Christine Sokaymoh Frederick comes from a well-known Alberta Métis family. She has many thoughts about the Métis people in the context of the province’s centennial.
“Our history and ancestry are connected to us at every level. My uncle, who was a medicine man, said the prayers of the ancestors just rest on top of Mother Earth. Those prayers are right there. They are part of this world. They are not lost. The generations ahead of us worked so hard, it will speak better for our people. Old people pray for seven generations to come. We always thank the grandfathers. Whenever I feel frustrated, I remember at least seven generations before me thought of my future and that’s a great comfort. Now I have to start praying for the next seven.”
Frederick has been hired by the School of Native Studies at the University of Alberta as the academic research coordinator for a special project Otipimsuak—The Free People: Métis Land and Society in Northeast Saskatchewan, a collaboration of the U of A, the University of Saskatchewan, and the North West Saskatchewan Métis Council.
She ties together various studies on the development of Métis communities, historical and contemporary Métis land-use practices, and contemporary government and industry resource management policies. Alberta is the only province to have established Métis Settlement Lands, and Frederick believes this accomplishment has the potential to assist Métis people in other provinces.
The research is more than academic; people living in Métis communities are actively involved and tell their stories through interviews. Defining the Métis homeland and identity is an issue for the Métis today, says Frederick, especially because of the Powley case. In 2003 the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided that the Powleys of the Sault Ste Marie Métis community in Ontario could “exercise a Métis right to hunt.” The case set a precedent, and in 2004 the Métis Harvesting Agreement was signed by the Alberta government and the Métis Nation of Alberta.
When she married Métis geologist, Ben Frederick, she changed her surname to his, but also kept her Cree name, Sokaymoh, which means strength and courage. Her family story reveals many of the challenges facing the Métis in Alberta. Her grandparents met and fell in love in St. Paul de Métis. Her grandfather, Stan Daniels, was Métis, but it was through his First Nations Cree wife, Christine Daniels (née Whiskeyjack), that he began to fully understand first-hand some of the issues facing Aboriginal peoples. Frederick’s grandmother lost her First Nations treaty rights when she left the Saddle Lake Reserve to marry Daniels. It wasn’t until Bill C-31 (1985) that she regained her rights and rights for her children.
Stan Daniels served several terms as president of the Métis Association of Alberta (MAA). He worked on programs to improve housing and job opportunities in Métis communities, and fair food prices for the North, and started hot lunch programs for several remote Métis communities.
The MAA grew from the 45 people who elected him in 1967, to thousands by the 1980s. Today his outstanding efforts are recognized through the Stan Daniels Bursary at U of A, and the many buildings in the Edmonton area named after him.
Frederick’s mother, Jo-Ann Daniels, followed her father to become the vice-president of the Métis Nation of Alberta in 1983. She was the first female executive and worked on the Alberta Native Child Welfare Act, which she says changed the criteria of foster care and opened up the doors for Native people to become more actively involved in foster care and the running of programs, as well as housing and
For Métis living in the far North, in isolated communities, the housing policy changed from rental trailers to owning homes. Education policies were changed to give people in local communities a say in the curriculum and running of schools. The act also saw to the standard of education given to isolated communities.
In 1985, the year of the Louis Riel centennial, Jo-Ann Daniels would sing “with a heartbeat rhythm on the back of her guitar.”
Oh my Métis, Riel did it for you.
Oh my Métis, Dumont too,
did it for you.
Oh my Métis, we’ll do it once again.
Oh my Métis, 100 years,
we’ll do it again.
She completes a version of the 1885 Louis Riel quote: “In 100 years my people will rise again,” by adding, “and it will be the artists who give them spirit.”
Frederick believes that a “renaissance is coming for Métis and First Nations people, especially in arts and technology.” As president of Sound and Fury Theatre from 2002–2003, Frederick encouraged the company to do an Aboriginal season. She asked, “Why not do Othello from a Métis point of view?” And so the outsider, Othello, appeared wearing a Métis sash as a general in the Canadian army who embraced his Métis heritage, where Iago denied his own. Frederick also co-directed the first stage adaptation of Thomas King’s One Good Story, That One.
Christine Daniels, Frederick’s grandmother, founded the White Buffalo Dancers and Drummers Society, which brings Aboriginal cultural activities to urban Aboriginal youth. In 2004, Frederick took a group of White Buffalo pow-wow dancers overseas to represent Alberta at the International
“I’ve spent time exploring my Native heritage with White Buffalo. The medicine wheel is a teaching tool to learn about almost anything in our lives. We can challenge ourselves to look at things from another perspective, perhaps from a European or new immigrant point of view. It’s only when we try to see all of the other perspectives that we really see the truth. I am an urban person, so my challenges have been different from someone who lives in Kikino Métis Settlement. It’s the same thing about Métis heritage. There’s so much to explore.”
And people can explore it through celebrations, she says, smiling. “The Métis were known as the peacocks of the prairies. The style was very distinct from First Nations.” Her sister and brother-in-law researched Métis traditions for their wedding at Fort Edmonton. The bride’s moccasins, the groom’s wool jacket, his beaded pants and leggings, his beaded fire-bag, special shawls for the bridesmaids, the Métis sashes for the groomsmen, even the music and food were traditional.
“What’s neat about the Métis heritage is we beautifully incorporate so much from both heritages. It’s the weaving of
the tapestry. All you have to do is look at the Métis sash. It’s the incorporation of many heritages.”
Charlotte Cameron is an Alberta freelance writer.