Norbert“Our biggest struggle is to be recognized as a group. The federal government doesn't really recognize us, the Natives don't recognize us, the French don't, but we get respect from the English. If you say you're Métis they accept that no problem, but the French and the other cultures don't want anything to do with us. They want us to be called French. I may speak/parler Français, je parle le Chiac and speak English, but I'm not French. I'm Métis.”

[This interview was conducted at Mount Allison University on November 10, 2009. The interviewers were Dr. Marilyn Walker, Professor of Anthropology and students Ian Luddington and Lap Kwan Tang. The purpose of the interview was to contribute to a growing store of knowledge about Métis culture in the Maritimes and as a term project in Anthropology 3851.]

Ian: We have a few questions here set out but you may find out that that we'll be improvising as we go along depending on what you're saying, our first one is we're going to ask you what is your definition of being a Métis?

Norbert: Flunked the first one! Definition of being a Métis is realising that you both have white man's blood and also have native blood, which is a mix. It's a mixture of two races from what I understand. My feeling of being a Métis is very troubling at times, because we don't have any records of our culture to go to like the Scottish. They have their highland games and the French have another 15th of August but we have nothing. We don't have history, it's only oral history that's what we have. So feeling Métis is you don't belong to the Native community and you don't belong to the French community. And at various times in my life you weren't accepted by them and still today we're not accepted as a group in eastern Canada. Métis only happen from Manitoba going west. It's a very strange thing ‘cause when the land was developed here in North America they started on the east coast, in St. Croix, you know, one of the places, but all along the east coast. So the mixture of the two races started then in the 1600s which would be the seventeenth century.

Lap: The term Métis, where did it come from and how did the term become established?

Norbert: Oh yeah, I'm reading a book right now by Samuel de Champlain who is one of the founders of the new settlements in North America which they called New France at the time under Henry IV. When he came over in 1603, he just happened to land in a place called Tadoussac in Quebec. Do you know where that is, Tadoussac? Very nice place, something like Shediac with a hotel and everything. They landed there and at the time just before, the natives of the area which were Mohawk and different other groups, they were fighting against the Iroquois. So they had won this great battle and of course they were in a celebration and Samuel de Champlain he had at the time two interpreters who could translate which were native people which were brought over two years earlier to France so they could learn the French language and they could use them as translators and to give them an inroad into the community-the Native community. Now they partied all day but at night when it came night, all the females got in the front row and the males in the back they were dancing and the dance ended up with everybody had no clothes on. So that's where it started, the mixture of the two races, I believe, partly.

Marilyn: We'll let everybody laugh first. So you say Mé-“tice” or Métis?

Norbert: Métis

Marilyn: Métis, but some people pronounce the “S” right?

Norbert: Yes, it's like if you speak French, if you have the French language you can't say third. It sounds like “turd” you can't pronounce “th”. It's the same thing it's just pronunciation. We have our own distinct language, which is not recognized; they call it Chiac. In Moncton, they talk it quite a bit. It's mostly English and French; it's a mixture and a little bit of Native. I love it! I'd rather speak it in my own communities. It's a very nice language. You can make up words as you go along. Not like French which is a bourgeois language, it's very formal compared to the English language. But again, you're saying, “when did this start?”

Lap: Yeah when did the term Métis come to be?

Norbert: The term. I can only give my opinion when the mixture of the two races started. I don't know when the term started.

Ian: Dr. Walker said you were a Métis historian so do you have anything to add about the early history of the Métis?

Norbert: How they lived?

Ian: Yeah

Norbert: What happened to a certain degree is that Champlain, when he came over he was associated, like I said, with Henry IV who was a person who was more what they called humanistic, looked at the human aspect of people, everybody's the same, should be treated the same and all people are intelligent, which they are. And I've forgotten what the question was now.

Ian: Just about the early history.

Marilyn: Over lunch, you were saying that Champlain was more accepting of the Aboriginal people and their lifestyle.

Norbert: Their lifestyle, their values. He called them savages which today is a very negative term with people who are very ignorant. But at the time, his explanation was that they were people of the forest. They lived in the forest, you know. Before the 1600s, there was a lot of going back and forth between North America and Europe. An example: in the 1500s the Spanish would all gather about one hundred ships in Cádiz which is close to Portugal in the southern part of Spain and they would all leave in one group for safety in case the boat sank or something, you know. They would go down as far as the Canary Islands. They would get the tides going and the current and the winds and they shoot right across to North America ‘cause the winds were coming from the west at a certain time of year and they knew this. And every day at noon, they would take a reading on the sun to see where they were, you know, to navigate across the ocean. They were coming over here for a hundred years before doing trades. That was the Spanish and they were a bad bunch of cats. They really come on to the Natives and the Negroes. They take them and they'd use them as slaves and whatever. They were coming over here to get the precious metals which were silver, gold and copper at the time, some of them. Also the fur trade, the fish so it was a state secret how to get to New France or to North America. It's the Spanish. Now, the first species that was fished and they were just about a species at risk was in the Caribbean Islands. In 1599, they stopped fishing for pearls, for oysters. ‘Cause they ran out of oysters, they just fished everything. And they used to use the Natives and the Negroes as slaves to make them dive, you know. They had guns and you're going to dive or what, you're going to die. So the mixture started quite a long time ago. I don't know if I answered your question.

Lap: What do you say are the struggles of being a Métis in this community?

Norbert 2Norbert: Our biggest struggle is to be recognized as a group. The federal government doesn't really recognize us the natives don't recognize us, the French don't but we get respect from the English. If you say you're Métis they accept that no problem but the French and the other cultures they don't want nothing to do with us. They want us to be called French. I may speak parler Français, je parle le Chiac and speak English but I'm not French. I'm Métis. I have French blood but I would rather not be French. That's a personal thing.

Marilyn: So Norbert, we were talking at lunch about you documenting Aboriginal events and you were saying you want to leave something about the Métis here. You were saying that you had an oral culture and it was the priests that recorded it.

Norbert: My generation is the first generation that could read and write. Before that my father and mother couldn't read and write. Neither could their families and that. I come from a village called Baie Sainte Anne. Anybody know where Baie Sainte Anne is? Now if you go to Baie Sainte Anne you'll notice similarities to Reserves. The houses right close to the church we call Central Downtown Baie Sainte Anne. The houses are here, there and everywhere. You'd grow up and your parents would give you a piece of land. And there's no dividing, you know. No division of the land. They get more and more today. If you look around the English community you'd see hedges, fences. But there was nothing and all doors were all open and everybody had a dog, two or three of them. And Saturday was the dogfight day which I still love but it's against the law.

Getting back to our history, our history was written by the priests and the brothers from mostly in this area here, in St. Joseph when they had the college down here. Because we couldn't read or write we used an oral type. People say that it's written so it must be right but don't forget that paper doesn't refuse ink. You can write whatever you want, you know, paper doesn't refuse it. And usually the victors write history. They wrote history to their way of thinking, what they saw. I don't fault them for it, that's all we had. Now today we have electronics, we have videos which we can do ourselves, we can edit at home. So I'm retired, I used to work for NB Power, I'm retired so I'm saving this as material that people can go through in years and look back and do research, even today's recording. That's what I'm trying to do. There's no money value in it for me it's just something that needs to be done.

I found the first cemetery that was in Baie Sainte Anne and the church was burnt there around the same time that the church in Burnt Church Reserve was burnt. So it's quite a few years ago. What they did there was just plugged the road so you couldn't get to the cemetery and then they went and took the headstones and broke them up and made sinkers for their nets. What can you do? You can't go back, they're all dead the people who did it so you just carry on and try to fix the problem as best you can, you know. But most races had problems, everybody gets discriminated against.

Ian: What may be some of the pros and cons of identifying with your Métis culture?

Norbert: To me it's quite a personal thing. Everybody will be affected differently who says they are Métis and it depends on the people you're with. It's something like coming out of the closet if you get the drift. You have to come out and say, “I'm a Métis” or “I'm a Native” and the most important thing in something like this is the culture. If you have no culture of a group you have no soul and that's the big thing that's missing is our culture. We can't go back ‘cause the federal government will only approve things which are written down as proof about your genealogies and your links. It's easier for someone to say that she's coloured than for me to go and say that I'm a Native. There's no such thing, I don't believe right now, in the Maritimes as a full-blooded Native, they're all mixed breed. They all have a little bit of white blood now because they've been here since the fifteen hundreds and we're in the year 2000 so that's over about five hundred years now. So there's been a mixture. Now out west, they were developed after the country so you can see better traces.

Now if you took by percentage of Native and Métis in Canada, we're more of a group than compared to just English, French or Asian or Coloured as a group. And that's one of the things they're scared of. If we go with the Natives, the Natives are scared that we're going to take all their treasures away from them. They don't realize that they're in prison on reserves. Reserves are prisons and they're run by their own people and it's run on the British system which they did in South Africa, which they did in Australia if you look at the Natives, what they did to the Natives. But that's the time back in the 1700s. If you look at the reservations here in Canada, if you take a child and you give him all his wants and his needs, he doesn't have to look out for himself, to go to work or anything. They're not self sufficient, they've become institutionalized like if you went to prison or in the army. I went in the Forces for five and a half years and when I was released I had a big adjustment to make. I went to work for the government and, I think we're all adults, I can see this, in the army at the time every second word was f---, f---, f--- this, what the f--- you doing or what the f--- you think and I didn't realize I was saying this and that was a big adjustment just in my language and how I talk.

Marilyn: Over lunch I asked you whether you identified as Métis or as Mi'kmaq. Because you, like Gu éganne , you have your status.

Norbert: By law I'm a Native, a Mi'kmaq, but they don't want anything to do with us so I can't be identified with them. I still am but I still feel more like a Métis ‘cause it's closer to my upbringing.

Marilyn: And then you were also talking about your mother sending you to English school and not to French school. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Norbert: Oh yeah. I can remember myself when I went to school there was a French school in Baie Sainte Anne and also an English one. And at the time if you remember, at the residential schools the nuns were the ones who kind of picked you out in class and the police came and got you and taking you to the [trails off]. And that was a threat that they always made, “If you don't smarten up, you'll go to residential school”. And that was kind of a threat as a child that was over your head. Now in the English school where we went, come summer we all went barefoot. But the English had boots! They were richer than us, eh? But if everybody goes barefoot then there's no change, everything's ok. And the big reason was, my mother she didn't want us to go to French school so we wouldn't get sent to boarding school, to residential school. And also my father wanted us to learn English. He served in the Second World War and lived four years in England and even though he didn't have an education he was a very intelligent person. No formal education but he was very intelligent. He had seen that we were better off if we went to an English environment than French. Because the English didn't really know us but the French did.

Now, I lived in Baie Sainte Anne and most of the people there, 95% have Native blood, they were mixed breed. But nobody would say; they all hid it. Now the extreme example of this, you heard the problems we had in Burnt Church with the Natives? But who were the people against them? It was the people of Baie Sainte Anne and they had Native blood and they were against the Natives and didn't want them to fish! They always had fishing rights before the white people and it was the early 1940s that their rights were taken away by the federal government. And these people in Baie Sainte Anne, which one was the ringleader, was my cousin. I made the statement in the community that the Natives were in Burnt Church and the savages were in Baie Sainte Anne. I wasn't well liked for a while but that's the problem we have, when you have a big mouth.

Lap: What do you think the social impacts of modern society are to the Métis culture?

Norbert: Well, it's getting so in the country that people are starting to look at their roots but on the other hand I believe that when Pierre Trudeau made the decision that if the English and French couldn't get along together, he said we're going to bring other races in. And we let people into the country, we're going to have a melting pot like they do in the States. So the impact is that with all the information on the internet and everything it's hard to get your story out. It's very hard to get your story out on anything. You have to have a gimmick or something to have your story out of who you are, what you are. And this is one way that we're doing it. To leave a legacy of who we are and what we think is going on and we can prove what's going and we're grateful to Marilyn for that.

Ian: Just to jump ahead a bit. You mentioned earlier the distinction between western Canada Métis and east coast Métis that they have more of a documented history whereas on the east coast it is not as distinct. Could you mention a bit about that?

Norbert: Yes, the reason I think about that is the east coast was developed by the white people before Manitoba, that's the only reason I know about. And it depends today, it depends on if we could all get together the Métis, if we could all get together and vote as a block then we would have power. That's one way to get it. If you go back to the 40's and 30's and the 50's, I came from a family of twelve, my wife came from a family of twelve, some around home there are twenty- four, you know, but that was kind of a religious thing. The English at the time were having one, two, three, four kids in a big family. But as you see now, they got political power in the bed, and that was part of religion. They want power too, that gives them power. To say that we were Métis, we weren't running the gimmick at that time. The priests were mostly all French, you know, when you went to school, you showed any ability, the nuns were teaching, they ran the hospitals, and they'd watch for the smart kids, and they'd try then to talk to girls as nuns, or in the medical system, and the priest of course, they wanted the young guys to go as priests.

Ian: Do you feel a dissonance, between the western Métis or do you sense more of a connection with them? Maybe you went through the same struggles?

Norbert: Well the western Métis just installed a monument in Dieppe, France, Normandy. And they have a list on there, they have listed that the Métis were a nation that landed in Normandy. They fought at the Second World War and they fought for their country. But they never mentioned anything about the eastern Métis. Everybody has a share of the pie and they think everyone else wants a piece of it. The Métis out west, they are organized; lots of them won't help us out east, and Quebec is fighting with another gang, everybody is just fighting. What's happening is the federal government's got a hand in this while we are all fighting, nobody is getting anything. So being a Métis today is not an easy game. To me it is a personal thing; it is very hard to do it as a group.

Marilyn: We were talking about lunch and you mentioned you had a family of twelve, so in your family what kinds of identity do people have? You identify as Métis, your brother Archie does…

Norbert: I have two brothers that identify, a sister and me, that's four. Four are passed away, that's eight. Four more who are not interested. Unless maybe if they were given gifts; “I will become a Métis if I can get some lobster traps or something, or Native.”

Lap: You were saying being Métis now is rough and you struggle, so how does a Métis live a life in Canada since it is a different culture completely?   

Norbert 3Norbert: Well in my case, I can be English, I can be French, I can be Métis. I figure I speak pretty good English, speak pretty good French. When I was in the army in the first six months, I was a “Martin.” I didn't speak French, nobody knew I could speak French. It was very interesting to see what other people were saying against you. Especially the French eh, they were saying something that they thought you didn't know. Now I can also speak French if I want to, I can speak Chiac.

So as I grew up, when I was sixteen, I went to the Canadian forces, the first two years that I was there I went to military school in Kingston, Ontario. And our instructors were from Queen's University. We could get a trade so I kind of fitted in with the English better. So for the five years I was there, I hardly spoke any French. Kingston, Ontario is a very English town. That's no problem, I am very comfortable. It's become a personal choice that you want to live as a Métis or you know. How do you live as a Métis? I really don't know how you live as a Métis. Do you dress? You see my friend there, he is dressed more than me. I have a cap. How do you live a Métis? I don't really know. How do you live as a Native? The only thing I know is to go on reservation, I don't want to go to prison, to me it is a prison. And you get the Natives that are coming on about we have organisation, they have Natives coming off the reserves to live in white man's society and they bring their culture with them. I don't want to live like that, we are in a free country and by education, it's what make you free. The worst thing that the Catholic Church did with us for them is to give us an education. They set up a school system so we start to be educated. And that sets us free. Then you can read, you can make you your mind and make free choices.

Lap: Beyond the individual level, how do you see the Métis community as a group fit into the First Nation community?

Norbert: There is not too much going on between us, it's hard to explain, I haven't been too involved with the organization of Métis. Émile is probably more involved than me. But I have never been too involved. I have only been to the assemblies and gatherings, and I do some videotaping. It's like I said, with my sister, we have some ceremony in Moncton. I said well, I am just learning to be a Native. Well, you don't learn to be a Native, you just are or you aren't. What I meant is that I am learning the culture.

Marilyn: Y ou were talking about your name and how I can call you Norbert Martin (in French), or I can call you Norbert Martin (English pronunciation). Even your name gives you a freedom or flexibility. And you said how you pronounce your name depends on who you are with, so you can blend in, is that right?

Norbert: If I am with an English group, I am Norbert Martin, if I am with a French, I am Norbert Martin (in French). Chiac, it's the same thing. They call me other things but we won't go into that. [Laughs]

Marilyn: Can we see if there are any questions from class?

Student: Did your parents know their heritage?

Norbert: Yes, they did, oh yes they did. But nobody talked about it. It was hidden, nobody would say anything about it. How we kind of found out was the chief from Big Cove, and a group would always come and visit in the summer, and they would come to my home. The chief would come in the home but never the women or the kids, so we never really got to know them. And he would go to all the villages, and they were his people. That's help in one way. The other one is my grandmother was a Babin from Saint Louis de Kent. In the 40's which is when I was born, we used to put dirt around the houses for the winter. Come spring she would lay on the bank in the sun. It's kind of strange thing, she lay there with the dog, sleeping in the sun. To me that was Native, it may not have been, and the way she dress, and the way she talk, as we got older, we found out that she was sort of like a medicine women. We go to the forest back home, and pick up different plants which she used as medicines. But you never talked about that, she was never allowed to talk about that. Talking about being Native in the house was taboo. We were not Native, we were white, that was my parents. But I don't blame them, at the time the discrimination, it was hidden throughout the community. Everybody knew but no one talk about it. It was strange. It was like a lie that the whole community lived to a certain extent.

Ian: I have a question on genealogy, have you traced any?

Norbert: Not myself personally, but I had people who did it. I am a status Native by law. I don't live on reserve, we pay taxes like everybody else, we don't get any special treatment. But I have Native blood on four sides, and one by law that I can prove.

Marilyn: So you were saying that you can trace your genealogy back to the 1800's?

Norbert: Yes, people tried to go back to the 1600's and 1700's. It gets mixed up, but this Ann Petitpas married a Robichaud or a Robichaud married her. It was usually a Native women who would marry a white man, instead of a white women marrying a Native because it was looked down upon. If you go into communities like Pointe Sapin, if you go where the Wharf is those are all French but if you go towards Escuminac, there's two small communities, those are all Natives. That's where my mother's from. In my mother's time, they were discriminated against and divided.

Marilyn: And you said that it was your mother who had Native blood?

Norbert: Yes, we have a whole line. Norman Robichaud, he looks more Native than me. He is a very fine person. On the Robichaud side we're related, but of course, him and his father and mother were related on both sides. They were small communities. It's not as bad now, but years ago all communities had different accents, cause we were isolated, especially in the spring. There were not roads, the roads were all just mud. We are all isolated and we all developed different accents.

There are a lot of words that we use in Chiac that are still used in Poitiers, in France. La guele, Champlain used that word. Culottes, the right word is pantalons. We're told it's wrong and if you go into the school system and it's French they don't want you to talk Chiac they want you to talk French cause they're running the thing and they want the members.

Marilyn: So to finish up, does anyone have a last question? Or is there anything Norbert that you would like to say before we finish? You can always come back, but for this interview…

: Well myself personally is to be proud of yourself, be proud of where you come from, if you don't know where you come from, you will never know where you are going. We learn from our past, so we can be better in our future. If you don't have any pride in yourself, you will be lost. That's why lots of people get into drugs, alcohol, then in life there is a wall in front of them. But the sun always shines, tomorrow the sun always shines. And the thing is to be proud of who you are and the group you are with. And learn about yourself, where you come from. If you are from Scotland, good-then drink scotch. And to find out about yourself, accept other cultures, respect them, that's what this country is. I served in the Armed Forces for five and a half years, and I don't have any regret. We have a great country. There are a lot of things that can be changed and made better, but if you live in the Middle East right now, and I lived there, it ain't no picnic. If you are a female over there, you will have no respect in a lot of countries; here, it's a little bit different, quite a bit different.

Ian: So to finish up the interview, what would your advice be for a youth who struggles with his Native heritage?

Norbert: Try to find a group who are working for the betterment of their culture, nothing is money, you can make money, you can get a job and you can make money, it seems today that everyone wants money, money, money, money. But it's so nice that if you do something that would make you proud in the group. For young people it is to find out where you are from, don't be scared about it, if you are Native. You know what, I am happy. I considered myself a French bastard, that's what I am, you're here to talk about the Queen of England should apologise because we were deported? I don't think she should apologise. I think the government should apologise for abandoning us when the war was on. And left us. Again if it's not for the Natives, we wouldn't have been here. In 1604, in St. Caryn Island, there were 79 of them and 30 died, you think about 79 people living on six and a half acres of land, on an island in the Bay of Fundy. There is not much chance of success. Be proud of who you are and you can make a difference. It might be little, but you can make a difference. If I leave this video tape, somebody picks it up in 100 years, I made a difference. And I hope it's positive.