Lisa Stephens shows off some simple dance steps to students at KVR Middle School as she teaches them to do a Métis style jig, part of cultural activities Monday at the school. Steve Kidd/Western News

Video: KVR students explore Métis culture and history

KVR Middle School immerses students in Métis culture

The Métis culture is a lively one, but it was even more lively Monday at KVR Middle School when the students took part in a Louis Riel Day gathering.

Terry Kennedy, president of the South Okanagan Similkameen Métis Association, is delighted to see all the activity, watching students enjoy a nutrition break with a Métis tea and cookies.

The gathering at KVR was in honour of Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, the province he helped found through the Red River Rebellion of 1869-70.

“Louis Riel was a very important person in Canadian history but also for the Métis,” said Kennedy, explaining that the kids were learning about Métis history and culture through different activities like dance, the language — Michif — and other cultural activities like making spoons – the musical instrument kind.

“This is the second year that the KVR school has done this and I think it is fantastic the Métis are being showcased within the school.”

Kennedy said it’s only in the last couple of decades the Métis have become more proud of their culture and heritage, saying “this is who we are.”

“For so many years they have not done that because of a lot of racism. Other people did not value the Métis culture,” she said. “Learning about Louis Riel in the context of why he is important in Canadian history is part of people learning the story of the Métis.”

Riel, a politician and a political leader of the Métis, sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as Canada spread into the prairies, leading two rebellions. The North-West Rebellion of 1885 wasn’t as successful as his earlier action, ended in his arrest and conviction for high treason, and sentenced to hang.

“He was a Canadian hero, he was a traitor,” said s1, simply expressing the dichotomy of Riel, a cultural folk hero to the Métis and others. “The Canadian government was just taking over the whole land and he decided to stand up and defend the Métis and First Nations people.”

Kennedy explained how the inhabitants of what would become the prairie provinces asked Riel to help them.

“They wanted a voice, they wanted someone to speak up for them because First Nations people and the Métis were ignored in all of this negotiation for this land they had grown to think of as their own.”

For the Grade 6 students at KVR, that ancient history was brought back to life as they explored the ongoing culture of the Métis that Riel was standing up for.

“It is really quite interesting to watch them go through the various station throughout the day. They are very involved and they are quite enjoying it,” said Kennedy.

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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