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- The Flower Beadwork People: What it means to be Métis
By: Vanessa Nim Illustration by: Yvette Sin My Métis ancestors were known by many names — half-breeds, mixed bloods, Bois-Brûlés, country born — but my favourite is the “Flower Beadwork People”. The Dakota and the Cree referred to us this way because of the distinctive beadwork patterns created by Métis women near the turn of the 19th century. The patterns combined the detailed artistry of First Nations beadwork with European floral embroidery designs. The result was a vibrant, intricate piece of cultural heritage within the violence of colonialism. Métis women, born of duelling ancestries, stitched together a new cultural identity. This is what I mean when I say I am Métis. It means my blood is blended, both ancient and completely new. The work created by the Flower Beadwork People was a blend of beauty between red and white blood. Natives and Europeans alike knew our people for this unique artistry. During the 19th century, Métis beadwork was in high demand among European traders and became a huge economic driver for Métis families. However, Europeans wanted the experience of buying from a “real Indian”, so many Métis were forced to sell their craft to First Nations and Inuit traders. Because of this, much of the work by Métis artists — by the Flower Beadwork People — has been credited to other Indigenous peoples, mainly from the Cree and Ojibwe nations. This is what it means to be Métis. It means to be hidden, but to thrive through invisibility. As rooted as the river, and just as in danger Sitting at my grandparent’s kitchen table, I listened to my mother laud about her “whiteness”. She was telling us a story about how a lady at the food bank she volunteers at had asked if she was half Asian. My mother has small eyes and half-Asian children — two facts that often land her assumptions of also having Asian heritage. “I’m so white, I tell people that my ancestor Peter Fidler has got a monument in Elk Point, Alta.,” my mother says, jamming a finger in the air proudly, referring to the accomplishments of our European ancestor. “Well, no,” my grandfather chimed in, “because he married a fucking Indian.” The “Indian” my grandfather referred to was Mary Mackagonne, a Swampy Cree woman. Reliant on Mary’s traditional knowledge, she and Peter canoed across Alberta surveying and mapping the land. Together, they had 14 children. These children were a part of one of the original Métis peoples, spending their lives first in what is now Alberta, and eventually in the Red River Settlement in what is now known as Manitoba. My ancestors remained in Red River for generations. They formed a faction of the growing Red River Métis community and eventually moved to adjacent areas following the Métis scrip. This is what I mean when I say I am Métis. It means I am a descendant of the Red River Métis, with an ancestral connection to what is commonly referred to as part of the Métis homeland. It means I have had, and always will have, ties to the land in what is now western Canada — mainly Alberta and Manitoba. As Métis poet Katherena Vermette wrote in her collection River Woman, “my blood has been here forever / as rooted as the river / and just as in danger.” The hidden peoples For most of my life, I did not understand or recognize this connection — this lineage or heritage — of mine. The first time I heard my grandfather directly refer to himself as Métis was only a few years ago. Until then, not even my grandmother — who he has been married to for 43 out of his 63 years of life — had heard him call himself Métis. This obscurity of heritage is common among many Métis families. Many Métis of my grandfather’s generation and the generations prior were ashamed, and often afraid, of wearing their heritage and culture proudly. A podcast by the Library and Archives of Canada titled, “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Métis Nation”, explains that “following the Métis resistance at Red River in 1869 [to] 1870 and in Saskatchewan in 1885, it became unwise and sometimes dangerous to publicly self-identify. As a group, Métis survived largely by being invisible, a tactic that existed until the 1960s.” In a video for the 100 Métis project, which aimed to put a spotlight on Métis identity and experience, Jayme Menzies, a Métis from Manitoba, says, “I grew up being regaled with stories or tales of [my family's] upbringing, all of which have very obvious tidbits of the Métis culture in them, but if you asked my mother and my [grandmother] if they were Métis, they would deny it still. Unfortunately they grew up in a time when they were encouraged to deny that blood in their culture.” Like with the Flower Beadwork People, it was often more beneficial for Métis to identify with either our Native or European heritage, rather than own the beauty of our blended blood. Nothing less, nothing more Since the inclusion of Métis as a distinct Aboriginal peoples within the Canadian Constitution in the Daniels Decision of 1982, more Métis have begun to wear our heritage proudly. However, for many people – Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike – Métis identity remains a mystery. The other week, my friend told me I should take a DNA ancestry test to see how much “real Native” blood I have in me. I had to laugh. My blood is both ancient and completely new. 23andMe cannot tell me who or where I come from. As Vermette writes, “we are nothing less / than the whole stretched-out sky / nothing more / than the loose hair that dances in it.” That is what it means to be Métis.
- Blue Baby Boy
By: Katherine Vargas Illustration by Veronika Wiszniewska Blue baby boy, You are enough. Your skin outshines the moon and the stars above us Glistening bright enough to kiss all the stars in the universe You drip in black and blue excellence as deep as the ocean that lies beneath you Your sharp eyes evoke the same power as the crashing waves you witness in front of you You hold the weight of the blinding moon in your little, frail hands as if it was your destiny But know that I will hold the shimmering sun next to you, to lead you to the path you were meant to take, lil’ man Because… Blue. Baby. Boy… You are enough. @ ktherne
- Rejecting Catholic Shame and Machismo: Queerness as a Latina
By Manuela Vega An illogical, reverberating voice in my head begged me to say something; do something; be something — even if it took months — so she’d notice me. I’d only met her once at a party, but I was mesmerized. Up until that point, I had been comfortable with people thinking I was straight. I still believed that maybe I actually was. But when I met this girl, I was faced with the undeniable truth that I had feelings for her. After high school, my environment no longer scared me into pretending I was straight. Most, if not all, of my close friends were queer. Seeing them unapologetically living out their truths inspired me to do the same. In their company, I was free to be myself. At home, however, I still had reservations that stemmed from the fear that my family would judge me. My parents grew up in Colombia, where most of my extended family still lives. They were kids in the ’60s. Catholicism and machismo, or toxic masculinity, dominated norms that nurtured them. My mother would argue about feminism with her militant father. Her socialist views made her a rebel. My dad, on the other hand, had his own conservative beliefs, although they have changed over the years. Still, both of my parents internalized some of the homophobia that pervaded their upbringing. Despite her solidarity with gay and trans folks in rights battles throughout my youth, my mother had made comments in the past that stuck with me. I remember her allyship, but I also remember when she expressed the obscenity she felt seeing girls kissing on screen. I felt resentment knowing that feeling was rooted deep within her. My reserved father would raise a brow whenever girls held hands or showed affection. He sometimes even questioned me about my friendships. I could tell there was a part of my parents that was afraid I’d be gay. Every instance felt like a brick to my stomach. I desperately wanted that feeling to disappear. I began talking more about queer icons, my queer friends and queer relationships. If there was an opportunity to normalize the subject, I would take it, even though I sometimes feared outing myself in the process. If my own sexuality was called into question, I would lie. My family is rooted in Colombia, but its branches extend from the southern part of Chile to New York. When my parents migrated to Canada with me and my older sister in 2000, they maintained the familial relationships they’d cultivated over the past thirty years. I have about thirty cousins to keep up with. My mom has six siblings and my dad has four. Throughout my life, visits from relatives or trips to Colombia have been fairly regular. Beyond travelling, an evergoing group chat keeps us connected. My mother, who doesn’t go a day without speaking to her sisters, has always told me about the importance of family. Knowing that half of them are conservative and some are blatantly homophobic drives the feeling that I can’t fully be myself. It’s scary to think about how differently they might act if they knew I wasn’t straight, or if they saw me with a girlfriend. For now, I’m opening up spaces in my family where I feel comfortable, and expressing my queerness at my own pace. From coming to terms with my own sexuality only a couple years ago to letting trusted family members into my realm of truth, I’ve come a long way. Although I worry about how my family might react, I know I need to live my life honestly. About a year ago, I came out to one of my cousins. I told him I thought that with a family as big as ours, there must be someone else who’s queer; that I wished someone else could come out, so I wouldn’t have to be the first one. He reminded me that our cousins live in Colombia, and I live in Toronto. If there’s a first, it’ll have to be me. *** MARTINA - queer, Ecuadorian “It was really nice outside. There were fireflies and I was walking with this girl and she wanted to hold my hand. In the moment, my heart was beating so fast… The moment was romantic [but] I wasn’t gonna do anything because it was wrong in my mind.” “Lots of Latinos are very Christian or Catholic so [there was this idea that by being queer,] you sinned or you did something wrong and your parents are going to be disappointed in you.” “Within the last year or two, the conversation really changed because of how confrontational I became. Not in a negative way; I just made [the discussion around queerness] more open." “I just recently told my mother like maybe a few weeks ago. It went well.” “I stopped going to church. That was a big factor of guilt and feeling like I wasn't able to be myself.” “The more that I had an open conversation with my mother, the more… she would support me. Even though there was a slight chance in my mind that she might react poorly because of her old beliefs, part of me also felt like it would be OK. And it was.” L.J.- bisexual, Colombian "Pretty early on into my childhood, I realized I liked girls. Luckily, I feel like I grew up in a different kind of Latino household." “My mom was always so against everything that her family was for. [She] got us baptized for the sake of having it done, but we never went to church." “I never felt shamed, per se, but I only came out to my family like this year… [My mom did have] an inkling in the past when I had been seen with other lesbian girls, when I was younger. So when I told her she was like, ‘K?’” “I don’t think [my extended family] needs to know. I mean, they live in Colombia — what the fuck is that their business? ... If I were to have a girlfriend [things would be different].”
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