Unreserved

Amanda Rheaume draws inspiration from her family's rich Métis history

Our identity is often tangled up in our family history. For Amanda Rheaume, a Métis musician based in Ottawa, the more she learned about her roots, the more she was inspired to write about her heritage.
Amanda Rheaume uses her family's stories to make people think about their own. (Jen Squires)

Our identity is often tangled up in our family history. For Amanda Rheaume, a Métis musician based in Ottawa, the more she learned about her roots, the more she was inspired to write about her heritage.  

Her great-grandmother was Ojibwe and her great-grandfather was French. But Rheaume admits she didn't know a lot about her family's history growing up.  

"As I got older I was more ready to venture into this journey and learn more." 

When she started touring in 2010, she got to spend more time with her family as she travelled. "As I met them and stayed with them, I felt this deepening with my roots, through stories I was being told, and pictures," she recalled.

Seeing one particular photo emphasized the discrimination her family had faced — on both sides — for mixing the two cultures. 

"I just remember seeing one [picture] where my great-grandmother was outside this little log cabin that my great-grandfather had built with his own two hands, because he couldn't live in the town site and he couldn't live on the reserve in God's Lake Manitoba," she said.

"So he just made his own house. He had nine kids ... imagine that."

The more she found out, the more pressure she felt to gather as much of her family history as she could. 

Amanda Rheaume draws on her Métis heritage for inspiration. (Marc Labreque)
"I started to get really panicky about the fact that everyone was getting older," explained Rheaume.

"If you don't get the stories out of your elders beforehand, then where do they go? It's so important to look back, to understand."

Even Louis Riel plays a part in Rheaume's family history. "He was friends with my great-great-grandfather, A.G.B. Bannatyne who was the first post-master under Louis Riel," she said.

"I've been told that Louis would go to him for advice. Bannatyne also had the first meetings for the Manitoba Legislature in his house."

Rheaume said taking all she had learned and channeling it into her album, Keep a Fire, was a natural extension of who she is as an artist. "I really like telling a story. I really like having something to say and I really like using my stories and my family's stories as a way to make other people think about their own story."

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