CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 19 . . . . May 24, 2002
This large (500-plus 8 1/2"x11" pages) and expensively produced (almost seventy pages of photographic plates, many in colour) is very much a group enterprise: sponsored by the Canada Millennium Partnership Program, it is based on the collaboration of the Louis Riel Institute of the Manitoba Metis Federation (based in Winnipeg), and the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Metis Studies and Applied Research (based in Saskatoon). In addition, it has been supported, financially or "in-kind," by some twenty agencies and organizations both in Canada and the United States, ranging from the Canadian Museum of Civilization to the University of Montana Center for the Rocky Mountain West.
The compilation has been motivated by a concern for the state of Metis Studies both in Canada and the United States. Although written by and primarily for scholars, it is presented in a way that ensure its interest to a broad general readership; indeed, the goal of fostering a better understanding of the issues and prospects of Metis Studies in the larger community is implicit in the undertaking. In general, the balance between these two objectives has been successfully maintained.
The first section of the book comprises a sort of "state-of-the-art" review of Metis historiography. This assessment is premised on the claim that, until recent years, that historiography written in the main by "Euro-centric males" - had been biased and limited. It focused on individuals, and on political, social, and military topics, ignoring almost completely such matters as language, religion and spirituality, women, oral traditions, and on. The entry in recent years of Metis scholars from a range of disciplines has, it is argued, started to set that account aright, both in balance and scope; on the basis of their work, it is clear the area need no longer remain an incomplete and biased appendix to the mainstream of North American historiography. The area is now in the process of being studied in its completeness. The next challenge and one, if this book is to be used as evidence, that has not been met as yet will be to show this revised history in its proper relationship to the "mainstream," so-called. There is an inherent danger that in reclaiming the history the new scholars may inadvertently isolate it in yet a different way. But however incomplete, this present study is nonetheless a necessary and reassuring beginning.
The book itself is divided into three distinct parts, the first having to do with the current state of scholarship in the field. As an initial step in this reassessment, the first chapter of Part One proceeds through the task of "Deconstructing Metis Historiography," with sections devoted to the "Epochs of Metis History," "Emerging Voices of Metis Women," "Metis Identity and Community Studies," "Metis Oral Tradition and Spirituality," "Metis Culture and Language," "Metis Resistances and Political Activism," "Metis People and the Land," "Educational Resources About the Metis," "Metis Literary and Artistic Sources," "Canadian Military Service," and "Contemporary Issues". Following this overview, a series of free-standing chapters (representing the new genre of scholarship) deal with various historical issues, periods, and settings in both countries: touching on geographical settings (e.g., "The Emergence of the Metis Nation in Manitoba," by Bruce J. Shore; and "The Spring Creek (Lewistown) Metis: Metis Identity in Montana," by Martha Harroun Foster); on individuals (e.g.," Resistance Activist Elzear Goulet," by Todd Lamirande); on Metis music; on the Michif language; on the clothing and decorative arts of the Metis; and on Metis perspectives in contemporary art. A very useful final chapter deals with the issue of multiculturalism, as it is understood in contemporary social policy, and the special nature and circumstances of the Metis community in respect of that policy.
Two additional sections of the book deal, respectively, with "Metis Material Culture": a very attractive set of colour photographs of Metis crafts and artifacts, along with a primarily black and white but just as engaging collection depicting Metis life, historical and contemporary. The third and final section of the book includes a comprehensive annotated bibliography which will be of immense use to anyone wishing to pursue topics further or to use the book as an instructional tool. (The only complaint to be made here is that the bibliography is organized solely on an alphabetical basis.) This bibliography of print sources is followed by an equally useful compilation of videos, audiotapes, CD's and CD-ROM's.
Metis Legacy makes an important contribution, both as an opportunity to review and reassess the state of Metis Studies, and as an occasion to showcase examples of that new scholarship and of the teaching and research resources now available in the field. The book is an excellent example of the potential of effective scholarly collaboration between the academy and the community; and it will prove a very useful resource in any senior years or undergraduate courses and programs that in any way touch on the Metis experience.
Gregor is a professor of higher education at the University of Manitoba.
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