‘You feel the ties that bind you’: Métis culture, language showcased at this year’s Festival du Bois

This weekend at Coquitlam’s Maillardville, people are celebrating French Canadian music, food and culture at the 31st annual Festival du Bois.

At last year’s festival, Métis people had a small table to show their culture and it was a big hit.

This year, festival organizers dedicated time and space for The Métis Experience, an immersion into Métis culture, language, music, art and history.

The Métis Experience promises to be fun, says Cheryl Marion, a North Fraser Métis Association member who helped organize the event.

Métis artist Pat Calihou will demonstrate wood carving at this weekend’s Festival du Bois in Coquitlam. (Facebook/North Fraser Metis Association)

But there’s also a serious side to the event. It’s a demonstration of a culture that is slowly disappearing — and a reminder that Métis are still distinct people.

“This shows we exist — that we are part of the identity and landscape also,” Marion said.

According to organizers, there are nearly 90,000 self-identified Métis in B.C. — descendants of both Indigenous and European ancestors. 

What makes experience Métis?

The Métis Experience promises a glimpse at the full gamut of Métis life, Marion says.

Métis elder Deni Paquette will tell stories and lead beading. Carver Pat Calihou will be demonstrating carving. There will be lessons in Michif — the Métis language. And there will be guitar playing, fiddling and jigging. 

“Jigging especially fun. The music is fantastic. You can’t help but move your feet when they start playing,” Marion said. “And they invite people up to learn a step or two.”

The Métis Experience at the 2020 Festival du Bois features Métis history, culture, language and music. (Facebook/North Fraser Metis Association )

Last year’s small demonstration was a hit because people are just learning about what being Métis is. “It’s its own culture born from two distinct origins and became its own culture,” she said. “And also because it’s very participatory.”

The bigger message

Marion says Métis culture is slowly being lost, which she knows firsthand. 

Marion’s family knew they were Métis, but she had no connection to the culture. The Red River Resistance and Battle of Batoche served to make the culture disappear and go into hiding, she says.  

“It was not passed on. My parents had no Métis culture given to them. I think my grandparents had some. It’s really the sad part of it,” she said.

Both Marion’s parents have since died. 

You feel the ties that bind you.– Cheryl Marion

But the Métis Experience at the Festival du Bois is a bridge that is helping her find out who she is and where she is from.

“You feel the ties that bind you,” Marion said. “You feel like you’re a small part of a bigger whole. It feels invigorating and gives you strength.”