Cowichan Valley Museum features local Metis

The Metis exhibit at the Cowichan Valley Museum runs until Oct. 18. - Kathy Santini
The Metis exhibit at the Cowichan Valley Museum runs until Oct. 18.
— image credit: Kathy Santini

A Metis flag, and sash, a buffalo head, and the beading the Metis are famous for are just a few of the items being exhibited at the Cowichan Valley Museum and Archive's exhibition: Otipeyimsowak: We Are Our Own People.

While the items themselves are compelling - the exhibit runs until October 18 - even more interesting are five women's personal stories about what it means to be Metis.

"Those five stories mean everything to me," said Kathryn Gagnon, the museum's curator and manager. "Their stories were thought provoking, some funny, some sad; I knew they had to be part of the exhibit."

While they come from different backgrounds, a common thread for a few of the five was learning later in life that they were Metis.

It wasn't until 15 years ago that Judy Dallin learned she was Metis.

Melissa Malaterre Howard had a similar experience. After a number of long talks with her sister, she learned they were Metis and not French, as they'd been taught to believe.

"I never had a problem being Metis," said Stella Johnson. "I didn't know I was, I thought I was a Cree..."

For another woman, accepting her heritage is a part of her life's journey.

"Slowly, I began to realize I had a story to tell and a responsibility to tell that story," said Jan Ovans. "Being Metis is a lifelong journey, and I am at long last proud to say I am Metis...."

For another, embracing her Metis heritage is a way of educating people about Metis.

"I believe everyone deals with life and challenges differently," said Corinne Belinda Chow. "I have chosen to look at this discovery with a very open mind. What's important is making people aware that the Metis still exist today."

According to the BC Metis Foundation, there are several hundred Metis in the Cowichan Valley.

The incredible pride and racism that the women faced, they're all addressed in their individual stories, Gagnon said.

Beyond them, the exhibit focuses on three main cultural themes: the buffalo hunt, the voyageurs and Metis music and dance.

In addition, pictures are shown of an exhibit that's offered every year in a local park, where Grade 5 students can go inside a teepee to see the artifacts from a buffalo hunt.

According to a sign at the exhibit, the word Metis is taken from the French word Metis and the Latin Miscere, which means to mix.

"The capitalized Metis refers to a cultural group that self identifies as descendants of this mixed ancestry," the sign reads. "Metis is now applied to multiple identities of Aboriginal and European descent."

The group put their personal stamp on a number of materials, including sashes, bead work, moose hair tufting, ribbon shirts, mukluks, red river carts, canoes and York boats.

Also on display is one of the Metis' more famous items, a capote, a coat worn by the Voyageurs which was made from a Hudson Bay blanket. Voyageurs transported fur via canoe during Canada's fur trade.

Another item on display is the Metis flag, which the exhibit says predates Canada's national flag by 150 years. It's blue with a white infinity symbol.  A similar flag, red in colour, was used for hunting.

"We've represented lots of communities at the museum through the years, First Nations, the Chinese, East Indians," Gagnon said. "When I hear about a community I haven't heard about before, i want to tell their story."

And it's one that many are happy to hear.

"One of the members of our society said to me, 'This community was invisible to me until I came here,'" Gagnon said. "After people come in, they'll leave knowing what it means to be Metis.

Your Ticket

What Otipeyimsowak: We Are Our Own People.

Where Cowichan Valley Museum, 130 Canada Avenue

When Through October 18

Cost By donation


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