'This is an epic': Historical novel traces Métis author's family history with Louis Riel

Maia Caron didn't know about her Métis heritage until she was in her 20s, and as she began to look back into her family's history, she knew she had quite a story on her hands.

Author Maia Caron's Métis heritage was kept secret from her for decades

Maia Caron wrote her new historical novel, Songs of Batoche, after learning about her own Métis heritage and her family's connection to Louis Riel.

Maia Caron didn't know about her Métis heritage until she was in her 20s, and as she began to look back into her family's history, she knew she had quite a story on her hands.

Through her research into her own past, Caron found out her family roots traced back to the Batoche Métis, where her ancestors worked closely with Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont.

Not only did she have a story, she had a novel on her hands.

"In Indigenous families they hand down stories and that's part of the tradition, and we didn't have those stories so I had to go and find them," said Caron, who turned her journey through her family's past into her first novel, Song of Batoche.

"Finding that my own ancestors were actually around Riel and Dumont, that made me really want to know more. So I thought, there's a novel here — it's so interesting — this is an epic, someone should tell the story."

Caron learned her great-great-grandfather was the president of Louis Riel's provisional government in Batoche, and her great-great-uncle was Gabriel Dumont's war lieutenant.

While she admits she first felt betrayed by her grandmother, who had kept the family's Métis heritage a secret from her children and grandchildren, she now understands why it was necessary.

"I know that they wanted protect us from racism… it wasn't safe to be Métis," she said.

Betrayals and buried secrets

The stories she discovered led Caron to resurrect the ghosts of her ancestors and tell the story of the North-West Resistance, the unspoken betrayals and buried secrets — something she now knew all about.

A book tour for Maia Caron's historical novel Song of Batoche launched in Winnipeg Feb. 15, 2018. (submitted)

The historical novel, which Caron launched with a book tour that kicked off in Winnipeg last week, is set in Batoche. At that time, it was located in the Northwest Territories, an area of Canada that included Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of Manitoba.

It follows Josette Lavoie, a fictional Métis woman who is living in an abusive marriage when Riel arrives to help the Métis fight for their land.

Song of Batoche is told from seven different viewpoints including that of Riel and Dumont's wives, perspectives Caron says are missing from the historical records.

"There's a lot of stories about the men," she said. "All that was really known about Marguerite Riel, was that she was timid and kind and that she worshiped the ground he walked on and I thought, 'You know what? I'm sure she was more than that.'"

"I wanted to get inside their heads."

Caron, a Red River Métis woman who lives in Toronto, says using such a complex history as the basis for her novel was more than a little difficult at times.

"Just trying to explain the land claims, the Manitoba Act, and how John A. Macdonald had really cheated the Red River Métis out of their land base, and trying to salt that into a story was really challenging," she said. "But I think the biggest thing was marking these losses of my ancestors, really understanding what they lost."

Caron's book tour will wrap up in Toronto next Wednesday after stops in Edmonton and Calgary over the weekend.

Song of Batoche is published by Ronsdale Press.

With files from Ismaila Alfa