Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Proud to be Metis

My Great Grandmother was a nun.

After giving birth to 14 children and her husband dying, the Catholic Archbishop granted my GGrandmother special permission to become a nun in the cloistered order of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan. It sounds crazy but it happened. My GGrandmother was a nun. 

I knew her well. As a child, I often went to the Precious Blood to purchase sheets of hosts, sheets from which hosts are cut for communion. My friends and I loved the taste of this flat bread.

The only way I ever saw my GGrandmother was through grilled barriers, somewhat like a latticed fence. The monastery was cloistered. It was she who introduced me to the idea that we were Metis.  Her smooth, round fingers would reach through the lattice, touch my cheeks and she would say,  "Mon beau petit Metis!" "My sweet Metis boy!" 
My GGrandmother's mother was Jeanne Beaudoin, nee Charbonneau. She was buried in Kranzburg, South Dakota. Her parents were Pierre Charbonneau, Ojibway and Josette Bonneterre, Osage. 

Of this there is no question. We have every document necessary that show where they lived, where they were married and where they died. I know their names. I know their Nations. I am of them. I am Metis. And be clear in this; I didn't seek them out for personal gain or for membership in a Metis organization. I simply wanted to know. And when I came to know, my life changed.

I knew Odille Allard but I didn't know her mother or her Grandmother. The voyage I took in getting to know them was amazing!  Expensive but worth it. Years to achieve but worth it.

My voyage went like this.

Twenty years ago, I went to our local Metis Nation of Greater Victoria. There, I was introduced to Stan Hulme, a wonderful man and the volunteer genealogist who helped the MNGV. Stan did some research for me and came up with what he thought would qualify me for citizenship in the British Columbia Metis Nation. It didn't. We added to his research but that didn't suffice either. The BCMN needed more. I learned that citizenship requires direct, legal documents for every link leading to Native ancestors.

The first thing I did was to put the name of my GGrandmother, Odille Allard out on the internet asking if anyone knew her. I received a reply from Don Presser Jr., an accountant in Alaska. Don was her great nephew. Don kindly sent me a document showing that our mutual ancestor was an Algonquin woman who twice appears on the Quebec census as Marie Louise Manitookookoo (Sauvage), He also suggested that I contact a professional genealogist in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I did exactly that and Kris Matthies began what was to become years of research.

Kris found legal documents for every person in my ancestry. The process was time consuming and costly as the time it takes to find death/birth/marriage/baptismal certificates is substantial. Churches burn. Government offices close. Costly. 

After seven years, Kris had everything needed to show my lines back five generations. I knew the details of three generations back but I now had five.

My GGrandmother was Metis. By today's laws, she could have been a status First Nations woman but back then, they didn't care to count themselves either FN or Metis.  

Her mother, Jeanne Beaudoin, nee Charbonneau, was proven to be the daughter of Ojibway Pierre Charbonneau and Osage Josette Bonneterre. In today’s ruling on status, Jeanne Beaudoin would not have been Metis, having two First Nation parents, she would have been a First Nations woman. 

Victoria, me, my mother Cecile and my Grandfather Pierre Mercier
It should be noted that back then, Metis people did not want First Nation status, in fact they tried to conceal their bloodline and they worked to fit into mainstream society. The ramifications of the North West Resistance and the open racism toward Indigenous people had those who could, hide. My GGrandfather Narcisse Beaudoin's tombstone reads Nelson Bowdwine. He changed his name to try to sound/look English and thus white. He likely couldn't even pronounce the name. 

The next and final stage of my voyage was to ask Kris to plot out a trip that Vicki, Victoria and I would make, a trip to the homelands of these amazing people. 

We flew to Winnipeg, rented a car and drove to Kranzburg, South Dakota. There, we found the resting place of my GGGrandmother, Jeanne Beaudoin/nee Charbonneau. Victoria and I offered tobacco and played our honour song for her. 

We then drove across the Northern US, the same trip that our ancestors made, back to Bay Settlement in Wisconsin. As Kris predicted, we were unable to find Pierre Charbonneau or Josette Bonneterre's resting places but we did find the church in which they were married. And of course, we visited the towns and churches that Kris suggested we visit, that included the church where Odille was married. Can you imagine the pleasure that brought to me? I am French, Ojibway and Osage and I am Proud to be Metis.

I could obviously go on and on as I love speaking of them. Yes, I have written two books to honour them, The Secret of Your Name and Proud to be Metis.

Finally, allow me to share a couple pieces that speak to my journey and the pride I have in my ancestors and in my being Metis. 


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Thoughts on tattoos

Have you ever noticed how many Indigenous people and/or African Canadian or Americans are tattooed? Have you ever wondered why? Here are the thoughts of one who has lived in both worlds - white and Indigenous.

Turn on CNN or Fox or NBC or any major American network and spend 30 minutes witnessing their values, their hopes and their dreams. What you will soon come to see is that the vast majority of advertisements deal with "how to best save for your old age" or "how to extend your life"..."how to give your earnings to those who can spend them in your best interest". Almost everything you'll see deals with your dreaming of tomorrow, not today (and that sadly includes so much of religion).

A tattoo? How will it look when you are 94? If someone sees you tattooed, what will they think? Does a tattoo not mean that you are not living your life based on the common norms of living for tomorrow and not for today.

As a white person (I lived 44 years not knowing I was Metis), I spent my energies planning for the future. Pensions aside, I had a ten year plan, a five and a one year plan. As a principal, I had a monthly, weekly and daily plan. I had professional and personal plans. Heck, I had plans for those around me who didn't seem to have their own plans.

And then, my Grandmother came to me. Then, I came to see that I should turn around and swim downstream...rather than fighting my way upstream for whatever reason - education, money or ego, I learned to swim downstream and I allowed her the control that would make my life whole.

I quit my job and did that which I was meant to do - I began storytelling. That was 20 years ago. I turned myself over to my Grandmother (genetic direction) in all I do and in everything I am. And it's been good.

How does all this apply to tattoos?

Well, we Indigenous people tend to be storytellers. Through whatever means, be it art or music or sharing story as I do, we believe in and love stories. We use them to teach, to heal and to pray. Few will argue that tattoos are stories.

Secondly, no one knows, least alone me, how long I will live. To plan my holidays or where I will live or to plan my future on the assumption that I will be here for however long seems absurd. At the age of 64, I have watched my kids get inked. I am watching the youth I work with get inked. And I am seeing people of all ages and professions telling their stories through ink. And I liked it. Who better to get tattooed than a professional story teller?

The b&w showing above is my left arm. I thought out and planned and carefully selected an artist for each of the three. Each tells a story.

This summer, I am celebrating my writings and my books. With the help of tattoo artist Brian Dangerfield (and don't kid yourself...most of these tattoo artists are exactly that, artists who are aware of the impact they are having on their living canvasses) I am getting tattoed. We are using ideas and images taken from my book The Journal of Etienne Mercier, specifically my Raven Clement perched on a Haida canoe.

Simply put: fun!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Humbled and Honoured

On November 16th, Louis Riel Day, I was humbled and honoured by Queen's. 

Mr. Chancellor, by the authority of the Senate, I have the pleasure to present to you, that at your hands he may receive the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa

Pierre David Bouchard

Distinguished author and educator, Métis raconteur, and activist; Prolific artist and pedagogue, authoring more than seventy children’s and cultural books;
Graduate of the University of Regina;

An inspiring mentor whose love of language and learning allowed him to meet the challenge of dyslexia head on, achieving success as a teacher and school administrator, whose understanding of the unique challenges faced by Aboriginal, second language and special needs learners have made him an empathetic and effective guide for those striving to become literate;

Embracing the gift from his great-grandmother to become an enthusiastic champion of traditional storytelling, whose own visually evocative style of writing provides a powerful reflection of authenticity in Indigenous knowledge and culture;

Noted chronicler in English, French, as well as thirteen of Canada’s Indigenous languages, whose body of work in all its iterations constitutes a veritable ‘Rosetta Stone’ for many of our oldest lexical traditions;

Whose search to uncover the story of his own true self has inspired a quest to give voice to those who have long stood in the periphery;

An engaging speaker whose passion and humanity challenges all of us to see the potential of Indigenous peoples, while encouraging young Aboriginal people to recognize it in themselves;

Whose commitment to share with others never wavers so long as there are people eager to listen and learn, and whose lectures conclude only after the last curious soul has left satisfied;

The recipient of numerous national and international literary accolades, including the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Silver Birch Award, and whose iconic work “If You’re Not From The Prairie” has been included in Macleans’ Magazine’s list of the top twenty children’s books in the history of Canada.

Member of the Order of Canada, Board Director of the Métis Federation of Canada, namesake and inspiration for the David Bouchard Public School in Oshawa, Ontario;

A remarkable individual whom we are delighted to welcome to Queen’s, paying tribute to his accomplishments with our highest award. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The iPhone X

On Friday, Vicki picked up her new iPhone X

For those who might be calling it by the letter X, it is the Roman numeral X representing the number ten. It is the iPhone ten…X. And for those who might be wondering why iPhone went from the iPhone 8 to the iPhone X, it was ten years ago that Steve Jobs stood before the world and introduced the most significant piece of technology ever, one that would drastically change the world as we knew it.

This year, 2017, iPhone celebrated the tenth anniversary of the iPhone by introducing the iPhone X, the greatest iPhone ever made…and what a beauty it is (…this coming from a person waiting for the Pixel 2 XL to arrive in Canada).

2017 is the tenth anniversary of iPhone and is the anniversary of a year of unimaginable innovative growth. Here are a few of the many other changes have happened over the past ten years:

Facebook came to be in 2007.
Twitter appeared in 2007.                                    
Android was launched by Google in 2007.
Amazon released the Kindle, yes, in 2007.
Air B&B was created in 2007.
Michael Dell, who had left the company, came back to it… in 2007.
Clean tech and energy efficiency shot sky high in 2007.
The cost of DNA sequencing dropped by thousands of dollars in 2007.

This from my favourite futurist/columnist/author, Thomas Freidman:
When I was running around in 2004 declaring that the world was flat, Facebook didn’t even exist yet, Twitter was still a sound, the Cloud was still in the sky, 4G was a parking place, applications were what you sent to college, Linked in was barely known and most people thought it was a prison, Big Data was a rap star, Skype, for most people was a typographical error.

Friedman’s latest release, Thank You for Being Late, is now out in paperback. It’s also available on Audible.com. If you would like a piece of fiction that could have been written by Friedman but was written by Dan Brown, pick up  Brown’s latest release Origin – or do as I have done and listen to it on Audible.com and treat yourself.

Moore’s Law tells us that technological advancement doubles every two years so what should we expect in the next decade? Heck, what should we expect in two years?

Equally as important, what should we be preparing our students for?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Learning to CHILL

Catholic and a baby boomer -

When you are brought up Catholic...by Oblate priests and Cecile Mercier (my late mom), relaxing is not an option. The word chill is not a part of their vocabularies. Doing little to nothing, no matter why or when, is as close to a sin as you can come without being punished for it (...if you believe in sins).

My summer has been chill. Cousin Garry came over to two weeks and that was a real highlight as are all his visits. We barbecue, enjoy our city and all in all, we make the world a better place. Garry is back in Yorkshire awaiting our spring visit...

We then had Makwa and Nancy for a few days. Steve and Nancy have just become grandparents for a second time. They spent a few days here with their daughter Megan and that afforded us some great visiting time. Steve is
a master flute maker as well as my great friend.

And then, in keeping with the spirit of repos and chill, our good friends (and my partner in two Metis books), Dennis and Sharon Weber came to town. We went for dinner at our favourite hang out, Little Jumbo.

We had my old friend Laurie and and her friend John over for a barbecue.

Allan Primeau's niece Fanny from Montreal tried our cap steak.

Victoria turned 19 so there were parties - that I attended and enjoyed.

James is always a highlight in my day to day life.

And finally, this: Molson Canada gifted a classic Molson fridge to 150 Canadians. Brilliant, I say. Credit to living so long and having a great agent in Chris Patrick, I received this beauty (no, no beer included but still). Can you imagine a better gift for a man who is committed to learning how to "chill"??? I think not!!!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Proud to be Metis

This short video captures what I have tried to do in Proud to be Metis and in all my other books. It speaks to culture, literacy, education and so many other elements - all through the power of story.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Canada can do better

"We can't all be Finland" is what I hear when I quote the many successes Finland has achieved over the past few decades in its unconventional educational initiatives.

Over the next few weeks, I will focus on what Finland has been doing to move from a system of mediocrity to one that leads the free world in almost every segment of education.

My Arctic tour has driven home the obvious shortcomings of an educational system that we Canadians seem unwilling to change. It is well past the time that we stop tweaking what we have always done and do something very different.

These kids deserve to succeed. It is a human right that they be allowed to succeed - in their world, not in the world of central Ontario or Alberta. They should be allowed to succeed by their standards and not those of law makers who do not speak their language, who have never lived on their land and  who have likely never been to the Arctic.

Everything we know tells us that these kids will live lives at far lower standards than other Canadians - that they are destined to a world described by Canada's Auditor General in this way: Nunavummiut are far less healthy than other Canadians; a life expectancy 10 years lower, infant mortality five times higher, a smoking rate also five times higher, respiratory disease rates four times higher and a suicide rate six times higher.

Yet, they smile, laugh and speak their language with the greatest of pride. They continue to love and live off the land that provides them with life's bare essentials. They have hung on and will continue hanging on for as long as it takes for the rest of us to catch up.

When I spoke to primary children in Arctic Bay, they needed the help of a translator to understand me. Their spoken language is called Inuktitut. They speak it everywhere; at home, on the streets and at school. High school kids speak English with a charming accent. Their English is quite good but not of the level that would allow them to succeed in any standardized test.

Over the next few weeks, I will focus on what we might do differently.

For now, the best thing we have going for us is pictured here; amazing educators ready to do what is right for each and every child, if allowed to do so.

It is not possible however with hands tied by curriculum directed systems and standardized tests.

Cut our teachers loose and watch what passion, vision and commitment can do.