Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New Peoples

I have been working through the book "The New Peoples
Being and Becoming Métis" for quite some time now.  It is a series of essays on how to Métis came to be.  My imprint of the book was printed backwards, so whenever I read it, it looks like I am reading backwards and upside down.  I keep trying to decide if that is somehow symbolic of us as peoples - just put together a little differently?  The one thing that really struck me in the book was the deliberateness of the French government in their interactions with the indigenous peoples.  The French government wanted intermarriages in order to increase population and support their claim to sovereignty and empire over the land. 
Perhaps it is naïve of me, but I didn't think of beurocracy as being such an organized thing at that point in history.  Imagining someone in Paris thinking about how to encourage French men to marry Indian women seems kind of surreal.  The Charter for the Company of New France included that "the Savages who will be led to the faith and to profess it will be considered natural Frenchmen, and like them will be able to come and live in France when they wish..."   I think of my own female ancestors, sent away to learn how to be good French wives following a vision by some civil servant in Paris.

This book is not the easiest of reads, perhaps reflecting it's age (from 1985).  However, it is rich in references, many of them standards if you want to start from the beginning of Métis scholarship (in a university context and from a white French male perspective.)  It covers the move from inclusion (accept jesus then you can be French), to a binary - choose to be European or Indian, to the "halfbreed" separate status with both the positive connotation of a separate culture worth preserving and the negative of being neither culture and belonging no where.  One essay has a little throw away wonder about how people transmitted "Métisness" which I found interesting as the most cursory examination would have clearly shown the familial pride in this identification as Métis which was shared with children together with the expectation that they would contribute to their community.

Some of the essays contain interesting bits about the early ways of life and  the growth of the metis population.  I am about half way through now and I will finish this book, but I don't think it is the easiest introduction to the "new peoples" and depending on your background and interests I would recommend starting somewhere else as an introduction to this subject. However, I think there are parts of this text that are worth reading and which provide some interesting perspective.  I'll update here when I finish this book.

Strangely this makes me think of the Dean Koontz book I just finished about Frankenstein and created men.  Overall our current vocabulary for talking about created identities is a lot richer than existed when this Metis book was created and that is a good thing.  We are all a lot more cobbled together as people, some of us consciously creating ourselves as we go along. 

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