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The Halfbreed Place

The Halfbreed Place

To answer the specific questions being asked—of who I am within my origin, and describe my own history and place—is not plainly possible. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the people and storykeepers living on this continent for thousands of years were brutalized.

But also given the warmth of European inventions and love, breeding the country-born halfbreeds becoming my only recognizable Indigenous ancestors. The poetry of ethnogenesis created the need for the French word for person of mixed parentage—I am Métis of Michif Piyii.

Do not misunderstand. We are not merely a middle ground between European settlers and Indigenous nations; we are a distinct culture. For the white Albertan who views Indigenous identity through a lens of purity or simplicity, understanding the Métis requires a shift in perspective. We are not “half Indigenous” or “part European,” but wholly Métis—a People with our own language, traditions, and history. We cannot be neatly categorised into the binary of Indigenous and non-Indigenous. I say this as much to you as I do to myself.

With that, let me begin nearly three decades ago. This land of Turtle Island is Treaty One land, the first treaty written by Canadian hands, belongs to the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene Peoples, and is the homeland of the Métis Nation. My nation, my homeland, my place. Winnipeg—a Cree word meaning “murky water” (Artibise)—resides near the convergence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers.

The sun breaches the horizon on a spring Manitoban morning in 1996, in Winnipeg, the Heart of the Continent. Within the murky waters, a Métis child was born, halfbreed blood just as murky. I am a child of the land, yet murkiness has imbued within me a sense of disconnection, and a longing to fully belong somewhere. Anywhere.

I navigate the muddy waters, seeking clarity and attempting to rekindle the embers of my Indigeneity. I yearn for an understanding of my heritage—my place—lost and distant as flickering stars in wide Prairie sky above.

An aspect of the Indigenous experience, particularly when meeting someone new, is the seemingly simple question: “Where ya from?” This question isn’t really about geographical origins; it’s instead a question of identity, kinship, and belonging. In Indigenous communities, the answer to this question isn’t a place—it’s a narrative of ancestral lands, cultural heritage, and a network of relations. Family ties, mutual acquaintances.

In the Indigenous paradigm, our relations dictate our identity. Our everything. We are only our connection to family, community, past and future generations. Inextricably linked to Peoples and the natural world with red threads and invisible chains. The idea of the individual itself is a clever fallacy of the vain ego. Trillions of cells are ebbing and flowing, gushing and absorbing, constantly in you. We are not isolated beings but part of a larger whole. We will always die without our relations.

This question, though, is not one I can answer well. I have attempted tireless genealogy research—scouring through online Scrip databases with my family tree’s last names on my father’s side—Charbonneau, dit Savoyard, dit Ducharme. Metis genealogy websites will tell you to “[b]ecome familiar with ‘dit’ names. The name people used rather than their legal name” (Métis ancestors) at times to avoid persecution or blend in.

Now, I am over a thousand kilometres isolated from my homeland, and the threads connecting me to my history stretch thin, to the point of invisibility. When people ask about who I am, or where I come from, I have no answer authentic or complete. Even in writing this, I am playing a character—performing a part I know will do me well, but so cold and distant. A trickster. No readily available mentors or community elders are here who share my specific Métis heritage, no guiding voices to help shepard the complexities of my identity, or to pass down the stories and traditions of my People—I can barely remember even the colour of beads or scent of burning when I visited my Mémé, while I was still a child and while she was still alive.

Absence creates a void, a space filled with longing and a continuous search for a place. The right place. In Calgary, I am branded by this uniqueness, yet the distinction underscores the solitude of my reclamation and understanding of my place. While I do not have the story to share, I have the lineage, the proper documentation. I am a member of the Manitoba Metis Federation—the provincial, autonomous group separate from Canada’s Métis National Council, withdrawing a few years ago as the national council began allowing Ontario self-identifiers to join (Ridgen), communities with no connection to the Red River at all.

This, regrettably, is just a small aspect of the colourism, race-shifting, and still-rampant white supremacist violence of my kin. The meditation on my relationship with place—with home—must address the racism and exploitation within the Métis community. The land’s history is overshadowed by dark blankets of colonial narratives and contemporary identity politics. Not as abstract concepts, but deeply-rooted weeds in the soil of our shared history and identity. The land, a physical space, embodies the stories, struggles of her inhabitants. My relationship and connection to land is the sociocultural dynamics—inseparable.

I have watched and witnessed—in real time, throughout the course of my life—the Indigenous identity shifting from uncomfortable stigma to a touted badge of honour. I must inform the reader and listener, “if you are confused about Métis identity, it is hardly surprising. The federal government has no policy to deal with recent claims of Métis identity by individuals who are seeking to gain certain advantages, such as admission to law school or hunting and fishing privileges. This has created a powerful vacuum that leaves universities, charities, governments, First Nations and the Métis Nation vulnerable to dubious claims” (Teillet). In academia alone, there is Gina Adams at Emily Carr University, cheyanne turions at Simon Fraser University, Amie Wolf at the University of British Columbia, Carrie Bourassa at the University of Saskatchewan (Cyca). All hired to fulfil an Indigenous quota who were later unable to verify their Indigenous claims, or proven to be white liars.

Darryl Leroux, a social scientist who coined the term for phenomenon, “white settler revisionism”, found race-shifters often seeking to adopt Indigenous identities not out of a genuine connection to the culture or community but rather as a means to claim certain rights or to escape their white identity. “In Quebec for example”, Leroux notes instances where “white supremacists created a “Métis” group to increase their access to hunting and fishing territory” (O’Donnell).

Of course, this brings into focus my own crisis with the place of my being—my skin, my own colour. Despite how dark-skinned my father is, neither I nor my brother share his olive complexion—to my white mother’s relief. I grew up having no idea about my Indigeneity until my teens, unknowingly internalizing the perception of being white. By the time I was informed of the truth, I was already uprooted and living in Calgary, a place deeply disconnected from any relatives who could share stories or histories or understandings. This is not dissimilar to the narrative “in ‘later in life Métis’ stories … a recounted tale of intergenerational white passing: their ancestors were able to ‘hide’ amongst white people, in order to avoid persecution” (Nock).

This history of ‘passing’, while a survival strategy, leaves a legacy of disconnection, of warped inauthenticity. The complex inheritance where privilege of whiteness intersects with the loss of cultural continuity and identity. And I must emphasize this privilege—for being white-passing has obviously provided me many opportunities in life, far outdoing the harm of self-doubt or any skeptical strangers. The difficulty in “coming from a family that has historically passed as white and growing up as a white person, only to find out later in life Métis ancestry, does not automatically erase a lived experience and socialization of whiteness” (Nock).

While these are deep problems, with wounds and diaspora, but I am not the Pretendian my impostor syndrome often persuades me to believe I am. I remind myself of the words of leader Louis Riel, from Histoire de la nation métisse dans l’Ouest canadien, firmly displayed on the Wikipedia page for the Métis:

“It is true that our Indian origin is humble, but it is indeed just that we honour our mothers as well as our fathers. Why should we be so preoccupied with what degree of mingling we have of European and Indian blood? No matter how little we have of one or the other, do not both gratitude and filial love require us to make a point of saying, ‘We are Métis.’”

Now, I am residing on the sacred and stolen lands of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations, the Tsuut’ina in Calgary, Alberta. Where rolling foothills meet wide prairies, a landscape both fettered and liberated, landlocked yet harboring centuries of violence herself. Calgary’s true name is Mohkínstsis, “the Blackfoot word for ‘elbow’” (Wilcox) referring to the bend in the Bow River around the city. This elbow is akin to the bend in my self-discovery, a turning point. A change in direction, striving to embrace my Indigeneity.

This place—the land—does not discriminate. The land cannot discriminate. It knows not the lines we draw on maps, the treaties we form and inevitably break. The land just exists, and has for millennia. In Her quiet resilience, I cannot help but find a reflection of my own journey. This piece of treaty land, where the Bow River bends, is home. My life has taken its turns like the river, and I find myself here, still desperately trying to piece together the puzzle of my heritage. I am forever a child of the land, a bearer of a difficult legacy, and a vessel of an enduring love transcending time and space.

Works Cited