Manitoba

Métis elder remembered for touching students' lives, creating cultural connections

A Métis elder is being remembered for touching the lives of college students and helping people in his community connect with their culture.

'Champion of Indigenous languages,' residential school survivor led sweat lodges and gave spirit names

Jules Lavallee was the elder in residence at Red River College and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. He ran a rural Manitoba lodge that helped connect guests with tradition. (Louis Riel School Division)

A Métis elder is being remembered for touching the lives of college students and helping people in his community connect with their culture.

Jules Lavallee was the elder in residence at Red River College and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and ran a rural lodge that helped guests connect with tradition and learn about Indigenous teachings.

"Jules was a pillar in our community and had a profound impact on the lives of many students and staff," said a letter to staff written by leaders at Red River College Tuesday.

Lavallee, who started at the college in 2004, is being remembered as a "champion for Indigenous languages," according to the email sent to all Red River College staff.

Pipe carrier, sweat-lodge conductor

He was highly regarded for teaching songs, drumming in Ojibway, and naming ceremonies he led, the email said.

Lavallee, who died last Friday in Brandon at age 79, was a pipe carrier and sweat-lodge conductor who led many through their first sweat.

"Everybody would have a story about my grandpa. And it was usually my grandpa had given them their spirit name or taken them to their first sweat lodge or gone through a ceremony with them for the first time," said Lavallee's grandson Stefan Richard in an interview.

He said his grandfather, who was also the elder in residence for the Louis Riel School Division, was forced to attend a residential school as a child and it had a profound impact on his life. 

"A lot of those experiences he had when he was a child kind of shaped a lot of things in him that I don't think he really wanted to be there."

Richard has been inundated with condolences since his grandfather's passing and said one from Texas stands out — it was from someone his grandfather had given a traditional name. 

Lavallee had been battling dementia before his passing and leaves behind his wife Margaret, who is another elder.

Red River College said it will host a celebration of life to honour Jules in the fall.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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