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Native People




Metis familyThousands of Métis, "children of the fur trade," were born to Native mothers and European fathers. By the end of the 1700s, these mixed-blood people formed a distinct social and racial category.

By the mid-1800s, Métis were working as guides, post factors, clerks, freighters, canoemen and packers, interpreters, hunters, trappers, provisioners, labourers, merchants, woodcutters, gold miners, carpenters, masons, and farmers. To capture the independent trait of many Métis, the Cree named them o-tee-paymsoo-wuk, which means "their own boss."

While the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the 1885 Riel Rebellion prompted westward settlement, many Métis already lived in Alberta. As the fur trade and buffalo herds declined, some Métis retained their nomadic tendencies, while other Alberta Métis, with pressure from the Canadian government and encouragement of missionaries, turned their hand to farming. In fact, the Métis represent some of Alberta’s earliest farmers.

In keeping with "spirit of the west" volunteerism, the Métis, like many other settlers who would follow, helped each other build homes, fences, farm buildings, flour mills, and churches.

A big pot of tea, a large hearty bowl of soup, and fresh oven-baked bannock were ever ready in most traditional Métis homes. Large families and an open door to visitors made a large pot of soup popular for sharing. If an unexpected guest arrived, extras were simply added to the big pot.

Hoarding food was not typical of the Métis. Métis almost always shared extra wild meat and staple foods, such as flour, with their kin and community members.

A pot of soup, especially during lean times, could be stretched out by adding fish, barley, root vegetables, peas, and soup bones. Besides providing comfort, a single large pot of soup, brimming with a variety of wholesome foods, carried a powerful wallop of nutritional and healing properties.

Michel Callihoo, prominent Métis chief of the Michel Reserve, respected farmer, and an entrepreneur, is a fine example of a volunteer who strived to better his community.

He was a pious man and was baptized a Roman Catholic as soon as there was an opportunity. He and his family could regularly attend the church he helped build in Fort Edmonton in 1857. He paid for two expensive grand masses to be sung at Lac St-Anne in November 1870. Religious observances were often combined with fun. The family may have attended the St. Jean Baptiste celebration in St. Albert in June 1889. On this Holy Day after Mass they held a dinner, then a picnic with running races and horse races, ending up with a dance. Michel generously provided lumber for the church of St. Peter at Villeneuve and brought his family regularly when it was built.

Volunteering to help someone can have positive effects that last a lifetime, and in the case below, has the power to shape a family tree and its succeeding generations.

"Kias Neestow". I am seeking descendants of ALBERT CUNNINGHAM whom had a main base/home in LAC St. ANNE and a trapping base on the Athabasca River at the turn of the century. Albert rescued my grandfather and his partner from starvation on the river in December 1905. My grandfather's diary describes Albert as "Cree/Metis, exceptionally hospitable, good trapper, thick set, strongly built and very surprised by the encounter with 2 starving white men. Any family stories or leads will be more than greatly appreciated. Thanx, Dennis Cornell
Dennis G. Cornell <denniscornellcanada@hotmail.com>
Nanaimo, BC Canada - Monday, November 8, 2004 at 4:1827

Similar to many volunteers, Thelma Chalifoux, Canada’s first Métis woman to hold a senate position, thinks that part of being a human is to see a need and then address it. Her "Let’s do it attitude" has created a legacy of good works that includes joining the Company of Young Canadians (CYC) in 1973. The CYC was begun in the 1960s by Prime Minister Lester Pearson to help young people improve their communities and their lives.

One of Thelma Chalifoux’s most ardent volunteer endeavours is to educate people regarding Métis history, culture, and identity.

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