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From Bush to Boardroom and Beyond
Métis Elder Alvena Strasbourg's remarkable journey
By Barbara Dacks

Ask this feisty 77-year-old Métis elder where she gets her energy and she responds with a sparkle in her eye, "Well, a tornado touched down the night I was born. . . ." That was June 10, 1921, in Owl River, Alberta. The tornado destroyed the Mission church, and its bell was never found.

In her book, Memories or a Métis Woman, Strasbourg recounts her childhood in the pre-boom hamlet of Fort McMurray, a close community of Métis families, "a place of clean air and pure water," connected to the rest of Alberta by the railway and narrow rutted dirt roads through the bush. She writes of days helping her parents, Philomene and Patrice Laboucaine—hunting moose, snaring rabbits, gathering berries; she writes of nights of fiddle music, storytelling around the wood stove. "I wanted my children and grandchildren to know their culture, how we lived, where we came from—the Aboriginal side of it."

Strasbourg tells of quitting school at 13 to help her mother look after the other six children in the family. At 16, she married a 27-year-old trapper. She describes struggling for years to survive the hardships of working the 128 km trap line, sleeping by a campfire at 40 below, years of poverty and mental and physical abuse. She explores the courage it took to leave and transform herself from "a lonely isolated mother to a happy, determined Elder."

The book is not, however, intended only as a personal record for her family. "I wrote this book to encourage others in abusive situations. No one should put up with abuse. There is so much help out there. I hope my story inspires people to seek help if they live with any kind of violence. God gave us all brains and strength. We just have to learn how to use them."
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Reprinted with the permission of Barbara Dacks and Legacy (February - April 1999): 32-33.
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