The monthly Community Champion feature is submitted by Respect Works Here, which is an initiative of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan. It is also the host agency for the Local Immigration Partnership Council and the Thompson Okanagan Respect Network.
Don and Anne McBeth appear as salt-of-the-earth people who work hard, don’t put on airs and are used to tackling obstacles practically and as a team. Ask them about their Métis heritage however, and they both start to glow.
Their pride is evident in the stories and history they love to share and in their passionate promotion of Métis culture. Growing up during a time when Métis and First Nations heritage was hidden and denied, neither grew up learning the rich culture and language of their Métis and First Nations relatives.
Since confirming Don’s status in 2006, however, they have become fully engaged and rooted in learning about their history and in sharing that knowledge forward. They have been active in the Vernon and District Métis Cultural Association, with Don as Elders Representative and Anne as the events coordinator.
Don easily shares his tradition of storytelling and reminisces of his Cree great-grandmother and Scottish great-grandfather and the mix of Cree and Michif (the language of the Métis, and itself a mix of English, French and Cree with a bit of Ojibwa) they spoke. He is also a strong activist for the Métis and is proud of the fact that the Métis flag is now carried during the Remembrance Day ceremonies through his advocacy efforts. Anne is still an Associate Member at this point.
“My paternal grandmother was full Cherokee, born on the reserve; however, the third generation had moved off the reserve and so they lost their status. My grandmother on my mother’s side was Métis but for her generation, this was something to be hidden, something you don’t talk about but that you deny. I’m Métis and proud of it,” said Anne. “I will help anyone I can with the culture. Our heritage is very important to us and we are glad to share this knowledge.”
“Through all the years, I never realized that I was Métis, but now looking back it all makes sense,” said Don. “My grandfather was one of the founders of Prince Albert, Sask. It was quite obvious that we weren’t white but we didn’t even realize what First Nations or Métis was – it was never mentioned.”
Often called a pejorative for the child of mixed cultures, Métis have a strong sense of not fitting in or belonging. In 2016 when the Daniels court decision confirmed the Métis to be part of the Indian Act, for the Métis it was finally acknowledgment that they are one of Canada’s aboriginal people.
Today, Don and Anne’s pride in being Métis is apparent and they wear their traditional outfits and share their knowledge at school and community events. Their passion is teaching the youth about the Métis and encouraging them to be proud of their ancestry.
“We have to keep working with our youth. That’s the whole secret. We have to get the youth out there and involved,” said Anne. “If you know you are Métis, don’t hide it. Be proud of it.”