Who am I?
by Bertha Landrie, Elder and Metis Presenter, Member of Metis Nation of Greater Victoria, Victoria Diocesan CWL 1st Vice President, Chair of Community Life
Who are we? Who am I?This was a question I asked my Dad regularly when I was young. His answer was “You are English, because our name is Pollard.” He never told me about the French Metis names in his family.
Dad's family were Saskatchewan farmers. He had a dark complexion, spoke French almost better than English, and wasn't cut out to farm. Not highly educated, he did always finda job; the problem was keeping one.
Dad was an alcoholic, and rent was second to party time, so we moved a lot. Growing up was hard. Dad would find the rent and food money that Mom tried to hide. Mom didn’t drink, but she obeyed her marriage vows, ‘for better or worse’. My life got better after my parents divorced. What stayed the same was that I still asked myself, Who am I?
When I met my husband, Joe, I learned that his family was Metis. His Dad trapped, hunted, played fiddle, and both his parents spoke Michiflanguage and danced the Red River Jig. I was proud to be part of their family and culture. Later we moved our sons to Victoria, where I joined the CWL and Joe joined Metis Nation Of Greater Victoria.
Looking up Joe’s family names in a Metis book I found some of my family’s names. Did this mean I was Metis? I began checking Metis and Genealogy sites on line. My great-great-great-great grandfather was a French voyageur who had a child with a First Nations Cree woman from Green Lake, Saskatchewan. Their child, Francois Bruneau, became a prominent French Metis man who lived in the Red River Settlement. Another great-great grandfather, Romain Nault, was Louis Riel’s first cousin. Yes: I was Metis. Now I understood why Dad never fit in, and turned to drinking because he didn’t know his identity. I realized his Metis families felt they had to hide their identity because of racism and assimilation.
I volunteered in our son’s class and on the School Parent’s Advisory Council as a representative to the Confederation of Parent Advisory Council for the Victoria School District. I coordinated the Religious Education classes at our parish, obtained my Metis membership card, and joined the Board of Directors. I still represent our Nation on the Aboriginal Education Council for Sooke School District 62.
I began volunteering as a classroom Metis Role Model in SD 61 and SD 62 with my mentor, Fern Perkins. Fern coordinated Metis Education for our Nation, and was an educator at UVIC. When I felt confident enough, I began venturing out without Fern, but with my husband, Joe, into classes from Kindergarten to Grade 12 teaching Metis history, culture, music, and dance.
These presentations help Metis students learn more about their identity, while non-Indigenous students learn who the Metis are. I have done Metis Circles and presentations in some Indigenous Study classes at Camosun College; Joe and I are now Metis Elders in Residence at Camosun College. As Metis Elders we represent our Metis Community in other capacities as well.
Being Metis, I have come to understand about my identity, and who I am. I now realize that some of Dad's problems were because he didn’t know who he was. Now I am passionate about sharing our Metis History and Culture, so Metis people can be proud of who they are and celebrate that they have survived Residential Schools, the ‘Sixties Scoop’, having their lands taken away, racism, and in some cases, great poverty. I am proud to say: I am Metis.