“I’ve always been able to see things. When I was just a child, I could see something in a rock or in a tree - just walking through the woods I’d see something. Spirits are what they are, tree spirits I call them... I would just look at it and have an idea whether I was in the woods or on the beach. Then I would take it home and go through each piece and just really look at it, turn it in different directions until I saw something. Then I would just move away some wood. In a lot of cases, once I moved the rotten wood away - some of these pieces were rotten, especially the driftwood - then something else would come out. So it would just sort of develop itself.”
[Bruce Hebert was interviewed by Dr. Marilyn Walker. The interview was recorded and transcribed by Carly Levy and Jessica Svenningson on February 23rd, 2012 at Mount Allison University.]
Marilyn: Welcome and thank you for participating. Now Bruce is an artist and can I call you a Métis?
Bruce: I’m registered as one.
Marilyn: Oh, you’re registered? Ok, so let’s start the interview with that. When did you get registered, what made you decide to get registered, and what does it mean to you to be registered?
Bruce: Well I just started finding out about my Métis roots about four years ago through Émile. Actually I knew about it for years, that I had an Aboriginal background but through the paperwork that Émile has come up with, the proof was there. Seven grandmothers just on my mother’s side were Métis, no, Mi’kmaq people. So after talking with Émile I decided to, I thought it was the direction I’d want to go. I don’t celebrate it like I should or maybe [how] he’d want me to, but in my own personal way I celebrate it.
Marilyn: And did you find out anything about your ancestors on your father’s side?
Bruce: Not on record, and for different reasons, but back in the day most of the records were destroyed or lost. But there are people on my father’s side who look more Native than on my mother’s side. Which gives me, you know, a very strong opinion that there is even more on my father’s side than on my mother’s side. But on my Mother’s side the records somehow got saved by a trip to Yarmouth and they were salvaged and found through Roland Surette, which was quite amazing.
Marilyn: And how did you register, because quite a few people have mentioned this on the website but we don’t actually have anyone who has described the process.
Bruce: I’m just registered through a Canadian artist website. I just did some research on it, and I come up on this site, and registered as an Aboriginal artist.
Marilyn: And so are you registered as a Métis artist or as an Aboriginal?
Marilyn: And they don’t ask for any more about your background than that?
Marilyn: How long have you been working as an artist? You’re becoming more and more recognized.
Bruce: Not professionally, I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember in some form, but mainly painting for the first few years, and doing small carvings, that kind of thing. And then I started the tree carving and the bigger carvings about 2004.
Marilyn: And you’ve got carvings from trees that were being cut down on Bridge St. And you’ve also got a number of them in Amherst. Are they anywhere else?
Bruce: They are scattered around. Most of my work is small carvings that people have just carried away. And it’s pretty much all up there on the website, most of them anyway, 80% of them.
Marilyn: So you have a website to promote your work?
Marilyn: So you donated the talking stick that I have here to Mount Allison. So we want to mention that. Can you talk a little bit about the process of your work as an Aboriginal artist or as a Métis artist?
Bruce: I’ve always been able to see things. When I was just a child I could see things in rocks or in trees, just walking through the woods I'd see something. Spirits is what they were, tree spirits I call them. And a lot of other people couldn’t see these things. So that’s what sort of got me into the arts, carvings and things. Chainsaw carving came about by accident. My brother asked me to go to Ontario to carve a tree that had to be cut down.
Marilyn: When we were talking before, you were talking about finding a piece of wood or a piece of driftwood and cutting away what was extraneous to reveal…
Bruce: Well, I would have a quick look at it and have an idea if it could be something. Whether it’s found in the woods or on the beach. I would take what I found home and go through each piece. I would really look at it turning it in different directions until I saw something. Finally, I would just move away some wood. In a lot of cases I have to move the rotten wood away, especially on the drift wood, and then something else would come out. It would just sort of develop itself.
Marilyn: So are you doing more pieces on Bridge Street?
Bruce: Yes, I’m supposed to do something.
Marilyn: Oh great. And how do people know how to get in touch with you for these carvings?
Bruce: I get most of my calls from my website. They just see it and send me an email or, if they do a tree carving search, I’m one of the first ones on the list.
Marilyn: Ok, so let me move to some of the questions that were on the website that we asked other people. But I’m glad we could start yours with your artwork. And we can always come back to that. So, did you know about your Aboriginal background when you were growing up? Did your parents ever talk about it?
Bruce: I read a lot of the interviews you had with different people on that website. And I fall into that so, so much, almost every one of them and it’s the same story. Like it was all hidden from us, we suspected it. My family looks Native, like my grandfather; he looks like Émile, and my grandmother too. So that sort of thing, but nobody would ever discuss it, especially not my grandfather, it’d be Émile’s uncle, he would just get upset if you ever brought it up.
Marilyn: Why do you think that was?
Bruce: He’s was probably ashamed. Just growing up over the years he was just ashamed of it, of being – of having Native blood. And I didn’t know any different. We suspected, but it was no big deal to me, it was just who we were.
Marilyn: So do you have any Acadian background in there?
Bruce: I’m sure. Well just the name itself which is another thing. My name is supposed to be pronounced (ai-bare) but my family moved to River Hebert, spelt the same but pronounced (Hibbert), and everyone in River Hebert calls it River Hibbert, so of course that name stuck to us, and how can you change it? You can’t, because you’re living in River Hebert. It’s known as River Hibbert,. I used to see that name and some used to say it was ai-bear and I would correct them, I’d say, “That’s not me, I’m Hibbert but I’m trying to get it back, but it’s hard, especially living there.
Marilyn: Well I couldn’t figure out where it was at first because everyone was saying River Hebert, and I couldn’t figure out where it was or what language that was.
Bruce: Some of the Heberts that lived there, cause there’s a long list of them, changed the spelling to H-I-B-B-A-R-T or E-R-T, or something like that. Just because everyone pronounces it Hibbert, so that’s how they…
Marilyn: So that’s how they start to write it. So, did anybody in your family that you know of speak French?
Bruce: Oh yes, my mother. About my mother, they moved to Joggins when she was just seven years old, they didn’t know English, they were strictly French. And they had to learn pretty quick how to speak English. It was the mines that brought people to Joggins. With the mining slowing down in Minto at the time, there was no work. so the miners moved to where there was work, in Joggins, which was booming.
Marilyn: But, did they speak English? Did they have to learn and speak English?
Bruce: Yes, we didn’t really talk about it. But I’m sure they had a hard time, because they were strictly French when they came from Minto. And I’m sure my grandfather had a hard time because he had to work with – well there was probably other French people too, I would think, because there are a lot of LeBlancs and Cormiers, a lot of different French names down there. Acadian names I should say.
Marilyn: Do you speak any French?
Bruce: No I don’t.
Marilyn: So you never spoke French when you were growing up?
Bruce: No, I tried a couple times to ah, to learn it, but I just couldn’t, there just wasn’t enough of it around. I used to listen to my grandmother speak all the time, but there was not enough to pick it up.
Marilyn: So did your grandmother speak English and French?
Bruce: Yes. She had a French accent.
Marilyn: Ok, and what about genealogical research? Have you done any, or has anyone in your family done any?
Bruce: I’ve done a lot of reading on it. Like, growing up in school, we learned about the Acadians, and I always thought they were just a group of people. That was it, that it really wasn’t me. ‘Cause as I said, I'd see the name, and the name was H’ebert. And that wasn’t us, and it wasn’t till high school when I realized that, yeah, that is my ancestry. And so I did do some research on that, and I sort of come up with my own opinions on what happened, ‘cause only one side of the story was written.
Marilyn: But your family obviously stayed here then, during all this?
Bruce: No. No, they moved down in probably the forties. both families, like my grandfather, well my mother is like seventy-six so when she was seven she was, so it must have been seventy years ago, that’s when they moved down to Joggins from Minto.
Marilyn: From Minto? [Bruce nods] Uh, huh. But, ah, going back all those generations, in your family, the Acadians must, in your family, and the Mi’kmaq, obviously stayed here. They weren’t part of the…
Bruce: Well, my mother’s family, they sort of went north, and then they went to Yarmouth. And that’s how the papers got salvaged, because there really wasn’t a lot of activity down there. And that’s my understanding anyway. So that’s where the paper work comes from.
Marilyn: You know the story about the expulsion obviously, because that’s part of your artwork. But your family wasn’t part of that expulsion?
Bruce: Oh yes, I’m sure we were because the first Heberts that came here, they were just two brothers, and they were Acadian. And then they started mixing with the Aboriginal people in North America.
Marilyn: So some members of your family, you don’t know which ones, at some point in your family history, some of them would have left.
Bruce: Oh yes, we’re talking years ago, you know, like the 1700s.
Marilyn: Do you know when those two brothers immigrated?
Bruce: In the 1600s. It’s listed. I have a family tree thing going. And it’s in sixteen something when they both come over. And they were here a long time before the expulsion. There’s a graveyard in Minudie and there’s dozens of gravestones marked with Hebert.
Marilyn: And I’m going to ask you to say that name again so that when you’re writing it down we get it right. Minudie?
Bruce: Minudie, yes.
Marilyn: Where’s that?
Bruce: That’s actually not far from here, right where the river in Sackville is.
Marilyn: So, you’ve answered some of these questions, but I’ll ask you anyway, just in case you’ve got anything to add. Was being Aboriginal emphasized at all in your family? And what about other members of your family? Do you have brothers and sisters?
Marilyn: Do they – are they interested? Do they know about their background?
Bruce: Well, we grew up like, I always thought we were just a poor family, living in the back woods in Lower Cove. There really wasn’t anything around. And we were all like that, even all the other families. So I just always thought we were a poor family, and we had a good childhood. But when I think about it now, we were growing up like Natives would have. Like in the summer time all we would have on is a pair of shorts with bare feet, we could run down a gravel road and it wouldn’t hurt our feet at all, or on a beach. That’s what we did while we were kids. That was the way it was. And you know you can’t choose where you’re born, or by whom, so...
Marilyn: And so what do you remember about your food? I’m asking if your family did any gathering in the forest.
Bruce: Oh yes, like, we lived right beside the Chignecto Bay. And so we, I have a twin brother, and there’s another set of twin boys, so like we were always hunting and fishing. Not because we really had to, but in a way it was, because it was expected of us to set a snare line for rabbits, and to put hooks out for cod fish. That’s was the way it was, the food didn’t go to waste, it was brought home and eaten. And we always had gardens that would be the Acadian side. We had big gardens, and we used to work them as kids.
Marilyn: And what did you grow? Do you remember?
Bruce: Mainly potatoes, carrots, just everything, corn.
Marilyn: So did you grow up eating Acadian dishes?
Bruce: Not really. We just ate meat and potatoes. Like deer meat, rabbits, beef and other stuff. And you know hamburg and just that sort of thing.
Marilyn: And what about medicines? Did you use any medicines? Do you remember your grandparents?
Bruce: Yes, I remember my grandmother; she used a plant for burns quite a bit.
Marilyn: Did she teach any of that?
Bruce: No. You could say it just really wasn’t spoken of. ‘Cause, it was something my grandfather, it was something he didn’t even want to talk about. He’d get upset when you talked about it actually. And he’d fight with somebody if he ever called him an Indian. That’s the sort of way he was, because they didn’t get good jobs down here like, if you were a white man.
Marilyn: Is he still living today?
Marilyn: And, any of your grandparents?
Marilyn: So, do you think it’s possible for somebody who’s Métis to create a harmony between their European and their Aboriginal backgrounds? Maybe it’s a leading question, because I think you’ve been able to do so through your artwork.
Bruce: Oh ya, I have my own ideas. Like, when you think back about the expulsion for example, that was terrible but, it is something that, let’s say that the British felt like they had to do it. And for that reason, or so the history books would say, that the Acadians wouldn’t sign the allegiance to Britain. But they couldn’t because they would be turning their backs on their familys, the people that the British hated, which was the Natives. So that’s why they couldn’t, some people say it was that they just wanted to be left alone. Well they did, and maybe the British thought the Acadians were going to join the French. Well they wouldn’t, I don’t think they would do that from what I read, they weren’t going to sign allegiance to Britain and be against their own family. Which were the French and the Natives.
Marilyn: So what do you think the relationship is today between First Nations, the Mi’kmaq and the Maliseet, and the Métis?
Bruce: Well, this is just my thinking, in a way we turned our backs on them because, during the expulsion, we went away, and then we came back. But we did sign allegiance to Britain. I went to school, every day we sang “God Save the Queen.” At the time I didn’t really think anything about it, but now I know why we did it, just to drill in us allegiance to the Crown. So we did turn our back on the Native people.
Marilyn: Now, what kinds of things have you participated in as a member of the Métis community?
Bruce: Like I mentioned before, I don’t celebrate it like… I’m proud of my Aboriginal background and I really missed out on the culture that could have been. Because if it was today, the way the different cultures aren’t separated, it might have been accepted back then. And I have my reasons why I think it wasn’t, and that’s because the land was being taken, and it’s kinda hard to take land from someone you like. So you hate them. And so you drill that hate into everybody, so that’s why the Natives were hated, because they had land. They had something and they had the best places, the best pieces of land, so they had to be driven off it. So it’s a lot easier when you hate the people…
Marilyn: Do you participate in any ceremonies?
Bruce: I really didn’t know much about it, we were forced to go to church, and I had no problem with that - you know, you need religion or something to believe in. And then Émile starts to teach me about spirituality, so I’m trying to learn some of that. And I want to learn it, because I believe that it’s more powerful than even the Catholic religion. So I do my own thing in my own way. Like, if I take something out of the woods, I’ll leave tobacco, or before I start carving, I’ll ask the great grandfathers to guide me through it, and also protect me so I won’t hurt it. And that’s about it... I just don’t do it like a ceremony, I just do it myself.
Marilyn: You’re not doing it a formal way, but in a personal way?
Bruce: Right, because people that watch me carve just wouldn’t understand that.
Marilyn: And what about your connections with Métis from other parts of the Maritimes or other parts of Canada? Do you feel any connection with Métis elsewhere?
Bruce: Like in some of these interviews that I read, this is where the Métis started. They say there’s no Métis this side of Ontario. it had to start here, this is where they first came. And then they eventually moved off, towards the west. It’s just that the people down here, the Acadians, for example, there’s all kinds of Acadians. Probably most of them are Métis but they decided that most of them will deny it. In my family, there’s a lot of people that still won’t recognize their Aboriginal background. Now, I have. My twin brother, it’s his way of life, he’s always hunted and fished and he still does that. That’s just his passion, he does it every day.
Marilyn: How easy is it to incorporate traditional values into your world today?
Bruce: It’s getting harder because there’s so much waste. There used to be moose down around our area once you could go get one or two but there’s none down there at all now. They’ll shoot everything down there. Even hunting rabbits… they’re getting scarce because of the coyotes… the coyotes were introduced into this area… but that’ll change once there’s no rabbits and probably no cats and that sort of thing then they’ll start dying of starvation and then the rabbits will come back it’s just a cycle – it’s happened already.
Marilyn: Do you belong to any Métis organizations?
Bruce: Eastern Woodland.
Marilyn: So that’s the Eastern Woodland Métis Nation Nova Scotia?
Bruce: Yes, and the reason is because that’s the one Émile has connection to so it was so easy for me to do it. I just had to take Émile’s information that he’s researched for years and years and he finally got it and it was so easy for me because he’s my cousin. I just took his father and my grandfather who were brothers and I just continued from there and sent that in. My mother had to register because there had to be a connection, my grandfather and my mother and then me.
Marilyn: So you’re all registered with Eastern Woodland?
Marilyn: Is your brother a member?
Bruce : Yes.
Marilyn : He joined too?
Bruce : Yes, I have six siblings - my twin, another set of twin boys, my youngest brother and two older sisters. The only one who hasn't registered is my youngest brother, and one of the twins, but is in the process of it.
Marilyn : All the others became Eastern Woodland Métis Nation?
Bruce : Yes
Marilyn : You were the one who instigated it in your family?
Bruce : Yes. Émile approached me because I really didn't know anything about it- I really didn't know Émile until just a few years ago when my mother mentioned something about him making a connection so I started talking to him. I always knew there was a connection, but we were always told that there was no way you could prove that. So for me to read it, actually read the names - you know that was something special to. But you just don't know for sure until you actually see it in writing.
Marilyn : Are you an elder?
Bruce : Yes.
Marilyn : How did that come about and when?
Bruce : I'm not sure the date it was during a Minudie harvest festival. Émile and Blair Léger I believe, made me an elder. Emile thought I have a lot to offer as far as my carving goes which I was doing anyway. Anyone at all is welcome to come and watch me carve. I'm open to any questions so I think that's why they made me an elder.
Marilyn : And you received an eagle feather?
Bruce : Yes.
Marilyn : Do you still go to church, to the Catholic Church?
Bruce : No.
Marilyn : So your aboriginal spirituality has become prominent?
Bruce : Yes. We had to walk to church like five miles and we walked every Sunday, it didn't matter whether it was snowing or raining we walked. So we came to hate it. We stopped when we got old enough to because our mother let us decided for ourselves.
Marilyn : Do you have a Métis sash?
Bruce : Yes.
Marilyn : When do you where it?
Bruce : I really don't wear it. I do things my own way. I don't like being in ceremonies. I know Émile would like to see me go to these ceremonies but I don't. Like if there were any more people here I would feel uncomfortable. I don't like crowds and that sort of thing or being the centre of attention.
Marilyn : So do you think there are any particular issues or challenges that the Métis in the Maritimes face today or do you think it's all opening up for people who want to know…
Bruce : It's going in the right direction but it's very slow. I think the apology that the Canadian government made to the Aboriginal People helped it along. And I think there are teachers in the school that want people in there to teach because other people are invited, like Émile is invited- not enough but he can't do it all the time. I don't know how you can get that culture back and that's the hard part. At least it's going in that right direction.
Marilyn : Do your children know that they have aboriginal background?
Bruce : Oh yes.
Marilyn : Did you have any formal training as an artist or did you learn everything hands on?
Bruce : I took two years of commercial art. Where we came from we couldn't afford to go to university or college so I did go to, it's like a community college, for two years to take commercial arts. The art school was in Middleton [Nova Scotia]; at the time it was Annapolis Regional Vocational School.
Carly: Do you make any other kind of art besides carvings?
Bruce : I do portraits and that's what I really like doing. My website [ Bruce hebert.com], I have one of Émile on there.
Carly: Would you talk a little more about how you connected with Émile?
Bruce : When he came around here he was into the aboriginal thing and I didn't know him, my mother knew him but didn't really want anything to do with his beliefs and she certainly never told us. He was here fifteen years or more before my mother even mentioned it because he mentioned to her that we could get our card through him. When we were brought up, that stuff wasn't discussed and I hear that so much, because it's something everyone was ashamed of and that's a sad thing and it really bugs me because if it was today you know, all these cultures are accepted and they welcome people with open arms, it doesn't matter what background they have.
Marilyn : Is there anything you would like to add?
Bruce : I wish I knew more about it all. I missed a big part of it and I'll probably never learn it. I'm learning some through Émile about how I thank the spirits when I'm using the wood, and for guidance. I am slowly learning but I'm learning in my own way.