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IN THE HEART OF METIS INDIGENOUS CULTURE
 
(2022 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: ELIZABETH WARKENTIN



A great ceremony is about to take place on this ancient Alberta hinterland as a group of us slowly ambles in procession behind a horse-drawn cart.

The anticipation is palpable. Everyone gathers outside the first enclosure, where we wait for trailer trucks to unload their stomping, crashing cargo. As the ramp is lowered, wild woolly animals burst out as if struck by lightning, their hooves reverberating deep into the earth, racing together around their vast paddock, before vanishing into the woods beyond.

We’re at the traditional lands known as the Métis Crossing, doing a buffalo hunt-like re-enactment. We’re not hunting, of course! We’re walking up a trail to giant enclosures on an innovative interpretive tour. Here, elk, Percheron horses and three types of buffalo (plains, wood and the rare white bison) are to be released at the Métis Crossing Wildlife Park, a new 154-hectare wildlife reserve.

Bison have always been at the heart of Métis culture in Canada. Métis once hunted the bison, or bufloo’ in Michif, the old Métis language, which along with other forces contributed to the loss of the species over 150 years ago—leaving a gaping wound among the Métis people.

Now Indigenous members don traditional capote coats, Métis sashes, and ribbon skirts and shirts. It’s a moment 160 years in the making. For me, it’s an exhilarating ceremony to watch; but for the Métis it goes much deeper than that. The bison return is a symbol in healing, reconciliation and a rebirth of sorts.

Located 116 kilometres northeast of Edmonton on the river lots of 19th-century Métis settlers, Métis Crossing has unveiled a distinct Métis-designed lodge showcasing handmade quilts and vibrant Métis artwork and has added a new Cultural Gathering Centre in 2020 to Alberta’s first Métis cultural interpretive centre, which opened in 2005. You can see historical exhibitions, and immerse in authentic hands-on experiences, such as archery and guided foraging walks to learn about edible and medicinal plants.

During my visit, I became immersed in local Indigenous customs. Beader and Knowledge-Keeper Lilyrose Meyers showed me the art of crafting felt floral designs, which are integral in Métis culture. Another impactful experience occurred earlier when 10 of us paddled on the North Saskatchewan River in a voyageur canoe. “Arriving here in a canoe along this ancient fur trade route is special,” says Juanita Marois, Executive Director of Métis Crossing, describing the “Paddle into the Past” excursion, which demonstrates how the traditional method of transport used by the Métis and other Indigenous peoples might even today help connect us all. metiscrossing.com

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To find and book Indigenous tourism experiences visit Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada destinationindigenous.ca

 
 
 
 
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