Métis from all over Central Alberta travelled to Big Valley Sunday, May 4 to gather for the annual Spring Fling, a dinner and gathering where they could share stories, celebrate the Métis culture through dance and music, and enjoy each other’s company.
While many people were local to the Stettler County area, several people travelled from larger communities like Red Deer to see their friends after a long, snowy winter.
The Spring Fling is organized by the Hivernant Métis Cultural Society, which formed in 2003. During the August long weekend, it hosts its annual rendezvous, which attracts Métis people from all over Alberta to take part in traditional dancing, story-telling, crafts and games.
The Spring Fling is the first fundraiser of the year for the autumnal celebration, explained Marlene Lanz. She is president of both the Hivernant Métis Cultural Society and of Region 3 of the Métis Nation of Alberta.
The Métis people originated from marriages between Canada’s First Nations and French or British settlers who were moving west through Canada during the fur trade. These children, of mixed European and Aboriginal descent, formed their own culture that was a mix of European and Aboriginal tradition.
Today, the Métis are identified as people of Métis descent, and are legally considered one of Canada’s First Nations.
“Instead of the traditional First Nations dance, we have the Red River Jig,” Lanz explained. Some of Canada’s first Métis arose out of a settlement near the Red River in Manitoba early in Canada’s process of becoming a state. The differences between traditional aboriginal celebration doesn’t end there, as Lanz noted, “We have fiddles instead of drums.”
Despite the differences on the surface, Lanz said the Métis people feel a very strong connection to their history and to Canada’s First Nations.
Celebrating the Métis history is part of the Spring Fling, and this year was no exception.
Gabriel Dumont, one of the Métis heroes, made an appearance at the Spring Fling, as played by Stettler’s Bob Willis.
Dumont, a brilliant strategist, was active during the time of Louis Riel’s rebellion against the Canadian government. He orchestrated several of the battles of the rebellion, and used his ability to speak six different First Nations languages to keep the British soldiers on their toes.
Despite a victory at Fish Creek, Dumont had to flee to the United States after the Battle of Batoche, where he continued to support and uphold the Métis cause by rallying Métis communities in the neighbouring country.
Willis looked the part, carrying an old-fashioned rifle, dressed in fringed and beaded hide jacket and pants, and wearing the traditional Métis sash, a red “ceinture fléchée,” or arrow sash.
Many of the people at the event wore the sashes as well, demonstrating their link to their culture in a visible fashion.
Elder Doreen Bergum and Pam Lashmore took to the floor to demonstrate the Red River Jig, a dance which “can be a very fast dance,” Lanz said.
The dance combines elements of the aboriginal Circle Dance with European elements, like Scottish dance.
The two danced as others played the fiddle and guitar, and the audience got into the increasingly quick dancers, stomping their feet or calling out encouragement.
When both Lashmore and Bergum came to a halt, both were breathless.
Bergum took a moment to address the gathered people to tell them of a project she was taking part in, one that she hoped others would join as well, since it would have an impact on Métis of the future.
She, and others, are recording their personal stories and histories, with the recordings destined for schools. There, the videos of Métis people sharing stories about what makes them uniquely Métis will be available to Métis, First Nations and Canadians alike.
“The Métis will teach through these stories,” Bergum said.
She shared with the gathering the story she told, about how her family used to live in the space between the road allowance and the water, and how her father was a logger.
Both her mother and father worked hard during the week, but almost every weekend they would get together with others and let loose.
Sometimes even the furniture would be tossed out, she mentioned with a chuckle. Not because it was damaged, but because they needed room for all the people and the food that came together.
It was during these celebrations that Bergum learned to love the Métis dances. She would watch her mother, a champion dancer, and others dance the night away.
To this day, she remembers being safely tucked away under a table, watching the feet dance just inches away.
“Our spirit was alive,” she recalled. It’s for that reason that the project means so much to her.
Later this year, the Region 3 Métis will be host to the Métis Assembly of Alberta for its annual meeting, just outside Stettler at Tail Creek – which happens to be one of the earliest Métis settlements in Alberta.
The 11th annual Hivernant Métis Cultural Society Rendezvous takes place Aug. 1-3, with the Assembly taking place the following weekend, Aug. 8-10. Everyone is welcome.