Oshawa celebrates Metis heritage

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Story and photos by Hillary Di Menna

Metis Heritage Celebration at Memorial Park in downtown Oshawa.

Oshawa celebrated multiculturalism last week with Fiesta Week, and as Mayor John Henry pointed out, the Metis Heritage Celebration fit right in on June 25 and 26. It was a weekend full of music, art and lessons in Metis heritage. Memorial Park hosted the annual event, this year being it’s sixth.
Artifacts and cultural items, such as a 26-inch birch bark voyageur canoe, were displayed. Vendors sold many things such as jewelry, clothing, hunting supplies and dolls. Information desks surrounded the park, as did post-secondary education booths from UOIT, Brock, Trent and Lakehead.
Mayor John Henry spoke at the Metis Heritage Celebration in Memorial Park.

For the children, there were arts and crafts and storytelling. Copies of children’s book, I Like Who I Am, a story about a young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mohawk girl not fitting in, was sold and autographed by author Tara Right.
Many booths were selling dream catchers, now popular and seen as protective charms that catch nightmares. Micheline Maynard and her sister suggested for extra protection, to add cedar bark to the woven interior and to hang the catcher in the window.
A dream catcher in a window.

From the bandshell, people were invited to share in prayer before smudging. “A cleansing with smoke … smudging is a personal endeavor,” and is practiced differently by each individual. For example, some do not want their pictures taken during the process. Sage, sweet grass and cedar were burned and people unfamiliar with smudging were told to guide the smoke with their hands over their face, washing away bad energy, before the smoke rose to the heavens with messages.
Across the park from the bandshell was a blue teepee with a sign saying storytelling performance times. Back from visiting Nova Scotia, Claire Kearns, the Women’s Representative for Oshawa and Durham Region Metis Council, provided story telling for families. Though her sister, who is normally part of the skit, was absent, Kearns went on with the show. Kearns is a school teacher, mother and story teller, so she has a good understanding of how to keep children interested while teaching at the same time. On this day, she told a story of generosity and the history of caches.
Cultural storyteller Claire Kearns at the Metis Heritage Celebration.

Kearns and her sister Métis Nation of Ontario, Senator Cecile Wagar, have created a program of cultural stories and plays that they present to students, mostly French Immersion Grades 3 and 6, in the Durham Region. Kearns sees in the Metis Heritage Celebration an opportunity to share the history of the Metis and, “As a way to celebrate yourself,” no matter your culture.
To learn more about First Nations history Kearns suggests reading We Were Not the Savages by Mi’kmaq Elder, Dr. Daniel N. Paul.

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