In Search Of Family Identity And Heritage
This past week, my personal life has been in a whirlwind. You see, a friend called me up and told me something that would change everything.
I met this friend in 1995 when I was a newly single mom with 3 small children. As I tried to sort out my life and figure out my future, she and I would talk for hours. There was a bond between us that goes further than we realized then.
As I shared about my past—a discussion came up about my deceased dad. He died of a heart attack at the age of 31. I was only 9 years old. But even despite that, there were many things that I remembered and cherished in my heart.
It was during one of those conversations with this friend in 1995 that I shared some of that dearly held information.
My First Toy
It all began with my birth in 1963. My dad bought me my first doll.
It was a native doll.
She had the dark skin, and was my most precious baby. As I grew, I would play for hours with her. There was a burlap dress I would dress up in, with a headband. I even had a vinyl hard backed papoose carrier that laced up with a very long shoelace. My “papoose” was carried everywhere with me as I went about playing.
I loved that doll.
My dad would tell me that the doll was special, because I was special.
The Words Of My Father
Sometime over the years before he died, he shared with me precious secrets. I remember him telling me I was related somehow to Louis David Riel of the Manitoba Riel Rebellions in the mid-1880’s. But, as a child, I did forget “who” the exact family connection member was.
However, my dad did tell me that my Grand-pere Belanger had Louis Riel’s journal. That alone told me, we had a precious family connection to the Riel family. Otherwise, why would my Grand-pere have this journal?
My Grand-pere passed away in 1979, and by 1986, my Grand-mere was being approached by the Royal Ontario Museum. They knew that she had possession of this “rumored” Louis Riel journal.
It must be true then!
There is a connection between my family and Louis Riel. Again, why would we have this journal in our family possession if such a thing was not true?
But, as things happen when loved ones die, sometimes family drifts apart.
Put That Away
After my father’s sudden death in 1973, my mom made me put my “papoose” away.
I was no longer allowed to play “Indian” as I called it. (I realize that this is not the correct terms for today, but hey, I was 10 years old—I called it playing “Indian”.)
Everytime I would try to bring up about discovering more about my dad’s side of the family and my heritage—my mom would discourage it. I wasn’t allowed to discuss it. In fact, I would try to say I was related to Louis Riel somehow, and my mom would call me a liar. In fact, she would shame me about it by saying things like– “The only good Indian, is a dead Indian”.
This of course, hurt and scarred me deeply. Rather than to be verbally abused in this way, I stopped talking to my mom about it. I closed down inside.
After years of also not knowing how to connect with my dad’s family, I eventually, completely stopped talking about it.
It was hard to connect with the Belanger/Beaulne family from the Cochrane and North Bay region. You see, my dad was the youngest of 5 children. Which meant that my cousins are all older than me too.
As it happens, the family connection was broken and we all lost touch.
So, sadly, I tucked these thoughts about, and longings for my heritage deep inside my heart. A part of me did not feel complete.
A Good Friend To Open Up Too
Sometimes with tragedy in life comes a reawakening of other things. My marriage broke up in 1994, and I found myself with 3 small children to raise alone. One thing reawakening deep inside me was my longing to know more about my heritage.
Over coffee one day, I shared with my new friend about my suspicion of being of Metis heritage.
You see, my friend looks more indigenous than myself, so I had been asking her about her own heritage. She, too, suspected that she was Metis. However, when she ever asked her dad about it, he would flatly deny it and say no way were they “Indian”. “Why on earth would you think you are native?” he would retort back to her.
So, my friend was also being shamed into silence.
But one day, she and I opened up to each other about deeply personal things such as our suspected Metis heritage. But with no proof from other family members, all we could do was talk about it to each other.
A Sudden Phone Call
Then last week, this dear friend called me up and said that we had to talk.
You see, her dad had recently had a conversation with her that would change her life forever too!
He called her over to discuss their previously denied—Metis heritage.
She is now in the process of gathering her paperwork to submit to the Metis Nation of Ontario Registry. Her aunt had traced the family line and found the Metis ancestor. As a result, her aunt, dad, and her sister were now proud card holding Metis status indigenous people.
My friend remembered our conversation all those years ago. She called me and told me about the process and more general acceptance of the Metis people. That perhaps we no longer had to hide within our Canadian society. That now is the time to stand proud and say, “I am Metis”.
My friend said I would need to go searching on a site such as ancestry.ca and find out what my family tree really is.
She said, “Didn’t you tell me of a Louis Riel connection? Then perhaps now you will be able to find out what that connection is.”
Suddenly, over the past week, and using the 14-day free trial of ancestry.ca, I have discovered a huge amount about my dad’s side of the family.
Marie Louise McGregor Belanger
An Unexpected Firm Metis Connection
Although I greatly suspect that as I build my family tree I will find several more Metis ancestors, the Riel connection really surprised me. I thought that my Riel connection would feed up through my Belanger side of the family. Well, it does, sort of.
From me, to my dad, and my Grand-pere Belanger.
Then suddenly, this is where the interesting discovery occurred.
It was my Great-Grandmother Marie Louise McGregor (pictured above) that was the connection.
Did you know that a Robert McGregor, a voyageur from Scotland, came to Canada in the 1700’s and married a Metis woman?
This woman turned out to be my Great-Grandmother’s –Great-Grandmother.
In fact, my Great-Grandmother Marie Louise was 14 years old when this Metis woman passed away in 1898. This Metis woman was 102 years old at that time.
Who is she?
She is the Aunt of Louis David Riel. Her brother is Louis Riel Sr.
Marie Louise Riel, born in 1796 went by several names. Thus, this makes researching her a bit more confusing. However, she is also known as:
- Maria Louisa (Chipakijikokwe) Riel
- Marie Louise (Chipakijikokwe) Riel
- Mary Riel
- or simply, Marie Louise Riel
To me—she is my Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Marie Louise Riel McGregor.
Marie Louise (Chipakijikokwe) Riel McGregor
I Am Metis
After all these decades I am breathing differently. I was not crazy, I did remember what my dad had told me with some deal of accuracy.
In fact, I am the 6th cousin to Louis David Riel.
I am Metis!!
It now feels like I am becoming whole—that part of my heritage is being restored. It is like receiving my inheritance from my dad.
Now, as I am the Elder of the Belanger line under my dad, I have to build the lineage path to start the registration process. Which is proving a bit of a challenge as I am the oldest surviving member in this line. It is my place and responsibility to my fellow Metis family members to come forth out of the shadows and help us to regain our family identity and heritage.
When I am complete, between my brother, sister, and our combined families, there are a possible 22 of us who can stand Metis proud if we desire to.
I, desire to! No longer will I be shamed about my heritage.
I am Metis!!
Thank you to my Metis friend who helped me discover my own precious Canadian – yet distinct heritage.