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Friday, September 26, 2008

Learning Something New

Sheridan College hosted a group of First Nations artists, storytellers, and elders for its first-ever outreach to the Native people of Canada.

I only wish that I could have attended more events; I was at the opening dedication and then, after class, went to hear a Meti woman speak about her culture.

The Metis are the descendants of Native women and French trappers. They have been in Canada for several hundred years, but were generally 'neither fish nor fowl' in census. The culture remained undocumented, the speaker said.

For it was a separate culture. The Metis wore specially woven sashes, played spoons and special fiddles (made partially of birchbark) and danced to an unusual asymmetrical beat.

"Have you any time after your talk? I think that there is an animated film that is about your people," I said. The lady acquiesced and we walked to the library, where a print of Frederic Back's CRAC! was easily obtained.

Sure enough, the film is about the Metis. "He's got the Hudson's Bay blanket right! and there is the sash! and there is the whiskey jug next to the musicians!" the lady exclaimed joyously, while wondering at the work that went into Back's beautiful Oscar winning film.

So, the film that I thought was about French Canadians, was in fact about a particular kind of Canadian--most of whom lived in Ontario; though a few went West.

I wondered if Back himself was a Meti. No, it turns out he is not. He was a European immigrant to Canada. In which case CRAC! is a meticulously researched film.

It is about a culture that is forgotten and relegated to a museum, or so I thought.

Not so, my guest said. It is about the disappearance of the family.

I think that we are both right.

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