Oshkibimaadiziig- The New People
Taanishi kiyawâw. Danielle LaRose dishinikaashoon i Amiskwacîswâskahikan niwiken. Ni wahkohmakanahk Métis St Norbert, St Boniface, St François-Xavier, i Pembina d'ooschiiw. Aen femme michif niya, aen koonteur niya, aen otipemisiwak iskwêw niya.
This place by the river is precious to me. These lands raised my father as a boy, led him to many teachings as an adult, and they continue to guide him gently on his path. It was here that my sister and I learned how to ride a horse, how to spot wild strawberry patches, and this is where we glimpsed our first full-moon midnight rainbow.
It is on this land that my family have come together in joyous celebration, and it is here where we have oft returned to support each other through much pain and sorrow. LaRoses have been connecting with and caring for these lands for generations, but we are far from the lands of our ancestors.
My father's family trace our heritage back to the lands at the heart of the Métis Nation: the historic Red River Valley. The history of the LaRose family is... colourful. Notorious even. Maybe one day I'll tell you more about their infamous escapades and how those choices shaped our family. What's important is that my ancestors were some of the many Indigenous peoples disenfranchised by the Canadian state, hood-winked into geographical displacement, robbed of our relationship with land and community, and driven to reject our Indigenous traditions, relatives, and way of life in favour of assimilation and proximity to whiteness.
My mother's family also trace their story back to the Red River Valley, but in a very different way. The Kehlers arrived in Manitoba as Mennonite refugees and the Canadian state gave my mother's settler ancestors the very land which they had forcibly taken from my father's Métis ancestors. The motives that drove this privileging of white settlers over Indigenous inhabitants were deeply political, but the generations of personal implications for both sides of my family are immeasurable and complex.
I wonder many things about my ancestors, about my relations who feel so long ago and far away. The lands so sacred to my family now are not the lands that received the physical footprints of those ancestors, but when I'm near this river, that's when I feel closest to them. That's when I feel the power of their voices vibrate strongest with my spirit. The LaRose women suffered the most from the toxic effects of colonialism, both at home and in their communities, so it is my duty as a good descendant to listen closely for their voices and honour their spirits. Helène, Madeleine, the Marguerites.
Seven is a sacred number, and my seven-generations-back-great-grandmother walks with me often. She walks with me and teaches me much about what it means to be aay-aabtawzid- one who is half. I have always been one foot here, one foot there. When I feel irreparably divided, conflicted, torn between two worlds, she reminds me of the great privilege and responsibility of being a world-bridging woman, of my potential as a descendant of so many Oteepaymsoowuk (their own boss), of my obligation to pursue my gifts and offer them in service to my community. My work as a theatre artist and story-teller is just one way in which I can fulfill this bridge-building responsibility.
Artists and public figures are increasingly being asked to provide clarity about our backgrounds; to prove our identities to the community. This appeal for integrity is absolutely vital in our fight to return sovereignty, power and respect to Indigenous peoples, and I am continually learning how to do that as a person who is "mostly settler". However, I have to remind myself that many identity policing tactics are inherently colonial and not a part of Indigenous kinship structures. Blood-quantum is something that has been held over my head since I was a child- the long arm of the assimilation machine finding me generations down the line, creeping in to quietly extinguish any Indigenous blood-memory I may have, and ultimately privileging my "white blood" over my "red blood". I refuse to feed this erasure and I will continue to celebrate and learn from Helène, Madeleine, the Marguerites, and all my honoured relations.
Today, I identify proudly as a woman with Métis heritage. As a theatre-maker and story-teller, active service to my community and consenting to learn in public are both paramount on my path towards reconnecting with my relations and with the sacred land.
While I may sometimes welcome further conversations about my cultural identity, I respectfully reserve the right to share that knowledge. Chi miigwetch & maarsi.
Acknowledging Spirit in Language
Words are ceremony. I have known this in my work as a theatre artist, but also in my efforts to honour my heritage. They carry the resilient spirit of generations and connect us deeply to one another, but they must be used and shared in order to be kept alive. I am a guest on Treaty Six, so I learn Nehiyawin to honour my hosts. My First Nations roots are Anishnaabe, so those words connect me to my deep ancestors. As a French speaker, Michif is both strange and familiar to me. It was the language of our family until my grandfather's generation, when we lost it completely. In Michif Pekiskwewin (the Michif Language), the interweaving of Nehiyawin, Anishnaabemowin, and French speaks to the interconnectivity of Indigenous relations. There are innumerable beautiful dialects, and all these words are teachings and gifts. I want to presence and acknowledge some of the Elders, Knowledge Keepers and mentors who have shared these gifts with me. Here are just a few word offerings that have helped me to self-locate within creation: