Stories of Métis Women

Tales My Kookum Told Me

By Brenda Macdougall

edited by Bailey Oster and Marilyn Lizee
UpRoute Books
2021/$32.50/256 PP

This collection of life histories as told by 14 Alberta women of various ages and backgrounds is invaluable for anyone interested in 20th-century Métis experiences. The editors, Bailey Oster and Marilyn Lizee, members of the New Dawn Métis Women’s Society, curated the stories of mostly older women and organized them according to themes such as language, daily labour, food and medicine, but also based on specific community histories (St. Paul des Métis), residential schools and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. These life histories recount how Métis women and their families acted and reacted to internal community realities, following a strategy of “making do,” as well as external pressures fuelled by racism and discrimination. As a collection, these stories speak to the ability of women to overcome difficulties, advocate for change and empower themselves and others to understand that strength is learned and nurtured by the collective and not innately held by an individual.

Too often, Métis history reflects the experiences of men and the narratives of Red River and Manitoba. Stories of Métis Women instead turns our gaze to Alberta, the place in which the modern Métis political movement was born, and to the role of women in establishing the form and function of a Métis political voice.

Organized into four sections—nation building, culture and identity, dark times, and resiliency and celebration—that together seek to ground the collection in a general history of prairie-based Métis life, the strength of this work lives in the voices of the women as they recount their childhoods, relate memories of their parents and grandparents, and present first-hand accounts of racial discrimination in education, in child welfare and in daily interactions with non-Indigenous authorities. They offer a pathway forward through political activism and community empowerment.

Many of the women recounting their life histories in this collection are part of Maria Campbell’s generation and so, when combined, will contribute to the broader history of Métis women in the 20th century initiated by her autobiography, Halfbreed. However, while Campbell’s narrative ends in the early 1970s, the life histories contained in this collection take us into the 21st century. As a result, we can begin to see how women’s activism and advocacy for themselves, for their children and communities and for the nation itself respond to and shape events. Collectively these women have worked to make important changes for future generations, at the same time laying a foundation for understanding where we’ve come from.

Brenda Macdougall is a professor at the University of Ottawa.

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