‘Coast to Coast’ band members Normand Desjardins, Helen Martinot and Keith Melanson play toe-tapping fiddle tunes for the University of Northern British Columbia’s (UNBC) new Métis Music and Culture series last January. (Brittany Gervais/Terrace Standard)

Skeena Métis Association encouraging Northwest B.C. Métis families to self-identify

Out of 5,760 students in SD82, only six are recognized as Métis, association says

The Skeena River Métis Community Association (SRMCA) is starting a year-long campaign to encourage Métis families in Northwest B.C. to self-identify.

Increasing the number of registered Métis within the region and school districts, especially youth, would mean more families would have access to government benefits, and school districts could use enhanced funding opportunities towards incorporating Métis history and culture into current curriculums.

“We wish not only to promote Métis history in general, but rather emphasis our Métis history as it pertains to Northwest B.C., since the Métis have been a part of this landscape since the 1800s,” says Alan Sauvé, director of education for SRMCA.

Currently, school districts receive $1,200 per Indigenous student from the federal government to promote cultural programming within school district K-12 curriculums.

However, Sauvé says many Métis youth living in northern B.C. have little or no knowledge of their own history and culture, partially because what they are being taught in the classrooms tends to gravitate more towards Indigenous culture.

“How are we to expect our youth to figure out where they are going, if they don’t know where they have come from?” Sauvé asks.

READ MORE: Métis veterans get long-awaited recognition ahead of Remembrance Day

He says he realized the importance of including past and modern-day education around Métis history and culture in classrooms during his 10-year career as a social worker, working within several school districts in Northwest B.C.

“How it was conveyed to me when I was in social studies was that the Métis were half-breeds that had a leader, Louis Riel, who was a traitor to Canada and hung, and the Métis were scattered to the four winds, never to be heard from again. That’s how it was taught to me,” he says.

As a result, Sauvé says he believes many students and families who have Métis ancestry have not self-identified because of lack of awareness — but also because for years, Métis were not permitted to access benefits or legal rights as those with ‘Indian’ status under the Constitution until a Supreme Court ruling reversed that in 2016.

“A whole lot of opportunities started opening up for Métis where they weren’t opportunities before,” Sauvé says. “Because Métis weren’t acknowledged in terms of the benefits, like education, employment and health, they had no reason to put their foot forward and say, ‘Yes, we are Métis.’ They became very self-sustaining.”

The hardest part will be reaching out to families who are non-affiliate Métis, Sauvé says. He encourages families to either register their children as Métis with SD82, or though the SRMCA so they can access benefits like this and other education and health programs available with a declared status.

Out of SD82’s 5,760 registered students, only six Métis youth are recognized — a statistic that doesn’t make sense to Sauvé, given population statistics for Northwest B.C.

“If according to Stats Canada there are 69,475 Métis in B.C., 6,000 of which reside in Northwest B.C. and a probable count of 1,500 Métis who live within SD82, then why have only six students been acknowledged as Métis?… This shortfall needs to be addressed.”

For a Métis youth to qualify, they first have to acknowledge self-identify as Métis within the school district. The school district takes the data, then injects it into their grant application for enhanced funding.

To bridge the gap, SRMCA has connected with the Northwest BC Métis Association and BC Métis Federation to start community outreach campaigns spanning across Northwest B.C. through media advertisements and online advocacy.

In addition, Sauvé has met with Agnes Casgrain, SD82 director of instruction and education, in August to start discussing how the school district can encourage Métis students to self-identify, and begin work to update its curriculum.

READ MORE: Métis music, history, and culture focus of new UNBC series

“The Métis people are a significant part of the history of Canada and we have an obligation to teach that true history,” Casgrain wrote in an email to the Terrace Standard. “The school district supports teachers in the instruction of Indigenous culture and history, including that of the Métis, by ensuring that they have access to the Ministry resources around Indigenous education.”

Once a head count of Métis students has been established in each school, the curriculum can then be modified to ensure education around Métis history and culture is proportional to the number of students registered, Sauvé says.

The goal is to encourage Métis youth and families recognize the importance of embracing their heritage, not only as people, but as individuals. He remembers when he was a 17-year old junior forest ranger, spending summers out canoeing and exploring Métis traditional territory.

“I learned a lot about myself, about my people, and what it meant to be apart of that whole experience. It certainly did a lot for my self-esteem, and my sense of self, goal and purpose,” Sauvé says. “This is what I want to be able to provide for our youth, because when it comes down to it, the youth are our future.”


 


brittany@terracestandard.com

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