I was about 12 years old when I first met my birth mother and discovered that I was Métis. I saw her several times after that, and though we never discussed why I grew up in foster care, she frequently reiterated that we were both Métis. I’ve spent years trying to figure out exactly what that meant and why it was so important.
Since the 18th century, the French word métis has described individuals in Canada with mixed Indigenous and European ancestry. In Canada’s early years, French and Scottish fur traders married First Nations women of Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Cree, and other cultural backgrounds, and soon the Métis Nation was born. The Métis were known for hunting, trapping, and fur trading, and in 1982 they became one of the three groups of recognized Indigenous Peoples of Canada.
Métis Crossing, which opened in 2005 on the river lots—the riverside settlements home to the earliest settlers in this part of Alberta—is a fascinating place to learn about Métis culture, traditions, and beliefs. There’s a campground with comfortably furnished trappers’ tents, and in 2019, a large Cultural Gathering Centre was built to host educational programs.
When I visited in fall 2021, I wanted a cultural experience, and I also wanted to embrace my own Indigenous roots. I spent some time with elder Lilyrose Meyers, the Knowledge Holder at Métis Crossing. She taught me the ancient art of moose-hair tufting and talked about growing up as a Métis person, explaining some distinctive facets of the culture. Though I rarely discuss my experiences growing up in a foster home disconnected from my Indigenous roots, for the first time in a long time, I felt comfortable doing that. Lilyrose is about the same age as my birth mother would be if she were still alive, and I found myself thinking about her.
During the trip I paddled a voyageur-style canoe on the North Saskatchewan River. I ate perch for the first time, with seasonal vegetables and traditional bannock bread. I was mesmerized by a velvety black night sky sprinkled with silver stars. But the highlight of the visit was seeing bison, which were reintroduced to the land after becoming all but extinct by the 1860s. I had never seen a sacred white bison, and I was awed by the experience.
Métis Crossing is expanding in 2022 with the opening of three cross-country ski trails and a new 40-room lodge. It will be the first year the site is open year-round, and I’ll be there, spending more time connecting with Métis culture. My first experience helped me discover a piece of myself that had long been missing. Thanks, Mom. I’m finally starting to get it.