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The Native Perspective, Episode 10: Métis

The Native Perspective is a Food Circle project that discusses taking urgent climate change action in order to protect indigenous peoples who depend on their natural environments for survival, food, shelter, and to maintain their cultural identity. Because climate change affects those who rely on nature the most, it is crucial to support indigenous communities worldwide which in turn ensures the preservation of ecosystems, as indigenous peoples have developed a balanced rapport with their natural surroundings and there is much knowledge to be gained from their lifestyles for more sustainable living. The dialogue also draws talking points from ecocriticism; it examines people’s attitudes towards nature, and indigenous studies; centering and elevating the voices of different indigenous cultures and promoting their experiences. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Musicians, Dancers, Hunters

Amid the abundance of Canadian ecosystems we encounter the joyous and virtuoso groups of indigenous people called Métis. The Métis Nation is a distinct group of people that originated mostly in Western Canada and became a political power in the 19th century, spreading out from the Red River Settlement [1]. While Métis is a complex term to truly define, the word is mostly used to describe communities of mixed European and Indigenous origins throughout Canada. The three Prairie provinces, as well as a portion of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and the northern United States, are considered to be the Métis homeland, according to the Métis National Council (MNC). During the seventeenth century, the French and English fur trade caused the Métis Nation to arise. A vast network of familial relationships binds members of the Métis Nation together, and they share a culture, ancestral language (Michif), history, and political heritage. Some Métis in Ontario still speak Michif, which is a hybrid of ancient European and ancient First Nation languages.

The multicoloured, woven ribbon is one of the Métis Nation's most recognisable symbols [2]. The sash was a vital piece of equipment worn by the tradesmen in the days of the voyageur, in addition to a colourful and festive piece of apparel. The sash doubles as a rope when necessary and it was also used as a first aid box, washcloth, towel, emergency bridle, and saddle blanket. When the Métis lived off the land, its fringed ends were used as a sewing kit.

For hundreds of years, the Métis people's way of life has featured the fiddle. It serves as the main accompaniment for the Métis jig. The well-known "Red River Jig" has emerged as the foundation of Métis music. The unique dance for the Red River Jig was created by the Métis people and it mixes the deft footwork of Native dance with the instruments and style of European music. Because they could not afford to buy European goods, the Métis frequently constructed their own fiddles from materials that were readily accessible. In the past, dance would begin early in the evening and last until dawn.

Bison hunt used to be the main source of income for a portion of the Métis community [3]. Every June, these Métis left their towns to go bison hunting. The hunt was a social event that brought together families who only saw each other occasionally during the year, in addition to being a significant food-gathering effort and a commercial endeavour. The bison supplied all of life's necessities. There was no wasting of any of the animal parts. Food was derived from the flesh, fat, organs, and bone marrow, while clothes, moccasins, tent coverings, and sleeping wraps were made from the skins.

Deteriorating Health

Climate change brings about a shift in environment, weather and living conditions. But for the Métis it is more than just their surroundings that are rapidly transforming. The Métis have an enduringly strong bond with the ecosystems that compose their land [4]. They are seeing effects of climate change on animals, medicines, water, and severe occurrences that have an influence on community's health and wellbeing.

The most prominent concerns include hazards to morbidity and mortality from extreme heat waves, interruptions to accessing traditional foods and medicines and the associated loss of food security, and relocation due to flooding and forest fires [5]. Climate change is making winters shorter and therefore ice becomes less reliable. Dependant on ice fishing as well, the Métis now face a shorter fishing season, which negatively impacts their livelihood and use of land.

Indigenous knowledge lies at the very core of Métis cultural system. Passing traditions down the generations is what holds indigenous people together, it is what constitutes their very identity. Their land that carries this vast amount of knowledge is now turning hazardous. In the past years, all indigenous communities across Canada have been severely impacted by drought, wildfires, floods, and temperature extremes caused by climate crisis [6]. Additionally, they are more vulnerable to the changing environment because of the difficulties they confront as a result of their worsening economic circumstances and associated health outcomes.

What is more, the severity of climate change disproportionately affects different groups of individuals within the Métis communities. Namely, Métis women are reported to be feeling ecogrief, ecoparalysis, solastalgia (existential sorrow brought on by climate change), and eco-anxiety as a result of severe changes in their way of life [7]. Women mourn the surroundings they were accustomed to. This crucial and essential relationship to the land is changing, which causes a sense of loss. There is an upsurge in the number of depression and anxiety medication being administered to Métis women and communities, as a result.

Métis women have been and still are the land's guardians. They are most aware of how the Earth, human activity, and the lives of future generations are all intertwined. Ensuring good relations between the groups is a basic tenet of Métis, in fact. The changing environment we can see in front of us is causing this cherished relationship to change.

Indigenous Knowledge as Key

What climate change jeopardises might just be the very answer to efficient climate action, that is, indigenous knowledge. The First Nations, Inuit and Métis people’s consistent apprehension and experience are truly vital to understanding how we can all adapt and preserve our surroundings. Firstly, their awareness of natural processes are way higher than of those who live in more urban areas. Secondly, they already possess adaptation skills that stem from multi-generational practices of adopting changes in an environment prone to instability. Thirdly, they are better acquainted with endangered species, since a lot of them are crucial aspects of their livelihood, cultural and spiritual heritage and medicine. And lastly, they are the most experienced spectators, witnesses even, for climate change effects on their environment, their culture and their well-being. Be it decisions regarding ecosystem conservation or preparedness for natural disasters, the Métis are well equipped and wise environmental front runners, whose voices might just be what pushes climate action to its further stages.

Author: Liva Puka

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  1. Métis | The Canadian Encyclopedia

  2. Symbols and Traditions | Métis Nation of Ontario

  3. Metis Bison Hunters | Canadian Museum of History

  4. Métis and Climate Change | Climate Atlas of Canada

  5. Métis Nation Climate Change & Health Vulnerability Report | JF Consulting

  6. Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples' Health in Canada | UNBC

  7. Negative Impacts of Climate Change on Culture and Cultural Rights | Women of the Métis Nation