by Haley Bassett
Much of Métis culture has been lost to the pressures of assimilation. Practices such as beadwork, embroidery and finger weaving were stolen, hidden, misplaced or destroyed. Teachings were not passed down, songs were forgotten, languages were lost, values were not imbibed.
Today some aspects hide in plain sight, detached from their cultural and historical roots. The torch has been passed on without the realization of when or how it was lit. Hunting has morphed from a means of survival and a way of life to an industry, a collection of brands and a pastime that can be bought off a shelf. The backbone of a Nation has been reduced to a line of merchandise in Canadian Tire. However, hidden beneath the layers of camouflage, commercialism, cheap trappings and politics, the Hunter still stands.
Settlers can stalk prey, but the Laws of the Hunt did not shape their society. A pioneer can be self-sufficient, but they are not otipemisiwak, the People Who Own Themselves. White Canadians can eat canned moose meat, but without swallowing the stigma of poverty. Many claim it as tradition, but not all are descendants of buffalo-hunters. Many have complaints against Canada, but hunting regulations were not weaponized against their ancestors. Anyone can aim a rifle, but not all wield the same blood memory.
Yes, much of Métis culture has been lost, but its embers remain to be stoked and reclaimed despite centuries of systemic erasure. When you dress a deer, you practice your culture. When you eat wild meat, your culture sustains you. On moccasined feet, light-skinned or not, when you walk the Homeland, you tread your territory.
In Matrilineal, I have drawn inspiration from my Métis and Eastern European heritage to explore pathways to recovery from gender-based violence through often feminized artforms, such as Métis beadwork and matryoshka dolls. Through these mediums, I have conceptualized the self as a cultural identity that is held in sanctuary by one’s family, community and Nation, which exists beyond the Western notion of the self as narrowly confined to an individual’s body, mind and soul. Through beads, dolls and roses, I have found my place within these traditions and identified a vital part of myself that is resistant to traumas or trials past and present. In this body of work, I have manifested my search for solace, resilience and healing in the modes of expression wielded by my mothers and foremothers for generations.