Why Remembering Your Native American Bloodlines Doesn't Mean That You Belong There

Having a Native American lineage in your history needs to be acknowledged in a respectful way.
Metis Sash and Violin
Photo credit from indigenous peoples of Canada

With the gates well and truly opened on the horror and the magnitude of residential schools, I feel even more compelled to speak about the intention and the care that I am attempting to put into my quest to connect with my Metis heritage.

I have a feeling these gates are opening for many who have Native American ancestry wanting to all of the sudden jumps into owning and 'becoming' Native Americans.

Just because you have a bloodline showing you came from those cultures, does not mean you have the right to claim that culture as your own. Unless you have lived it, experienced it, learned it, been immersed in it, you cannot even pretend you understand it, start preaching it, or teaching it as being part of your life.

With the resurrection of all the hurts that occurred in the making of this country not only just through the horrors of residential schools, but Canada has also instituted a new national holiday at the end of this month for Truth and Reconciliation. 

I have been asked many times in the last year why I started this quest and how I have been approaching it. So much in fact I felt it was time to write about my own truth on the matter and how I have been engaging in my own family's Native American heritage.

I have been on a journey, for several years now, to learn exactly for me what it means to be Metis, how it shows up and expresses itself in my life. The Metis took some of each culture and blended them into something unique and all of its own.

I take this with me and I walk with it trying to come up with my own unique blend of my maternal and paternal heritage. So far for me it simply means that to be Metis is a way that honors and blends both my mother's heritage and my father's heritage. This is how it shows up in my personal experience.

My paternal heritage has been hidden for so long, I am a seeker, I am a student, and I am open to the journey. Looking through my family tree is like looking through the pages of Canadian history.

I am immensely proud to see native names and historical figures like Peter Fiddler and Jean-Baptiste Lagemodière and see dates as early as the mid-1600s in Canada with the Filles du Roi.  I am about as Canadian as you can get lineage-wise paternally. So why don't I run and get a Metis Card? 

Before I go further I must ask the question if you are seeking to get a status card can you tell me why you even want one? Is it because you think it will help you do things like getting first in line or discounts on education? What does a status card even do for you? What will it bring to your life? Please don't run out and get one if you have no idea what the answer to these questions is. Do the thinking and reflection, as well as the research first, please.

It is not a prize to seek or a club to join. I can still honor my British and French ancestry by acknowledging it, I don't have an EU passport or other such token to prove that, I certainly can honor my European roots in different ways. The same is true for any lineage, so please don't seek out a status card as such a token of proof either. Many of my cousins and aunts and uncles and other family members have their Metis status cards. I can prove my lineage and get one but I am hesitant. 

My first thought is I haven't earned it yet. I do not feel I have walked the shoes of the Metis long enough to start claiming or owning what comes along with a status card. There's a strong part of me that feels I must be invited in. I can't just show up and claim it.

I must learn it first, and not just in textbooks as I have done having a history degree, but on an intimate level.  I have felt this way for years before the reopening of the long shoved under the rug, embarrassing truths surrounding our relations with the native communities.

To me, my moral code tells me I do not know enough to respectfully claim status until I have done the work, until I truly understood, acknowledge, and am more invited into the community, rather than claiming status because I assume bloodlines are enough to show I belong there.

To get my status card I feel should be a privilege, not an entitlement. I do not want to use this card and pull it out when it is convenient when it will help me get jobs, let me jump ques, and helps me pay for education. I will get it when I know that I've done the work when I feel a part of or embraced by the community. I will not take advantage of what it truly means to have status. 

This part of my heritage, as with many with Native American bloodlines, has been lost to my family. Why? Well quite simply put it was easier to denounce than accept and live.

My grandfather is 100% Metis on paper but while he was alive, if you asked him what he Identified as his answer was always "I'm a Frenchman, I'm not one of those people." My grandfather was born and raised in Oak point, my great Grandmother in St. Laurent.  

If you know anything at all about Metis heritage or Canadian history, you know of Oak point and St Laurent. St Laurent was founded by the Metis people and is one of the few places where Michif, the language of the Metis, is still spoken. 

Yet knowing this my grandfather was hell-bent and determined to carve a better life for himself, his children, and his grandchildren. I am in this suburban, well situated, prospering life because of the path he laid. I am and always will be acknowledging and grateful for his role in how I got to be where I am.  

But in order to do what he did, he felt he had to denounce his parents' culture. And it was ultimately lost for the coming generations. I want to honor him, I acknowledge and understand why this part of our understanding of his parents and grandparents were cut away from us, I also feel compelled to honor his parents and his grandparents too. It is our family story and we need all the pieces to keep it going.

How does one respectfully connect with native heritage when they themselves are not connected with the community or culture?

Read, research, but more importantly attend. There was no recordings or written record of much of the wisdom or ways of their culture, it was all done orally and it was all experienced. Start by showing up and attend events. Many cultural events in your area are open to the public.

My first step was to attend a meeting held to the public by the members of the local Metis. I went to the annual meeting of the elders with the sole purpose to listen and learn. That was back in 2019. I'm so grateful I did because, well covid, and I will go again when the opportunity arises. I can not learn everything in only one session, no one can.

Do not go with the intention to infiltrate or join the culture, but to learn. Listen carefully, emphatically, and openly as a student. Tell your story, your family's stories to those who wish to listen. Pass on your understanding of what it means to have a Native American bloodline, how it shows up in your life today, or how it got lost in the cracks. 

The bottom line is to recognize that documentation proving bloodlines is not a pass into owning and joining a culture. If you wish to honor your bloodlines, you must learn their story, you must be open and honest about your intentions, and you must be respectful on your journey.

Mother of four. Nature lover, Gardener, crafter, and certified soul coach.

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