Stories

Modern Métis

written by Kally Groat

In 1907, the creation of Jasper National Park initiated legislation to remove any private landowners in the area of the new park. Six well-documented Indigenous families, some who had homesteaded here for over a century, were suddenly deemed squatters, their guns and other means of hunting were confiscated, and the families were forced to leave home. But the resilience of the Mountain Métis people is strong – and their story doesn’t end there. 

On the south end of a meadow in the Athabasca Valley, just below Jasper’s famous peaks, sits a dovetailed log cabin. At one point it housed ten children: among them was my great-grandmother. This is the setting of the Moberly homestead, which I visit often and try to picture their lives here, the livestock they would have had to travel with for two years, the smell of the smoke shack, how they would have moved about the landscape. Life was hard, no less. 

Métis means “mixed blood,” which describes a group of people with Indigenous and European backgrounds. In this case, the natives of this area were called Aseniwuche Winewak ᐊᓯᓂᐊᐧᒋ  ᐃᐧᓂᐊᐧᐠ  (Rocky Mountain People), who spoke nêhiyawêwin ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐁᐧᐃᐧᐣ (Cree). The Moberly’s, as well as the other five families—despite their hardships—would later become known as some of the most legendary mountain guides and horse people in the Northern Rockies. Their progeny would continue to hunt, trap and harvest in traditional ways.

The two women I interviewed and I share the same great-great grandparents, Ewan and Madeline—the heads of house in the Moberly homestead—and so we are cousins, or long lost cousins, though it seems the more folks I meet, the more relatives I have. But we also share similar values of connecting with the idea of home. The question is whether these values were passed down directly through stories and pictures, or, maybe, a sense of self reveals itself like a spring frost: what’s underneath takes shape in the landscape, in our communities, or ultimately, we find it’s been in our blood the whole time. 

CANDACE  

Having grown up in Brule, a hamlet across the river from where her ancestors lived in Jasper, Candace Dow had a strong connection to place, but it took her a long time to reconcile with the Jasper exodus, and what it meant for her native ancestors to be forced to leave home. “We were not exposed to our culture as kids,” she says. “[For our parents] it wasn’t something to be celebrated.”

Candace, though, always had a fascination with her background, even though it was “just something you heard about now and then,” so she focused on gaining a sturdier knowledge of the land, pursuing Bio-Sci and Forestry. Later, her fifth generation outfitter genes revealed themselves when she joined her partner, Luke, in providing sustainable horseback hunts around northern BC. Her combined interest is perhaps the most Métis thing about her: “I feel like I have the two-eyed seeing approach, being a Métis. This means I can see the world from both the Indigenous traditional perspective and also the western scientific approach—a bridge between two worlds.”

She now lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, with Luke, and their two sons, managing another business: Northern Nomad, an Indigenous run, eco-tourism venture that fuses hiking, skiing and horseback adventures, with a focus on yoga and wellbeing. Candace is a yoga guide herself; in 2019 she received her teacher training in Ireland. She says of the work, which takes her family into the mountains 100 days of the year, “Somehow I ended up with a traditional mountain lifestyle, but I feel like the choices I’ve made haven’t really been choices. I’ve been led back to this life.” 

LAUREN

Lauren Moberly, of Grande Cache, AB—where many of the families settled after the Parks eviction—is a harvester and soap maker, living as sustainably as possible on a traditional territory with her husband and three children. It is obvious in speaking to her, and looking at her Instagram page (@fallen_mountain_soap), how much the connection to her Cree and Métis culture informs who she is and how she does business. 

Care goes into every aspect of production, from harvesting local plants to imbuing each soap with meaning and with Cree names, like
Rose Bush * OKÂMINAKASÎWAHTIK and Sweetgrass * WÎKASKWA. “Every bar of soap I make is an act of reconciliation,” Lauren says, “because each is wrapped in recycled materials, made from plants foraged from the land, and labeled both in Rocky Mountain Cree and in English. This simple soap merges the two worlds' views.”

This background, to her, means that she comes from “a long line of resilient people who challenged the odds while staying true to their roots.” Fallen Mountain is a balance of personal interest and expression, and honoring traditional skills held by many in the community. In addition to soap, Lauren offers resin soap dishes, either made with rocks gathered from around Grande Cache, and dishes made with various bullet calibers, which pay homage to accomplished hunters. She also sells beaded lighter holders made by local artisans. 

Lauren says of her ancestors, “I’m really just trying to live by their example,” and jokes, “but I’m grateful I can travel faster than they could.”