Photos Submitted by Suzanne
Born in a small town in Alberta, my early childhood years were spent in various parts of BC. It was a blessing, though I didn’t know it at the time, to live in a very northern and remote BC community and within walking distance to my Mamère’s home from the age of 5-9 years old. Many hours were spent with her apron as my handhold. I was by her side as she baked bread twice a week and what I now know to be bannock at least 3 times a week. Helping when I could, she taught me as she processed whatever meat my father and uncles had harvested. There were days spent watching as she scraped and tanned the hides from moose and deer. I’d sit with her by the hour as she beaded the vamps for moccasins and mukluks that she would make for all her grandchildren. The first wild fruit of summer are strawberries. We would walk along the roadsides with baskets, pick until they were all full, then make the jam, all in the same day, because “that’s when the fruit is the sweetest”. Through all these experiences beside her, my Mamère was a woman of few words.
Ours was one of only three non-first nation families in our community. I believed as a child that Mamères lifestyle and everything she did was influenced by the First Nations community we lived in. It wasn’t until I had moved to Ontario in 1984 and started doing my genealogy that I began to find Métis ancestors in both of my birth parents lines. I tried many times to speak to my Mamère about our history, but she wouldn’t discuss it with me. In 2009, when she was 99 years old, her sight mostly gone and her life drawing to an end, she finally was able to talk about her upbringing. It was then that I learned of her heartbreaking experiences at Duck Lake residential school. Without betraying any emotion, she told me what was I’m sure, just a fraction of the things she endured while forced to live at the school. It was clear why she had been silent for so many years and why she had moved from her birth province of Saskatchewan to remote northern BC. A mere six months after she was able to begin sharing her history with me, she took that next step in her journey into the spirit world. Today, when I make moccasins or mukluks, I feel her watching me. The smell of traditionally tanned hide and fresh baked bread still takes me instantly back to her little house by the lake. When I create a piece of beadwork, I see her hands working hard, often by coal oil lamp light. I honour the many aprons she wore. One for baking, one for cooking, one for company and all for wiping her grandchildren’s faces and hands. All of these experiences, knowledge and traditions I’ve started sharing with my own grandchildren.
A citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario since 2005, I served on a Community Council for 5 years. In mid 2014 I began serving on the MNOWC as Region 9 Representative. In May of 2020 I also took on the responsibilities of interim President of the MNOWC. November 8, 2020 I was honoured to be elected by MNO Women citizens to serve as MNOWC President. While on the MNOWC I’ve been privileged to meet and develop relationships with outstanding Métis women including, the President of the National Women’s body Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak (LFMO) Melanie Omeniho, Métis actress Tantoo Cardinal and renowned Métis author Maria Campbell. These strong Métis women are examples to me of how to carry myself. Currently, I also sit as a member of the Grandmothers Wisdom Council, a Council organized by the LFMO. It was a privilege to be in attendance in February 2020 in Toronto when the MNOWC received the Lieutenant Governors Ontario Heritage Award for Community Leadership. The award was presented in recognition of the MNOWC Women’s gathering held at Blue Mountain in April 2019.
The patience and compassion that all my Métis leaders and sisters have shown me as I continue to learn, grow and understand both organizational capabilities and our Métis traditions is greatly appreciated!
During my tenure with the MNOWC, I’ve shared my traditional knowledge and skills through teaching moccasin, gauntlet, beading, finger weaving, Moss bags, feather painting, dot art, healing blanket, talking stick, porcupine jewellery and drum making workshops across Region 9 in community councils, schools and open workshops. I’m an avid roadkill harvester. Harvesting porcupines, beaver, turtles and ravens, to name a few. As a supporter of and participant in Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls forums and memorial services, I have contributed to local community efforts which promote the safety of women and girls and encourage their strength. Annually I assist in promoting Orange Shirt day, a day set aside nationally to remember all residential school children. On invitation by various schools, I’ve attended and participated in Métis flag raising ceremonies on Louis Riel Day. Most recently, when the Covid-19 Pandemic forced the province into a lockdown, I functioned as lead as the MNOWC rallied seamstresses and organized a mask making effort in all MNO communities.
My personal career has centred on womens’ and children's needs as a Labour and Delivery Doula with additional training in wholistic healing modalities.
I believe that as women, we are responsible for protecting and teaching our children and grandchildren to walk in a good way and to carry our traditions and history with pride and respect. To appreciate good in others we have to first do good. I don’t want women to have power over men, I want us to have power over ourselves. In our communities we can see who the strong women are, they’re the ones we see building one another up, not tearing each other down. When women support women, incredible things can and do happen.
Today, on my continuing journey of discovering who I am as a Métis mother, grandmother, sister and Aunt, I pay constant silent remembrance and respect giving thanks to my Mamère who taught without words but by example. My Mamère wasn’t ashamed of her story, she was frightened into silence by her story. I’m not frightened, ashamed or embarrassed by where I came from, what I’ve endured or who I’ve become. I embrace it and share it with the hope that it may inspire others.
As President of the MNOWC I will continue to work towards:
enhanced representation of Métis Women in Ontario, ensuring that our women’s voices and issues are heard at a Provincial and National level.
promoting and exemplifying respectful and productive relationships between citizens, staff and elected representatives at all levels.
pursuing forms of funding to facilitate gathering MNO women for training and community building.
Work to reach more of our MNO women and increase the voting percentages in our next election.
I look forward to advancing these important issues.