The rich, cultural history of the Red River Valley and its people will reach more 200 children in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district as Georgia Avenue School prepares to host Metis Awareness Days this week.
The two-day annual event, a partnership between the district and the Mid-Island Metis Association, has been a local tradition for the last 15-20 years. Students in Grades 3-5 from across the district take turns visiting the school and taking part in activities and learning stations which cover everything from Metis beading to jigging.
“It’s a way for kids to have hands-on experience with a culture that may not be overflowing with a lot of text,” said Laura Tait, the district’s principal of Aboriginal education. “They’re going be able to be connected in a fun way and be engaged and it’s going to make way more sense when they actually study it back in the classroom.”
According to Tait, the definition of Metis is ‘mixed blood’, and refers to a specific group of people dating back to the fur trade of the 1800s, a time when many British and French-Canadian fur traders married First Nations and Inuit women.
“It is very distinct to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and even more so to the Red River Valley,” she said. “Because these children were born with both First Nations and European ancestry, quite often they weren’t included in either of those two groupings, and therefore became quite bonded and connected within their own grouping of people, and basically created their own culture, traditions, language and way of life.”
Of the 1,998 students who make up the aboriginal population in School District No. 68, about 391 are Metis, Tait said.
“We’ve got so many cultures here in Canada, it’s very important that these individuals maintain that strength, and keeping it alive and reviving it as much as possible is a definite goal,” Tait said. “One of the big questions is how do we increase the knowledge and awareness of all children and adults in our system around aboriginal perspective, history, colonization, contemporary context – and [Awareness Days] is certainly one of the ways.”
Both days will kick off with a morning prayer before the activities begin. In addition to learning about Mitchif (Metis language), the students will visit displays, learn finger weaving, snack on Metis foods such as fried bread and learn the art of jigging, a Metis dance.
“Often, we also have a tipi and there’s storytelling inside,” Tait said.
Metis Awareness Days takes place Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 14-15) from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is in accordance with the district’s Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement. It also coincides with Metis Cultural Awareness week, proclaimed by the City of Nanaimo for the week of Nov. 12-17.
For more information, please call Laura Tait at 250-741-5318.