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The importance of remembering Métis memories of residential schools

By Anjali Choudhary, October 14 2022

“For the Métis, we had a very unique experience. Many Métis families paid to go to residential schools.” 

This shocking revelation from Métis scholar, Billie-Jo Grant, at the University of Calgary’s Métis Memories of Residential Schools event is just one aspect of Métis history that has been erased from the mainstream narrative. Métis experiences have been omitted in the conversation around colonial impacts and truth and reconciliation — because of that, Grant and fellow Métis scholar Dr. Yvonne Poitras Pratt have created a visual resource titled Métis Memories of Residential Schools: A Testament to the Strength of the Métis. Through this, they shared Métis residential school stories and the dire need to amplify the voices that have been suppressed behind a veil of Canada’s dark past and present. 

In commemorating the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, many non-Indigenous people felt confused on how to truly act towards reconciliation when generations of Indigenous peoples have endured irreconcilable injustices. How do we stop this movement from becoming performative — much like land acknowledgements are criticized to have become? Pratt claims that an important step is to listen to the true story of Métis people. 

“In sharing these stories, we can begin to address the intergenerational impact this distressing legacy has had on our families and communities. For many Métis, these stories remain untold,” said Pratt. 

The speakers went on to recount anecdotes from residential school survivors, also emphasizing how hard it is to describe the difficulty in expressing this dark history — especially because it has been suppressed for decades. 

“I was nine, my younger sister was six, and the other one was three,” said Grant, reading the anecdote. “We walked into the room on that cold day, we walked right into the gray sheets hanging in the hall in the smell of fish and went upstairs where all the girls were — introduced to about 115 children. That first week, my mother died. 

“Two days after we got there, we only heard about it a week later,” she continued. “I remember feeling so alone and so lost and so very lonely. It was brutal. It was humiliating. And I don’t have the words to express how I really feel about those years that I and my sister spent behind those convent doors.”

Federal and provincial governments have not only left out Métis peoples historically — such as denying them “Indian” status under the Indian Act — but continue the discrimination to this very day. In 2021, First Nations in Manitoba over the age of 75 were eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine while the Métis were deliberately left out, according to CBC. Pratt and Grant’s project — working aside Elders, community members, and residential school survivors — is an important step in demanding the recognition of the unique Métis identity and in taking control of an environment which continues to allow the government and mainstream society to exclude them.

This article is a part of our Voices section.

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