides of the divide. While the powers-that-be duke it out at parliament, at council tables and in pressrooms, people are missing and dying, but no one notices.

I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice until someone didn’t die. I didn’t stop to think about bodies in the river, missing loved ones and grieving families until a 16-year-old girl named Rinelle didn’t die. She lived. Despite being assaulted, thrown in the river, crawling out on her own, beaten again and left for dead, she lived. Rinelle Harper lived. Rinelle Harper became the voice I couldn’t ignore. Rinelle lived and I noticed.

Until I heard Rinelle Harper’s story, I’d never thought in depth about the struggle of individual aboriginal people in Canada. I knew the history of Canada and indigenous people that I was taught in school. I read the news stories about problems on reserves and aboriginals protesting one thing or another and violence and crime in my city’s core area, but I never thought about what I was learning, what I was being told, and if it was really the whole story. I never thought about what the history was, what the news was, from their side. From my Metis side.

Over the last few years I have been intentional about learning the whole story. I’ve been on a quest to know about my family, my people, my indigenous community. I’ve read books and news reports, watched documentaries and studied art by indigenous people. I’ve asked questions. I’ve had tough conversations. I’ve cried generations of tears.

In all of this study, I’ve wondered what truths my grandfather never spoke aloud. I’ve wondered what my  grandfather knew of residential schools, discrimination and stereotypes. I’ve wondered how Canada’s white-washed history affected his understanding of his value as a Canadian. I’ve wondered what he would say to all of these unspoken things coming to light now, after so many decades of silence.

I’ve also listened to my cousins. I’ve listened to the stories they tell and I’ve listened for the things they don’t say. And I’ve listened to the things people say, white people say, about aboriginals. All of the jokes and the prejudices. The justification and the dismissal of a history of broken promises and abuse. I’ve listened deeply and I am changed.

In my search to understand the truth of Canada’s precious indigenous people, I have come to understand my own truth better. I am Metis. Their story is my story. We are connected and none of us can move forward into a better future until we all look at our past and acknowledge what we have done to each other.

We must listen. We must learn. We must reconcile. And then we must move forward. Together.

I am Metis.

I represent the past and the future. I represent a present that is changing, shifting toward equality and respect. I represent the missing, the murdered, the marginalized. I represent the living, the learning, the striving, the surviving. I represent the thriving.

I represent the bold, the hopeful, the fearless, the brave. I represent the heard, the seen, the valued, the loved. I represent the possibility of something different moving forward, while honoring what has passed. I represent the old world and the new world. I represent the European hope for something more and the Aboriginal connection to tradition. I represent a coming together to make a new path.

I am Metis.


**Rinelle Harper recovered from her attack and went on to speak at a national gathering for murdered and missing aboriginal women, calling for a national inquiry and an end to violence. She graduated from high school and is continuing her education at university this fall.