A Métis Homecoming: A warm welcome into a storied past
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Mesmerized by the powerful and hypnotic beat of the ancient drums, we pull ourselves away from the fire-warmed trapper's cabin (after a delicious bannock and beef stew feast, a Métis favourite!) and hop on the wagon for the short ride to the main stage. As we approach the small crowd that was gathered for the ceremony, a silky sheen of campfire smoke settles over the scene. Then, suddenly, the drumming intensifies and the rhythmic chanting begins, sending shivers down our spines.
Our aim was true. The Métis Homecoming celebration at Rocky Mountain National Historic Site had turned into the rich, cultural experience we were hoping for. A kick-off for Canada 150, the coast-to-coast celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Parks Canada's Métis Homecoming celebration was an awesome opportunity to mix with the warm and welcoming Métis, experience their music, their food, their art, their stories, and, of course, their colourful history.
With their unique heritage that stems from Canada's storied fur trading past, the Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry. One of three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada (the other two are First Nations and Inuit), the Métis have a way of life, a culture, that is all their own. Blending European and Indigenous traditions, the highlights of Métis culture are numerous. Their art, especially their spectacular beadwork, their up-tempo fiddling and spirited jigging, their beautiful finger-woven sashes, and their own language, Michif – a blend of Cree, Ojibwa, French, and English – are all cornerstones of their culture.
And the Métis Homecoming event, which took place on Feb. 18 to 19, incorporated these (and more!) by way of memorable performances, hands-on demonstrations, and activities that everyone was welcome to participate in.
But as much as the Métis Homecoming was a celebration, an opportunity to explore Métis culture, it was also a window into Canada's centuries-old fur-trading past. The setting – Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site – is an ancient outpost that was founded on the fur trade.
Sierra Noble is a Métis singer/songwriter from Winnipeg. She gave a spirited performance at the Métis Homecoming event at Rocky Mountain House.
Starting in 1799, four forts built by rival fur-trading companies – North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company – were constructed here, on the pine-lined banks of the broad, smooth-flowing North Saskatchewan River. Travelling for days, even weeks, to reach the fort to trade their valuable furs for European-made goods, nine different Indigenous groups came to Rocky Mountain House to trade. And, of course, hundreds of Voyageurs paddled the rivers to reach the forts at Rocky Mountain House as well.
Although the forts are now long gone (except for the massive stone chimneys), plenty of artifacts and archeological remains were left behind.
Nelson and Nicholas Penner dressed in traditional Métis capotes with red sashes. The capotes, or coats made from wool blankets, were ideal for the Canadian winters. They were worn by both the Métis and the Voyageurs.
Owned and operated by Parks Canada, the site is home to a Visitor Centre and museum housing many of these artifacts. The Visitor Center, which is open daily from May 10 to Labour Day, also features a gift shop and an awesome 3D Virtual Reality Experience. The site also has interpretive trails with listening stations, a blacksmith station, a massive replica play fort, bison paddock, tipis, riverside camping, picnic sites, trapper's cabins, and much more. Many special events, such as the Métis Homecoming celebration, run throughout the year.
For most Canadians, their knowledge of the long-ago fur trade – and, for that matter, Métis culture in general – is murky, at best. But, considering the historical significance of these people and this amazing era, a little more hands-on exploration can only be a good thing. Fortunately, I know just the place to do it. And, now, so do you.