By Laura Mushumanski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – I wholeheartedly swear I ate like a queen in Lac La Biche during the weekend of March 31st to April 2nd, 2023. The food was made with so much love, and consisted of wild meat, fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, baked goodies, along with all our fry bread needs being met – how could I not bask in all my glory of feeling pleasantly plump after kohkom Alvina Sampietro shared her gifts, time and energy into nourishing our bodies, minds and spirits.
As I gathered with my fellow Metis brothers and sisters over a 3-day weekend of Michif learning and ice fishing in Lac La Biche, the one thing that kept standing out was the importance of connection. The connections we share with others supports our growth and understanding of how we engage with the world around us, as well as being able to understand our own unique gifts we can share with the world.
And once we start to feel our hurts within our hearts instead of thinking of our hurts with our heads, we are able to transition from being guarded and scared into being open to learning and engaging with others. Knowing that our hurts experienced in childhood along with unfortunate events were at no fault of our own, and how being an adult is a humbling responsibility to reconcile with our hurts, so we are not passing our hurts onto others.
One thing: never be discouraged to come together with others, because you know there will always be food present – and who doesn’t like a delicious smorgasbord of baking powder biscuits (that also happens to be high in calcium where calcium in large amounts acts as a natural painkiller), along with the possibility of Indian tacos and all the dairy imaginable as an alternative form of gas for the car ride home.
Eight of us Metis learners were gifted the opportunity to immerse ourselves in learning our Metis language, Michif, and ice-fishing. Project Lead/Coordinator with Metis Nation of Alberta Region 1 Dianna Cook did all the behind the scenes work to make this heartfelt weekend happen – the funding from the Canadian Heritage, Indigenous Languages and Cultural Programs, Indigenous Languages component made what would of been a financial barrier into a possibility for us to learn, connect and laugh.
Speaking of Michif – the multicultural language of the Metis consists of Cree verbs, French nouns and a bit of English thrown into the mix. The history of the Metis stems back to us being a diverse group of people coming together starting from the fur trade and where either French and/or Scottish men would marry our Indigenous sisters and produce offspring – and where we eventually became noted as roadside people. Although the history of Metis people has not always been pleasant, like any of our ancestors’ history, the Metis in particular at one time were not welcome into ‘white-man’ territory, neither in our Indigenous communities – so they became known as road allowance people and formed their own unique culture, language and communities.
While immersing myself into the essential part of culture – language – my stay (in one of the in-floor heated cabins) located on Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, the island that is captivated by Lac La Biche Lake, became an incredible learning experience for all that were involved.
As most of us started to arrive the night before March 31st, the ice-fishing expedition began to commence. Our Metis brother Micheal Walgren and his beloved family, wife Candace, son Ethan and daughter Sydney were like the fantastic four – Metis style. The Walgren family tirelessly set up camp on the lake, drilled holes for the nets to be put in place, and the following day the sun was hot enough to burn our not yet brown like a mochaccino skin. The next two days were full of teachings and knowledge that would forever imprint on our little jigging feet hearts.
One of the language speakers that was a part of our lighthearted rendezvous, the fun and loving fluent Michif speaking kohkom originally from Buffalo Narrows, Elsie Anderson was like the gift that kept on giving. Kohkom Elsie shared with me the word she used in Michif for White Fish is ‘La Bla’- well so I thought. In my head I said to myself, “hmm that fish must taste like ‘blah’ for it to be called that.” I followed up a day later with Elsie asking why the fish is called ‘La Bla’ and if it tastes as delightful as unknowingly swinging back a carton of expired milk, only to find out my ears must have been painted on. We giggled with each other for a few minutes about my sharp listening and learning skills. Just to clear up any confusion, in Michif, White Fish is ‘Leblanc Poisson,’ not La Bla.
We learned how to fillet the fish – the White Fish we caught, along with Walleye and Jack Fish, and on Saturday night we had a fish fry that left the beautiful aroma and lingering reminisce of fried fish on my hair and jacket for the following week.
And you know the type of mosom that likes to crack jokes and is over the moon about sharing photos of the pies he bakes and his family – well that was Harvey Boucher, our Cree and Michif speaker, born and raised in Lac La Biche. He was joyfully excited to speak about culture and share his knowledge about the language with us. And I have to admit – there is nothing like sharing keesh-kwan stories with a group of people and being able to come together to laugh together.
One take away from this wonderful learning experience was to be open to learn – be teachable. Our natural environment holds so much wisdom for us to continuously learn from, through the plants, animals, people and all that reside on Mother Earth, – sometimes all we have to do is sit still long enough to listen.