Recovering the blessing of a Métis heritage

Image: Valenty
By on December 1, 2022

When I was first asked to contribute something for the Anglican Journal, I was surprised, especially when it was explained to me that I was being asked to write from an Indigenous perspective. You see, I’m a citizen of the Red River Métis, but my experience hasn’t really reflected that, and if you were to look at me, you would likely never guess my heritage. I grew up in a home where we never spoke about being Métis, what being Métis means, or Métis culture and traditions. In a word, I grew up in the same way as all my non-Indigenous friends. So, who am I to try and speak for anyone?

But in a way, my experience might be the one thing that I can offer. How does someone like me go about learning who they are, who their grandparents and great-grandparents were, and what being Métis means? I feel I don’t have the experience of being an Indigenous person in Canada, but many do. And those people have experiences and teachings to share. So, in my world, the simple answer—which actually isn’t all that simple—is to listen.

Listening can seem dangerous. If we open ourselves to learning the experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in this country, especially as members of the Anglican church, we must be prepared for things that will be, at times, very difficult to hear. I’ve walked alongside Indigenous people and heard their stories. There is usually a lot of laughter, but there is also pain, trauma, grief and, occasionally, anger. These stories can be very difficult to listen to, but listen I must, for in them I hear a bit of my grandparents and my great-grandparents. I also hear the voices of those who have been injured by the church, calling us to remember our own sacred stories and what those stories, like the Incarnation, tell us about who God is and who we are.

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The Christmas story reminds us that God came into the world not for a specific group of people, but for all of us. We know that before that first Christmas night, God had always been at work in the world, wherever his beloved children were. We might not have called him by the same name, or worshiped him the same way, but there was relationship. When I hear the traditional stories of God, as told by various Indigenous elders, and watch their sacred ceremonies, it is clear to me that God did not arrive with the Europeans. Recently, I heard a Dakota teaching about how the Creator made humans as a part of his creation, not to be placed above it. There was no “God gave them dominion” in their understanding. They were intimately connected to everything around them and to the world itself. Their creation story recognized God made all things and had been with them from the beginning. Our Indigenous sisters and brothers tried to explain that to the arriving settlers and the church, but few listened. Imagine if they had.

I’m still learning, still doing my best to listen. I still wrestle with what being Métis means and how it shapes who I am. I doubt that in this world, I’ll ever figure that out completely. I will though, give thanks to the teachers who share their stories to me and to the church, reminding us of who each of us is called to be.

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Author

  • Don Bernhardt

    The Rev. Don Bernhardt is dean of the Diocese of Brandon and rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral. He is a citizen of the Manitoba Métis Federation and a member of the Third Order, Society of St. Francis. He has worked alongside various Indigenous groups including the Brandon Bear Clan, Ask Aunty and Creating a New Legacy.

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