By Andrea Smith
BIG VALLEY, Alta.
If you’re looking to learn more about Métis culture and participate in specifically Métis activities, this weekend will be your opportunity.
For three days, starting today, Aug. 4, the Hivernant Metis Cultural Society of Alberta, and the Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3, will host their annual Hivernant Rendezvous in Big Valley.
The schedule is packed with activities hour-to-hour of each day, starting with a meetup on the Stettler Heritage train, and ending with a talent show and games.
“It’s to showcase Métis culture… We wanted to share our culture because there are so many people who don’t know about it. They think we do powwows and have tipis,” said Marlene Lanz, president of Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3. She is also the president of the Metis Cultural Society.
“Starting Friday, we go meet the train, and the train flies the Métis flags. Then after we meet the train, we sit around and story tell and have bannock and jam,” she said.
Lanz says the Métis people formed their own distinct cultural group because they were historically not accepted by either of the cultural groups who were involved in creating them.
The inter-mingling between First Nations and landed Europeans led to this blending which created the vibrant group known as Métis, but the beginning years weren’t necessarily positive.
“We developed our own culture when we became Métis Nations because…. a lot of these people who came over during the fur trade, they were here and they took up First Nations wives, but then they went back home and didn’t take their wives with them,” said Lanz.
“And these wives had these half-breed kids, and the First Nations people didn’t want them. So out of that grew our Métis culture,” she said.
But this intermingling also explains how culturally specific activities came about, such as the Métis Jig—which there will be plenty of this weekend.
There are jigging lessons Saturday at 5 p.m., there is Métis Dancing for entertainment Saturday at 7 p.m., and the talent show includes a jigging competition Sunday starting at 1 p.m.
“When you watch the Red River Jig, at first it looks like the First Nations Round Dance, but when the music changes it looks like anything from the Highland Fling to the Irish Jig,” said Lanz, adding Métis people are historically of French, Scottish, and sometimes Irish ancestry, mixed with First Nations.
Doreen Bergum is a Métis Elder, who teaches Capote making during the Hivernant Rendezvous, among other things. She is also the Secretary for the Hivernant Metis Cultural Society.
The Capote, according to Bergum, is a traditional Métis jacket, fashioned from the iconic Hudson Bay wool blanket. The blanket is white with red, green, yellow and blue stripes at each end. It was first commissioned by Hudson’s Bay in 1800 (according to the Hudson’s Bay website).
“The Capotes were coats made out of the Hudson Bay blankets... They’re just about in one piece, except for the sleeves, and the hoods, and the pockets. They’re all hand stitched so you can basically make your own style,” she said. “A lot of Métis worked for the Hudson Bay Company,” added Bergum.
Bergum’s own family heritage is Métis extending back many generations. Her parents encouraged her not to participate in Métis culture, for fear of her being ultimately oppressed for it. She regrets not learning her own Michif language as a youngster, which was the result of her parent’s discouraging her from it.
Bergum’s family was traditional, however, so she learned to jig at a young age, and then formally entered her first jig competition at age 55.
Bergum turns 72 this September, and she still competes in the jigging competition at the Hivernant Metis Rendezvous—one of her favorite parts of the event.
“There’s two steps. A basic step and a fancy step. You can’t do the fancy step twice. So it’s… the basic step, the fancy step, the basic step, then the fancy step… and it continues like that until everyone’s tired out,” she said.
“The youth are getting faster… And even some old timers like myself, I can still do my jigging. It keeps me in shape,” said Bergum.
Other items on the schedule are fiddling, a dinner and dance, more games, a special craft, making a small wooden jigging man with guest artisan Gilbert Le Bucheron. There will be a Métis Village to explore, and free breakfasts both Saturday and Sunday morning.
For more information go to: http://http://hivernantmetisculturalsociety.net/events.php