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magazine / apr09

April 2009 issue

Métis population growth

Mixed blessings
Canada’s Métis population has grown fourfold in the past 20 years. The reason? Ordinary people examining their ancestry and developing pride in their bloodlines. But some Métis leaders are resisting the uprising.
Excerpt of story by Mark Abley with photography by Nayan Sthankiya

“Solid mahogany,” says Mark Calette of the big, battered pool table in the visitor centre of Batoche National Historic Site, about an hour’s drive northeast of Saskatoon. “It was made in London. And its magnificence tells a story. It shows that the Métis were not a poor people. They were an entrepreneurial people who were doing really well.”


For decades, the table was used at Stony Mountain Penitentiary, north of Winnipeg, having been carted there after the 1885 Northwest Rebellion in what would become Saskatchewan. Before the uprising, the table almost certainly belonged to Gabriel Dumont, who led the outnumbered Métis forces against government troops.

Calette, the site’s project manager, reaches out and fingers the table lovingly. Its recent return to Batoche, where the decisive battle of the uprising took place, tells another kind of story. It symbolizes a change in how Parks Canada — indeed, Canada in general — views the Métis. Not only has our attitude to Métis history shifted, we may be starting to look on the Métis as a model for the future. Novelist and philosopher John Ralston Saul began his recent book, A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, with these words: “We are a Métis civilization.”

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