Metis Region 5 using art as education tool

Dwayne Calliou, Métis Elder, poses with the display which includes his story and photos.

Pearl Lorentzen
For South Peace News

“It’s a travelling exhibit,” says photographer and artist, Lorna Dancey.

Dancey is referring to the six museum quality information pillars she made for Métis Nation of Alberta Region 5.

The pillars are snapshots from an ongoing research project. Walter Andreeff and Bev Lambert are researching Métis habitation and traditional land use in the Lesser Slave Lake region.

Andreeff found maps of the area from 1819-20 in the Hudson Bay Company museum in Winnipeg. Closer to home, he spearheaded a program to research how traditional knowledge has been passed down to our time.

To make the information pillars, Lambert and Dancey went to the areas where people were harvesting. They walked the land and heard the Elders and knowledge keeper’s stories.

While writing the stories on the pillars, “I put myself alongside of you,” Dancey told the Elders and traditional knowledge keepers at the launch, on Nov. 23.

Traditional use includes hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering plants for food and medicine.

“These harvesting practices are ongoing,” says Lambert.

“We’re recording and mapping the areas where they harvest. We’ll never hear their stories, if we don’t hear them now.”

Many were herbalists and have a great deal of knowledge about plants and the ailments they can help with.

As well as a researcher, Lambert is one of the traditional knowledge holders featured in the project. She learned hunting from her grandfather and gathering, canning and making bannock from her grandmother.

Métis featured in the project were also involved in other types of employment. One of the Elders started logging when he was in his mid-teens. Another worked in the Faust fish plant. There are also stories about firefighting.

“This is really about our community,” says Andreeff.

In total, Region 5 has interviewed well over 100 people about their traditional harvest practices. Part of the impetus for the project is to prove to the Alberta government that the Métis have been in the region for a long time. The project helps to “prove who we are and how we know what we know.”

The project aims, among other things, to “educate the Métis about their past lives,” says Lambert.

Also, to “educate people about how important people see harvesting. How they were taught by their Elders.”

The project isn’t finished, says Lambert. They’ve interviewed “quite a few and we have not even interviewed everyone in the region.”

Region 5 includes Slave Lake, Wabasca, High Prairie, several Métis settlements, and north to Peace River.

Left-right, Lorna Dancey, Walter Andreeff, and Bev Lambert. Behind them are the three displays Dancey made to highlight six Region 5 Métis Elders and traditional knowledge holders. Lambert did the interviews and is one of the knowledge holders. Andreeff coordinated the program.

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