'We're Michif people': Storytelling project revitalizes Métis history in Sask.
Métis elder Nora Cummings wants her story to bring attention to Métis history
Nora Cummings remembers the little shack she lived in on the outskirts of Saskatoon as part of the Road Allowance community — a part of Métis history she wants people to remember and understand.
The 84-year-old Métis elder and Métis Nation—Saskatchewan senator lived with her family in the Road Allowance community — which was near where Aden Bowman Collegiate now stands — shortly after she was born in 1938 until she was in her mid-teens in the early 1950s.
"This is my community. I always call it my community. I was born and raised here," Cummings told Leisha Grebinksi, host of CBC's Saskatoon Morning.
Cummings's story is part of Lii Mimwayr Di Faamii (Family Memories), a compilation of eight stories from members of the Gabriel Dumont Local #11, a Métis local in Saskatoon. They told their own histories during a storytelling workshop. The stories were later transcribed and put together into a magazine.
Cummings's story is the only one about living in a Road Allowance community. She said she is concerned that people of Saskatchewan don't realize that there's a lot of Métis and Michif history in Saskatchewan.
Road Allowance communities
Cheryl Troupe is an assistant professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan who specializes in Métis history, and a member of Gabriel Dumont Local #11. She was also involved in editing the project.
She said Road Allowance communities were typically settled by people like the Métis, who were displaced from their homes, on Crown land designated for roads.
"Métis families [took] up residence out there because there's no one else there and because the city [wasn't] looking at that part of the city yet," Troupe explained.
When the city started to expand in the early 1950s, the Métis people were pushed out of the community, she said.
"People need to know, first of all, that Métis people were in this city quite early compared to other place," she said. "And in Saskatoon, in particular, there's political activism that's happening in the '30s with Métis people."
Building a community
Cummings's story in the collection recounts the more than 35 inter-related Métis families who lived in the settlement, moving from the Round Prairie Settlement, south of Saskatoon, to the city.
Nora said the families were accosted by government officials for gathering. The officials threatened their food rations, so they left, then settled on the Prairie land and started their own community.
Some of her fondest memories are from her time in the Road Allowance community, she said.
Our true Métis history is being told by our people and through a Métis lens.- Kathie Pruden-Nansel, Métis Nation—Saskatchewan
She talked about playing hockey on the icy old highway and making their own adventures as kids.
Her voice got warm thinking about a Christmas present — her first doll.
"When I drive by there, [I think], there's a lot of good memories," she said. "They wrapped [the doll] and showed us how to look after our baby and … it was always my pride."
She still struggled with racism when attending the local school. She mentioned times when she was called an "Indian" by people, or "savage" by a nun, though she wasn't aware how she was related to either term.
"We, as a Métis/Michif people, are our own people," she said. "They would say, 'Are you Indian?' And we'd say no, we're Michif people ... [we] are our own people."
History of the Métis, told by Métis
Angie Caron, president of Gabriel Dumont Local #11, said many people have never heard of the Road Allowance community. She said she often hears a lack of awareness around Métis history.
"That history was forgotten, I think, definitely in the school systems for so long that any of this revitalization work that we do is always so exciting," she said.
Kathie Pruden-Nansel, the Métis Nation—Saskatchewan director of the Saskatoon and area region, said it saddens her to hear that people are completely unaware of some Métis history, but she is happy to hear it's coming to light.
For her, it's important that non-Métis people understand Métis history and how some of their struggles are different from other Indigenous people.
"We've often been referred to as 'The Forgotten People,' and the Road Allowance was a concrete example of how the Métis citizens have tended to be pushed to the side," Pruden-Nansel said.
"Our true Métis history is being told by our people and through a Métis lens."
With files from Saskatoon Morning