Emile“It's Mother Nature's book that is our bible. That is the bible we read and learn to read. Once you learn to read Mother Nature's book and learn to talk to the plants and to the animals, then you know one another and understand one another. Then you have compassion, then you have respect. But if you feel you are above all things because you are a human being, that is not right, that's not creation. So we're no different; the tree has a spirit and the spider has a spirit because of that little fire that they have inside of them. That is life, and once that life is gone it goes back to the same place where your life goes, right? So you have to know your spirituality and that is what's wrong today with the Métis, with First Nations, and so on; they may be red on the outside, but they're white on the inside. You have to know and understand the spirituality of your grandfathers and your grandmothers.”

[The following interview with Émile Gautreau from Amherst, Nova Scotia was conducted on November 10th, 2009 at Mount Allison University by Brett Martin, Crystal Black, Dr. Marilyn Walker, and her students in the Anthropology department. Émile is a Métis elder and a highly-esteemed spiritual leader within his community. He has been at the foundation of many initiatives involving the Métis of the Maritimes.]

Brett: Thank you first and foremost for coming and doing this with us today, it's very much appreciated. We have some interesting questions to ask you, if any of them make you feel uncomfortable in any way or you are not comfortable answering them please feel free to speak up and acknowledge that, and we would be happy to move on to another question.

Émile: Before you begin asking me a question, I have to ask permission, ok? All my relations, I'm happy to be here. I don't know what questions you are going to ask me but if you ask me about our people I have to ask permission before I talk about them. So grandfathers, grandmothers, I'm here today because people want to interview me and talk about you, and your people, I'm asking permission, I hope that you'll give me the wisdom and enlighten me so today I will follow the path that you want me to follow and will not divert from that path. We'lalin, Masi Cho.

Crystal: My first question is, when did you discover your Métis heritage? Did you grow up knowing or did you find out at a later date?

Émile: No, basically it's the same as Norbert, it was hidden and nothing was said at all at home. I knew that my mother was Mi'kmaq, but that wasn't talked about at all. We were Acadians as far as people were concerned, but when we went to school we had to learn English, so we learned nothing about our Aboriginal background. And I knew nothing until I was maybe twenty three or twenty four when I went into the far north and the people told me I was one of them, and eventually they made me an honorary member of their tribe. So then I knew, and they taught me who I am, and taught me the culture of my people, and these are the Dene in the far north. So if it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't know who I was, and if it hadn't been for them, I couldn't stand tall like I'm doing today and doing the things that I do. If I had gone home, being who I am today, the way I dress and the way my hair is, I would never have gotten the jobs I got because there is so much discrimination. My father told me, “Once you leave home, blend in, be like the English. Only the English are out here getting the good jobs, so just blend in, forget about your French, do what you want to do, but blend in”, and that's what I did until I was approximately twenty three or twenty four until the people there taught me who I was.

Brett: Do you think there is a possibility in the future for Métis people to create harmony between the European and the French heritage? Or do you think that they always conflict between your French Heritage and your Native heritage?

Émile: No, again Norbert said it quite well, as long as you know who you are as a Canadian. I'm a Canadian, I'm not French, I'm not this I'm not that, I'm a Canadian person, and after that, I'm Aboriginal, with Acadian blood, with Mi'kmaq blood, with Algonquin blood, whatever. But I am Canadian. Does this interfere with the Acadian thing, or whatever? No, no it doesn't, because I understand the Acadians, I understand the First Nations people, I understand the non-status people. All we have to do like he said is stand up for who we are. Know where you come from, you'll know where you're going, and if you know where you're going, you can do these things that you want to do in life, but we have to get to know, like Norbert said, again, our grandfathers and our grandmothers, and our great grandfathers and our great grandmothers, and honor them, just like I did when I began to ask permission.

So there's no conflict between us. Maybe those conflicts are with those that do not understand, eh? Those that maybe do not want to identify as Métis, maybe like some of Norbert's brothers and sisters. There's four in that family that don't want to identify. In my family, there were ten of us, but there are eight of us now, and all of us have identified as Métis, but only for one reason. Until I got my papers, because I knew who I was, they could never identify. They said they weren't Métis, they were just strictly Canadian. Once I got mine and identified and showed them where the blood comes from, now, every one of my family members has taken out their Métis papers, because now there are proud of who they are, but they never knew. And because they didn't know, they didn't know where they were going.

Crystal: I was wondering how much of your native language you know, if any, and how do you get to practice it?

Émile: What is my native Language? The Dogribs taught me the native language up north, my people down here? No. That was not spoken at home. Like I said, there was no way, but my grandmother did speak words to me, but she never said too much about it. She said “I speak Mi'kmaq”, and basically that was it. There were others in the family but she didn't tell them, so, nothing. There are a few words in Acadian, which we say like “Mushquee”, and so on, we knew that it was Native, eh, but we didn't know where it came from. My mother, whenever I went into the woods, she always asked me “Hey Émile, bring me back the spruce gum, I need it!” Or if I shot a deer, “Bring me back the liver, and the tongue, and the kidneys, and so on, I need it”, that is what my grandfather used to preach to me. He didn't care about the rest of the deer, eh, so that's as far as I knew. It was hidden, right?

Brett: With your Métis background, what values and/or wisdom do you believe are the most important thing to pass on to the next generation?
 
Emile 2Émile: The most important thing is to know the spirituality of our people. When the white man came here, they taught us to be Christians, and our spirituality was taboo. But how can you who you are if you do not understand your spirituality? Our people lived for thousands of years, respecting the things of Mother Earth, respecting creation, we feel that all things are related to us. We are all brothers and sisters to the plants and to animals and so on because they are all created by the Creator. We are no different. Everything has a spirit. Christians feel that there is a big heaven up there, and you're going to go to heaven. What about the poor little cat or the poor little dog? Or the deer or the moose or all these things that have the same spirit? Are they going to be just left to be recycled? Being recycled is nothing wrong with that. So with Native spirituality, once you understand it, the outdoors is your church, not indoors, there are no leaders, there is no one to tell you what to do. It's Mother Nature's book that is our bible. That is the bible we read and learn to read. Once you learn to read Mother Nature's book and learn to talk to the plants and to the animals, then you know one another and understand one another.    

Then you have compassion, then you have respect. But if you feel you are above all things because you are a human being, that is not right, that's not creation. So we're no different. The tree has a spirit and the spider has a spirit because of that little fire that they have inside of them. That is life, and once that life is gone it goes back to the same place where your life goes, right? So you have to know your spirituality and that is what's wrong today with the Métis, with First Nations, and so on; they may be red on the outside, but they're white on the inside. You have to know and understand the spirituality of your grandfathers and your grandmothers.

Right from the beginning, when we first made our wigwams, the door of the wigwam always opened towards the East, towards the rising sun, so that when you woke up in the morning you'd never forget to ask permission and say thank you. It's always been that way. When I take someone out into the forest anytime, I knock on the door four times and ask permission. I ask permission because I'm going into their home, and I'm bringing people into their home, so we have to ask permission. And when I leave the forest, I say thank you. That is why we use our sacred herbs: sage, cedar, sweet grass and tobacco. Native spirituality is not a religion, it's a way of life, and everything we do is symbolic. If we go canoeing in the rivers, we'll throw tobacco in the rapids to appease the spirits.

There's two worlds we live in, real world and spirit world. You know this real world, but that spirit world is also there, and when you go on your vision quest or your sweat lodges or your whatever, you will maybe be able see into this spirit world. Maybe some of these people of the past who travelled that land will come and talk to you. That is what makes us who we are, and until we learn our spirituality - not forget your Christian beliefs, or whatever beliefs you are, Muslims, be proud of those religions- but, don't discriminate against others because of their religion. Don't take away the religion that was ours, it is not a religion, but a way of life, and say, “That's bad, you have to follow the teachings of Christianity”. They did that, and that's the worst thing they ever did. Now we have to go back and learn our spirituality, learn who we are.

Brett: Because the French have always had such a background in being strongly Catholic, and Native people have always had their concepts of spirituality, have there ever been times when you've looked at say a Catholic base or a Christian base and been able to draw out similar concepts with them that relate to your spirituality that you could agree with or also find beneficial?

Émile: The only thing that I see in common is that the Church, they use incense, that's symbolic, eh? Just like we do with ours, but they didn't realize that. They do their singing and so on and we use our drum. Symbolic, the drum is, where our spirituality comes from, because it's the heartbeat of Mother Earth, the heartbeat of creation. The Church's symbol is the cross, but we also have the cross, and that's the four directions, the four winds, the four seasons, and that's what we call them. So there are similarities, the cross, the incense they burn, the incense we have here – I've got sage, cedar, sweet grass and tobacco - again, it's all symbolic and every one of them means something. If you believe in it, it works, if you don't believe in it, it's not going to work. That's the same with Christianity. If you believe what Christianity teaches you, maybe you'll go to this heaven in the sky, if there is one, maybe you'll be recycled with the children of the earth, if there is one.

Another thing that I sort of get turned off of is that everyone feels they should be cremated but a lot of people are afraid to go back to the earth because it is the children of the earth that have fed you throughout your life. Are you afraid to let your body go back to the earth and let the children of the earth feed on you? They made you strong; they made you who you are today. So why not share with them what you have and make them strong, like the great tree that falls down. That great tree can live 150 years, 200 years, 450 years like that great red spruce in Fundy National Park, but once that tree falls, the arms will hold it up, and for a long, long time it will slowly go back to the earth and all kinds of different children will feed on that tree. Eventually maybe after another 400 years, it will become all of Mother Earth. But it's going to take a long time. During death, that tree will give more life to whatever, than to what it did when it was alive, more life in death! Because it used its body to enrich Mother Earth and to feed Mother Earth, and that's the spirituality we believe in, that's it.

Crystal: You talked about how Métis spirituality is a way of life, I was wondering if you find it difficult to incorporate the values or your way of life into this modern world?

Émile: No! No, because like I said, Mother Nature's book is the book I learned to read, and when I talk, I talked to a thousand kids this past week from grade one to grade twelve in three different schools, and I just speak on what the four directions really mean, eh? Qualities that we need on our circle of life. You need wisdom, you need compassion, you need respect for the children of the earth, you need strength to do these things you need to do, if you don't have the strength to work on these special talents that each and everyone one of you have, you will never go anywhere. You'll lose, you'll get caught in a web. Be strong, know who you are. And then we need purity, we need the balance between good and bad, we need to clench our mind, our body and spirit so there is no conflict in either one because I know who I am and I understand my spirituality from what Mother Nature has taught me, not what others have taught, but mainly what Mother Nature has taught me, respect. No conflict.

Brett: We've been talking a lot in our class about animal spirituality, and you touched a little bit on it earlier. I was wondering if you could give your views on animal spirituality and also if you have a power animal? And if you do, could talk a little bit about that?

Émile: There is power in everything, power in the trees, power in the spider, there's power in the ant, there's power in the owl, and the eagle that flies high in the sky. Sometimes, they will come to you and help you with that power, and when they do, whether it's on a vision quest or whether you're just meditating, you have to learn all you can about that spirit animal or that spirit insect or whatever it may be. And once you learn all about them, you'll start receiving their power because then you can relate to them. But if you don't learn about them, that spirit animal is not going to mean much to you, eh?

So why come here today with my grizzly bear tooth? Because the grizzly bear, he's not dead, that grizzly bear. He may have died, but his spirit is still here, still roaming the earth. His spirit is still here in this tooth and the courage and the strength that that grizzly bear has, if I believe in it, I have it. My friend Maurice Zoe came down from the far north here a couple of weeks ago, and he talked to you, but he didn't come here with nothing in his pockets. He came here with his sacred little totems that he needed because that protects him, and I'm the same way. I have to have something, and they give me the strength, and it'll change. I'll not always be with the same spirit animal; it'll change maybe throughout your life because we change. Maybe you're young, you don't need such a strong spirit animal, but when you get older you may need more strength, so maybe I'll need the grizzly bear, but maybe in my youth, it was the white pine because that is what really grabbed me. The grandfather of all trees in the forest, the white pine, grows big and tall, strong. You use it for medicine, all kinds of good things there. So yes, they are there, but it is up to you to find it, and if you don't take the time to slow down, ease the pounding in your mind, or go on a vision quest, you'll never know what the spirit animal is. And it doesn't matter if it's a little chickadee, a humming bird, or the eagle in the sky, they all have power, or a tree or a shrub, or whatever.

Crystal: I was wondering what your role is in the Métis community. Besides speaking, is there anything else that you do?

Émile: My role. My role is not basically just with the Métis. No, I don't do just that. My role is to help young people understand compassion and respect in life so that they will know what they need to do. The young people are going to be the future elders, not me, not whatever, it's these young people, it's you, you're going to be the elders of tomorrow. I'm the elder of today, so is Norbert, but tomorrow you are going to be the elder, and unless you learn about Mother Earth and her children, what are you going to do? If you only learn about the stars and this and that and forget about the children of the earth and how we are destroying them, what kind of elder are you going to be? What kind of a leader are you going to be for your children, and your children's children, so that things survive? We have to understand that you are going to be an elder, and what do you want the future to be like? Métis is, you're just proud of being an Aboriginal. I have Aboriginal blood, I'm proud I learned the spirituality, but I don't go out to preach about Métis, or get people to join the Métis group. Be proud of who you are, be proud that you are you. Then you'll know where you're going.

Brett: In your opinion, what are the biggest threats to Métis culture in the Maritimes or the ability to be proud of who you are?

Émile: The biggest threat is that the Métis are not learning the spirituality of their grandfathers and grandmothers. The Métis are out there, a lot of them, looking for something like what the First Nations have, instead of being proud of who they are as Canadians. We don't want anything; all we want to do is to be recognized as a people. But I don't want any more than you, or you, or you, or you. I just want the government to recognize us as who we are. We have Aboriginal blood. There are no First Nations in Canada who are not Métis, all First Nations are Métis. The only difference between them and us is that they live on reserve. Their parents never gave up the rights. Our parents, like my mother's case, was given to my grandfather. He brought her up, and she never had any more contact with the reserve. So we didn't get First Nations rights. It's a good thing we didn't because when you're on a reserve, you're tied, you can't do what you want to do, and you have people telling you what you want to do. But as a Canadian, you can do what you want to do; you can be who you want to be. I can do what I want to do, no one can tell me I can't carry my talking stick, and do what I'm doing, or do sweat lodges or vision quests. I can do it, but if I was on a reserve, I couldn't do it, they could even tell me, “Hey Émile, you can't play that drum. We have a drumming group, and they are the ones who go out teach the drum”, see?

Crystal
: I was wondering if you know how to make any Métis objects, like crafts?

Émile: When I was in the North, I watched the people. These people were nomadic and they follow the four seasons, the four winds. I watched them and I learned a lot, and I listened to their stories. I learned about their way of life, but I never learned how to do the things that they do until I had the chance to slow down, when I got older, and then started doing them. So what do I do know? I do the things, when you can observe you can learn things through your book and all kinds of things, but unless you do it you can't teach it, just like with edible plants or medicinal plants, you have to go out there and do it – and I've learned all those things. If I say, “I'm gonna teach survival and eat the whatever in the forest,” I have to go out there and do it! So I went out there for four days, and all I ate, I didn't want to kill any animals, all I ate was the different vegetables I could find, and there's no problem, so that's how you learn.

Now, people drop off a deer hide, one was dropped off at my place yesterday, so I'm gonna use that deer hide, now I've got to take it and tan it and so on and I'll make drums and all kinds of things with it, medicine bags, whatever. Because now when I observe, I did observe, and now, because I've got an opportunity to do it, I do it! I learn to carve and take things out of the wood. When I take things out, I take out what is there, Mother Nature's carving, so I do that. I do all kinds of Aboriginal things that I never would have done before, but there comes a stage in your life when you've got to slow down, and you've got to take the opportunity and you've got to change.

If you stay in one career for your whole life, you're going to lose out in life. If you can change your career, like Norbert was in the army for five years, I was in the air force for five years, then I went and worked for the provincial government for two years, but then I got into the Canadian Forestry Service, and did forest biology and forest botany and etymology and all these things. I did that for fifteen years and it was a fantastic job, but after fifteen years I could see that there is no way they are going to kick me out of this job, and I'm just going to coast for the next fifteen years. And I said well, I can't do that, I've got to learn something else, so what did I do? I transferred from Canadian Forestry Service to Correctional Services Canada, went into the social field, eventually became a parole officer, a whole new career, did that, and before I retired, I got involved with the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Fitness in Nova Scotia, and there I taught courses in survival, woodmanship, edible plants all these things, and I worked with them for twenty years. For fifteen years this year I've been a volunteer, but, all those experiences made me who I am today, and if I hadn't had those I still couldn't be who I am, so you put them all together in a package, and eventually you can do things that you learned and you saw.

And what happens in life, many people will touch you in your circle of life, many people will touch you, and some will touch you and change you, and you will touch many people in your circle of life, and that is how we learn. So the more you get out there, the more people you have around you, the more strength you will have. Like the great tree, the great tree can't stand alone. I say it every time, that great tree has to intertwine its roots with the grasses and the shrubs and all the other things to hold itself up and the same way the plants intertwine its roots with the great tree and hold the great tree up, otherwise, everything would fall down. And you, as a class, if you're going to be alone, and work by yourselves, you're not going to learn from the others what they've maybe picked up on, something you missed out on, and that is what it's all about. That's why, the Aboriginal things you've asked me, what do I do? Many things, because now, they passed it on to me, and now I can do it, and I pass it on to others.

Brett: You talk a lot about passing things on to other people, and that you've worked in the correctional facilities before. We watched a video actually in last year's course about how they are trying to bring in spirituality practices into the Canadian jail system to allow for First Nations to be aware of their heritage. Have you done any work with that at all, or have you noticed how spirituality has affected the people you've worked with in these correctional facilities?
     
Emile 3
Émile: That's why I went into the corrections department, was because thirty percent of the inmates there are Aboriginals, not all First Nations, but the First Nations non-status, Métis, and a lot of them are there because they don't know where they're going and they're
brought up in very difficult times. So I figured, well I can go in there and get involved in the Native Brotherhood, and I did.

I was made an honorary member of the Native Brotherhood of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and I would learn from them. But at the same time, I could do things for them, so I could maybe promote outdoor programs with my Canadian Forestry Service experience, so I'd take them canoeing, if they were, you know, you have to make sure that they would not be too much of a security risk. I'd take them out for two or three days. Because what is the problem in a penitentiary service is that the majority of inmates are from urban centers, and they get in problems in urban centers, but once they get a problem, then they go to penitentiary, then when they're released they go straight back to an urban center. They never learned anything about the outdoor classroom, never learned anything about taking their kids out into the forest and being able to enjoy themselves on a camping trip, all they learned was the urban jungle.

This other thing out there, this is where you can slow down and be yourself and have fun with your family, but in the urban jungle, you can't do it. All that noise and everything like that, and the beer parlors and the drugs. There's no drug out there, the animals aren't going to teach you that, so that is what I tried to do. Get these urban inmates, Métis, whatever they were, to learn something about the outdoors, when they get out, don't just go back to the same place that got you here, go to a different place, go to the outdoor classroom, learn to read Mother Nature's book, take your family out there, and maybe then you will follow a better path and be a better person. So that's why I went there, and that's one of the things I worked on along the way. We had a forestry camp out here in Shulie, I was superintendant of the forestry camp, but again it wasn't the right thing, all we were doing was cutting trees down.

Sometimes you beat your head against the wall, I said “You can't just cut the trees down and use the trees for pulp and this and that.” Why not use the trees and build a log building for the provincial park like Chignecto or places like that? Where you can, out of a tree rather than cutting the tree down and hauling it out, here, you cut it down, you work on it, and so on, you got all kinds of work out of one little tree. Many people work on that. Put up a building, hey, instead of taking the 150 logs out, now you've worked on the fifty logs, it's taken you maybe a month, maybe two months to put up that building, I take fifty logs out take ya one day. So that's what I was trying to teach, but you beat your head against the wall sometimes, but when you do that, it's time to move on. So I moved on, and I'm doing what I do.

Marilyn:
One of the things you've done as a spiritual leader is identify some people as elders in the community. Could you talk about why you think that's important?

Émile: There are a lot of the Métis and First Nations, if you're First Nations, and on the reserve, to be an elder, it comes by you living in that community. They don't really have any ceremony for that, it's done because of your presence in that community. If you have good character and are helping people and whatever, and you know a lot about your background, and so on, your spirituality, you become an elder automatically, that's fine. But, when you're out here, there is no way of doing that, ok? On a reserve, maybe at sixty-five, seventy, you're automatically an elder, all people are elders maybe. But out here, no. So what I do with the Métis organization, we make people who are really determined, they stand out in their community, and they want to help the Métis community, we make them elders and give them the permission of carrying the eagle feather, because not everyone can carry the eagle feather, it's against the law. I am the only Métis in the Maritimes that has the authority to get an eagle from the government, and hand it out to people who need it. And elders, when you give them an eagle feather, you have to speak from the heart and speak the truth. If they are not willing to do that they can't be an elder so that's really why I do it. And then we have, you don't have to be Aboriginal to be an elder, if someone like Marilyn is working for our people doing things that are outstanding and I see it, I can make, Marilyn, Dr. Walker, an elder, an honorary elder of the Aboriginal people. And that's what we did at a ceremony here so others can see it.

Two weeks ago, I made a First Nations woman from Elsipogtog, from Big Cove an elder, an elder of our community because she is outstanding in the school, teaches grade one, two, three and so on, and the teachers wanted to do something for her. I said okay, they phoned me and said, “We want to do something for this Native woman, she's really good here. I said, “Okay let's make her an elder, she's only forty years old, she's not sixty or seventy. Man, when they said that to her, she said “Geez I am First Nations. I am from Elsipogtog, I don't know if I can accept it or not”. But she had the sense to go back to the reserve, and ask an elder on the reserve because there are elders, they're mentors, can she become an elder in a community? And the elder said to her, “Well if they want to recognize you as an elder it's up to you, go outside and sit by a tree, sit by the brook and listen to the water, and whatever, whatever it's telling you, and if you feel you're ready take it”. And that's what we did, so that's how.

So she is an honorary elder of the Aboriginal people of the Maritimes, of Canada and this Native woman of our community, and now she's an elder of her community. Being an elder is like she said, it's a higher position than being chief of a reserve, because the chief you're elected, but an elder you have to be recognized, once you're recognized that means a lot. A lot of people have to be elected to do something, but we recognized you, sometimes you're recognized and you're going to get a medal for what you do with charitable works and so on. It's the same thing so that's why I do it. There's another professor at Acadia University in Nova Scotia that we made an honorary elder.

Brett: Are there situations where there is the sense that elders will be looking like they're almost in a higher position, like in a hierarchy, and if so is there ever tension between the elders and the younger people in that sense?

Émile: No, no an elder is a person like me, you're in a community, I don't get involved in politics or anything like that, all I do is what I do. People ask me to give a talk I go and give a talk as a volunteer. If people come over and they need some advice, I mean just because I am who I am, I become his mentor, or her mentor, that's fine, but there's no conflict and it's the same thing on a reserve. Elders are there amongst the people, they could be anybody, they don't really get involved in these other things, maybe some reserves they might a little? But it depends on the elder and how strong the elder is. Not all elders are good elders, but it just depends on the individual.

Student: You were saying a little bit about how you spent some time up north. Obviously you are friends with Maurice who came and talked with the class. You also said you were taught some from the Dogrib. Could you describe some of your time up North and what you learned?

Émile: I couldn't tell you everything in a couple of minutes, it would take me days and days and days just to tell you what I learned. What I learned about life, what I learned about people, what I learned about spirituality what I learned about strengths what I learned about weaknesses, I learned so much and Maurice is a good example. Sometimes you touch something, someone. Maurice came to live with us for a couple of weeks. He was sent down from the north to study hard, that sort of thing, and they needed someone to show him around. He and his cousin stayed at our place and I chauffeured him around, here and there for two weeks. That was forty two years ago, I haven't seen Maurice for forty two years! He called me up a couple of months ago, we kept in touch a little bit once in a while, and he sent me a card once and a while and whatever. He said, “Émile I've just been sitting here thinking about how good you were to me, to us, you and your wife and I would like to show my respect, I'd like to come down and see you”. I said “come on down, you're free, our home is you're home”.

He came down and Maurice talked to you, and when he talked to you he talked to you from the heart. He's a good boy, he's a good man, he's taken a good direction, and he's highly regarded in his community. With his people he's had tough times, like a lot of people, but now he's changed. The other guy who was going to come with him has become a renowned artist; he's had paintings all over the world, his paintings sell all over the world. His paintings sell for five, ten, fifteen, twenty thousand dollars, but he has a problem. He drinks too much, whenever he gets the money it's all gone. He's not as strong as Maurice is, but he is very talented, very spiritual in many ways, but he has a problem.

Photo Creidt: Leonel BourqueSo what did I learn? I learned that we have to be proud of who we are, proud of where we come from, and understand what you're good at. We all have special talents; it may take you a lifetime to figure out what that special talent is. You may be in the wrong trail right now, you don't know you're still feeling your way out, but when you fly on your own you should be ready to fly, and ready to make your own decisions but also ready to listen to what others have to say. Sometimes, sometimes, they may say something that will click in your mind and you say, “Geez maybe I made the wrong turn, maybe I should be going over here, or over there, or over here or over there”. That's what people are about, so the more we have around us, the stronger we become. If I hadn't gone up north and met those people, spent time with those people, learned from those people, I was up there seven some years, I could tell you all kinds of stories, but I am not going to do that, but if I hadn't done that there is no way that I would be a spark of what I am now. They taught me so much, I learned so much, I learned who I am, I can't tell you much more than that. Anybody else? Any other questions?...Thousands of people have held that talking stick, thousands.

Everyone has put their power in there, and wherever I go these people, if you believe in spirits, spirituality, are here. Because they touched it, this is no longer a dead piece of wood, it's going
Photo Credit: Leonel Bourque

back to Mother Earth. It's strong and it will stay strong as long as we keep it strong, and the more people that touch it and share it the stronger we become.

Student: You had said earlier that in your life that you probably would not have been able to get the jobs that you did if you were perhaps embracing Aboriginal things and dressing as you are now. Do you think it's harder for younger people to embrace their heritage in that way today?

Émile: No, no I think it's much easier because today we understand one another a lot better. We understand because we live in a country that is a mosaic of many different people. You aren't pure Irish or Scottish or whatever it is, we're a mixture of everything, that wasn't the way it was in the past eh? The English always felt superior, and others felt superior. If you were Acadian you were way down here, and if you were First Nations you were way down there. But that's no longer there, that's why I am out talking to the schools to cut down on discrimination so that the young people are proud of who they are, so that the young people will find out who their grandfathers and their grandmothers were. Then you know yourself, then you'll know your strength, because you could take after your grandfather, you could take after your grandmother in the past what makes you who you are today. You could have more of them inside of you than your mother or your father because you picked up that certain gene, you'd taken that certain path.

Student: I had spent a little bit of time working with some members of the Cree Nation out west and they taught me to say “all my relations” as Matakiwa Watson, and I heard you say “all your relation.” I was just wondering if you could explain how you guys say that in the Métis culture, and what does it mean, what does it signify?

Émile: What it signifies is that, like I said in the beginning, that we are related to all things, we are related to the plants and the animals and the trees and so on. If you believe that the Creator created everything then we're related
to everything eh? We're part of the spider, we're part of the lobster, we're part of this, were part of that, so everything is our relations. I go into the forest and all those little animals are all my brothers and sisters, they're all my relations, so that's why we just say “Quay” all my relations. Never give a talk until you say all my relations because we are related to one another. We're brothers, we're sisters, we're whatever.

Student: Do you think Métis communities are affected by Christianity or religion to some extent?

Émile: Yeah they are. Because Christianity taught us not to be proud of our ancestors, not to be proud of the teachings of our ancestors, because out spirituality was the spirituality of Mother Earth. They taught us that our spirituality comes from Jesus Christ and all of these things, and that was the road to follow so that is wrong, that is wrong. We have to be who we are and learn the spirituality of our people and then you can choose. We have the right to choose. Christianity and those other religions don't really give you the right to choose, they sort of tell you you're going on the wrong path. No one can tell me that I am going on the wrong path. It's up to me to decide that. I was brought up Catholic just like Norbert. I went to church, went to communion, all of these things, but I don't go to church anymore because that is my church and no one out in that church tells me if I am doing wrong or if I am doing right. And the big thing in life is to do your best. Each and every one of you here: do your best and at the end, when it comes and it won't be long, because it goes fast, if you can look the creator in the eye, the Great Spirit in the eye, God in the eye, whatever, if there is one, and I am not saying there is or there isn't but if you can look him in the eye like I am looking you in the eye and say, “Thank you for my life, thank you for the circle of life that I have had and all the things that I have done. I've done my best, I am satisfied. I hope you're satisfied, but if you're not I am satisfied,” eh?

You've got to stand up for what you feel, not try to follow something looking for a gift in the heavens; that is not what the Creator would want you to do. He wants you to be good and do whatever you feel you should do, not just follow something because you've been put into that. Open your eyes, take off those blinders and travel in the direction that you feel good in, and that's what the Métis have to do. They have to take those blinders off their eyes and not just think of Christianity as the main religion, but think for themselves, what do they really feel? Can you go out there and look at all this wonderful stuff? Can you see the Creator out there in that tree, in that flower, in that piece of grass, in that deer? Yeah that's all done by the Creator. What you see inside of a church, all these are things that man has done. We are people of the forest. That's what we have to get close to.

Brett: I have kind of a personal question…I am English, Irish and German, so I am pretty much as German based as you can get. I was raised in the mountains of Vermont and that's something that I've noticed coming to Sackville and being here that it's a huge part of how I self identify and it definitely affects how I view nature, especially as being the most important thing in anybody's life to look into. But at the same time, I don't have blood that identifies me as being Native American, or Indigenous or First Nation, and I just want to hear from somebody who does have the blood how they view nature. It is a matter of a lifestyle, or a mind-set, or a matter of genealogy, or how do you view it?

Émile: That's an excellent question. I was born in New Brunswick and lived in almost every province in Canada; Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, different places in Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, BC, and the North West Territories. I've travelled from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, from the prairies to the Arctic. So what am I? I am a Canadian, but even travelling, being in all those places eventually I came back here. Why? Because it's the spirit of the land that grabs you. The spirit of the land may not grab you in other places, but apparently the spirit of the land down here, it grabs you, and that makes you who you are, it's the land, and the people. Whatever part of the land you get a closeness to, and if it accepts you as what you are, it makes you who you are, the environment makes you who you are, the environment can change you.

Leave your country and you come here, the land will change you, you may not want to go back to your land after a while, it all depends on how powerful that magnet is, it's all these things, but that's basically what it is. It's the land, the trees, the forest, the animals, and all these things here are different from out there. Although we're all in this country, it's basically all the same. There are differences in every place and there are people that are different in every place, so it's the land that grabs you. The west, even though I was there for twenty five years, made me say that I had to come back to my roots and do what I am doing now. I did not know why I was coming back, but I had to come back.

Brett: Having the spirituality as First Nations, is that open to everybody as a mindset or is it something that you feel because it's in your blood. Is it a right to you people and not necessarily something that can be fully adopted by somebody like me?

Émile: Oh, no it's not only in your blood, the land accepts you. It's just our spirituality. When I take people out on a vision quest and they feel the spirit of the earth, then they feel that spirituality, then they know that they have something to grab onto and they can talk to that tree, or talk to the porcupine, or talk to this or talk to that, and you're accepted and once you do that, you feel like you're a part of that. But it's got nothing to do with being First Nations; it's the land that accepts you

Student: You said you have spirit in plants and animals and everything and because of that spirits help you right? What is the major way to use these spirits? What do you ask them for?

Émile: Well when you go to the forest and I take you out into the forest and you're looking for certain things, I'll ask the spirits of the plants and animals and the spirits of the people who have travelled that land to be with you on your journey. I'll ask for permission and that way, once you ask, everything is open to you. But if you walk in blindly not knowing what you're going, you're not going to get the same feeling, but if you go in there and you know that you're accepted and you leave a little gift before you enter, this whole new world will open up. So that's how I talk to a tree, you can take a day and grab a tree and talk to it and feel the tree's heartbeat or whatever because the tree has a spirit and there's a beat, or you can listen to the squirrels heartbeat whatever it is, and they will talk back to you, you can talk back and forth. It's amazing.

You can learn songs, you can learn music. If you're a musician go into the forest and listen to Mother Nature's orchestra, listen to the birds and that bird is saying something, and if you listen to it you can come up to, “Well maybe he wants to teach me a song”. But listen to what the song is that this little bird is trying to teach me. This little white sparrow, is he lonely or whatever? You've got to listen, you can sing, because the bird will teach you how to sing. You sing from the heart, just like the little sparrow, he tells you it does not matter where you are in this great land, you're not alone. I am down in New Brunswick, I am down in Nova Scotia, I am in Alberta, I am in BC, I've been down in the States, and here I am way up in the North West Territories way up in the arctic circle, you're not alone, listen to me, you see? You're never alone because you have all these things around you. I am like a little chickadee, “chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee”, so it doesn't matter what language you speak whether it's Chinese, Korean, French or English or Chiac…You can still talk to these things out there in your language, or you can just talk from the heart, your spirit's going back and forth.

Student: So they are like your teachers? Do you make a wish sometimes, or ask for help?

Émile: You can make a wish. Well, that's another reason you can go there. When I did my ceremony for the grandmothers and grandfathers I asked for help from them so that I would not steer off the path that I was supposed to be on, so that I would have the wisdom to say the things that I had to say and answer the questions that each and every one of you would ask me. It's the same thing in the forest. I need strength, I ask the bear or whatever on my circle of life to do these things that I need to do. If I need strength plants to heal someone like the Tibetans with their knowledge of medicine and so on, I'll ask to know which plant to take for that healing property, and you'll find it, and that's what people did in the past, they talked and they found it, but they were willing to experiment. This one and another one, and another one, they make us stronger than just taking one right? Then that way you've become stronger than if you just stayed home because now you have gone around and you have asked for help, you asked for this, you asked for that and then you give a gift.

Norbert: You say, “How do you get through life as a Métis?” Everything has a beginning and an end, us being here today can be abstract, can be real, me talking, what's important is the time you're given, what you do with the time you're given here. I'll leave you with that and don't forget there is a beginning and ending to everything, life, university, being a child and to adapt to the changing conditions around you, and that's how I made it through life as a Métis. Until I found out who I was and if you compare me to Émile he's more spiritual than me because he found out who he was way before me, all I am wearing today is this hat, F irst Nations you know, and as you go through life you will find out who you are. Just make good use of it and never forget that there is a beginning and an end, this is part of my religion or spirituality.

Émile: Just to follow up on that, don't forget we are the elders of today but you are the elders of tomorrow, so just as soon as you start flying on your own, just like Marilyn here became an elder, you're going to be an elder and you're going to make the changes, and she is making the changes that I would like to make. She is taking my place and that's what you're going to, and hopefully you're going to do a good job, just like Marilyn is doing a good job.

Marilyn:
Well thank you very much on behalf of the class and also on behalf of myself to both of you for coming in. In the time I have been associated with the Métis-individual or the community- I have learned more about myself, and more about life, and more about the path that I want to follow than I learned in all the years I spent in university. So you have touched me on so many levels, both of you, and I really value your friendship and your wisdom and your association with me and the class and with Mount Allison. So I hope we can continue to learn from each other and to share amongst ourselves. Thank you so very much to both of you for coming in. Masi Cho.