Since 1970, Métis from across the country have gathered for three days in Batoche, Sask., home to the famed Battle of Batoche.
Each year, they host a display of remembrance and cultural celebration where the last armed stand for the Métis people took place in 1885, led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont.
“I can only use one word. Home,” Marilynn Fayant-Taylor said to describe the feeling she has towards the Batoche Historical Site. “I feel so attached to this place it is just incredible.”
Fayant-Taylor has been coming to the site since she was a small child. She attended mass at the church on the grounds and has a close tie to the mass grave that sits in a cemetery nearby. Her grand father, Andre Batoche, is buried there.
“I just feel a connection to him. I feel like I have a little bit of a warrior spirit…and I am proud of it,” she said. “I am proud of what he did. He fought for what he believed in, he stood up for his beliefs and his rights.”
Despite fully embracing her heritage today, her mother and father were hard pressed to admit they were Métis their entire lives. She said her parents suffered so much bigotry and discrimination in Saskatchewan they fled to British Columbia to ensure their children would not endure a similar environment.
“It means being a distinct person. It means being proud of who you are. I used to hide it, afraid of what my mom and dad went through,” she said. “But you want to know who I am? I am Metis.”
This embrace of culture brought joy to President of the Metis National Council Clement Chartier. Sunday morning, he led a precision from the original battle site to the cemetery as a way to remember where the struggle for Métis rights had the wind knocked from its sails.
“Part of this is celebrating our culture and part of it … is to pay tribute to the Metis people who fought and died for our right and sacrificed for our right,” he said.
Chartier said people gather each year to show “how grateful we are” but also “to rededicate over the next years our efforts to do the right thing and advocate and press for our rightful recognition.”
He spoke of the politics for the Métis Nation over the years and saw great strides being made. Chartier believed the struggle had moved from the battlefield to the court room or from “bullets to ballots.” He added how the grounds were spiritual in nature and were uplifting for him, fuelling his dedication to continue the fight.
“What Riel and Métis did in the Second Provisional Government didn’t lead to success, and we are finally leading to that success.”
And this could be seen just up the street at the original battle site where campers gathered in the field just metres from a hub of cultural celebration. Jigging, fiddling, horseshoe, bannock competitions and a variety of artisan goods and crafts were on display.
“It is really important,” Cole Ballantine said of the event. He was part of the St. Mary Dancers troupe from Prince Albert who was competing over the weekend. Ballantine has danced for over eight years. Having the opportunity to inspiring people with jig was special for Ballantine.
He told the story of how his group performed in Kamloops, and ended up inspiring the creation of a dance group there, who were also dancing at the event.
“It was so incredible. When they told me that we inspired them, it kind of made my jaw drop. Everything just dropped and I just felt so incredible that I couldn’t believe it.”
Passing on the culture and seeing young people carry on the traditions of ancestors and those who came before was key for everyone at the event. They all believed the tradition and festival could only grow and would keep the Métis Nation alive.
On Twitter: @JournoMar
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