We got an invitation to attend the inauguration of the university president at Vancouver Island University in November.
It is not every day that my husband and I get to witness such an important event.
What made the festivities extraordinary is that the new president, Deborah Saucier, is of Métis heritage.
Her ancestry is European and Indigenous North American.
Soon after arriving for my four-month fellowship in Canada, I learned that the Métis trace their ancestry to marriages of French, English, Scottish, and other settlers, with Indigenous peoples.
My source—a woman of Métis descent who works at the Canadian Museum of History—said the definition of Métis is wobbly.
Métis means “mixed” or “mixture” in French.
Some experts argue that the Cree, Saulteaux, Ojibwa and Chipweyan peoples constitute the Métis—with a capital M.
Other folks with mixed ancestry are also métis—with a lower case m.
Some argue that the definitions are arbitrary.
Regardless of the definitions, Dr. Saucier was officially inaugurated in November at the official gathering place of the Snuneymuxw First Nation: the Longhouse.
The invitation by the First Nations Snuneymuxw was significant: it recognized Saucier’s Métis heritage as important to the community.
The Longhouse in the town we call Cedar is made by hand of local cedar-trees, with auditorium-style benches that hold large crowds.
Two fire pits warm the Longhouse and smoke rises to the openings in the roof.
The invitation asked us to wear warm coats and gloves for the ceremony, and to leave our regalia at home.
As it turned out, I didn’t bring my formal Osage regalia to Canada, because a family member is ill.
It would be disrespectful to my relatives to wear my regalia in the context of a celebration–something I had learned from my elders.
Regalia comes from the term that refers to royal accoutrements, so it seems a bit odd that we—as Indian peoples—refer to our formal, Indigenous clothing as “regalia.”
But we do.
I realized later that by “regalia” the invitation didn’t mean Native dress.
The invitation meant we didn’t need to wear our University robes and hoods: academic regalia.
I was struck that the terms we use carry such different meanings, depending on the context.
When in regalia regalia?
When is Métis Métis?
No matter: we got to see a river of people from a mixture of lives and identities participate in the inauguration that celebrated an Indigenous woman taking the helm of an exceptional university in British Columbia.
An extraordinary event, indeed.
24 November 2019
National Native Heritage Month USA
Photo by Scott Emery