Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

We Are Where Infinity Begins

I’m a Sang-Mêlés, Métis Acadien, a registered Section 35 Aboriginal person. I belong to the Eastern Woodland Métis Nation of Nova Scotia. I have French/Souriquois ancestry.

The Métis Acadien or Sang-Mêlés are the oldest mixed blood people in Canada being established in the 18th Century. We have persisted as an aboriginal people because our territory is small, a thin band of communities along the western Nova Scotia shore, in reality the size of a large Native reserve.

My clan comes from the territory known to our Souriquois ancestors as Ke’pek. My mother called this place Cha’bake. The word is the same Algon’kin root as Québec, the narrowing of waters. This area is an open arm of the sea first explored by Samuel de Champlain in 1604, which narrows to the Tus'ket River with Pom’kek (Pubnico) on the eastern shore and my home Tus'ket Wedge (Wedgeport) on the western side. The area is the traditional territory of the Souriquois, people now known as the Mi’kmaw Acadia First Nation.

Three peoples lived on this land, first, the Souriquois, then the confederated French/ Souriquois who became the first Sang-Mêlés, then after the Expulsion the returned Sang-Mêlés. Our families didn’t begin to marry outside of L’acadie Ke’pek until after the Second World War, so the ancestral bloodlines are still strong and clearly defined. We are the first Métis people in Canada. The Métis flag used in Canada depicts a white infinity symbol on a blue background. The image is symbolic of the idea Métis status cannot be extinguished. The Sang-Mêlés of L’acadie is where infinity begins.

The history we embody is profound. As well as being Sang-Mêlés and Métis, the people of our clan are all directly descended from three barons of New France, Claude Saint- Étienne de la tour, fur trader, Cap de Sable, Charles Saint- Étienne de la tour, fur trader Castine, Saint John, Governor of Acadia and Jacques Muise d’Entremont. Both Claude and Charles de la tour were also baronets of Nova Scotia confirmed by King Charles l of England and his successor Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

We diverge from the stereotypical Acadian/Land of Evangeline people’s narrative, because we never left. Unlike the pacifist Acadians who were deported to the British American colonies and beyond during the Expulsion (1755), my people and our Souriquois cousins escaped from L’acadie to Canada, which at that time was just across the boarder at the Tantramar, (New Brunswick.) The Sang-Mêlés were a warrior class, we waged armed struggle against Edward Cornwallis at Halifax; we were not passive sheep gathered together in a church and lead onboard ships to exile. The Sang-Mêlés fought when they could, then after the fall of Canada (Ville de Québec) in 1759, gradually returned to their territory around Ke’pek after enduring the relocation camps at Halifax.

This is an easily verifiable historical statement because the preponderance of Acadien surnames in our clan don’t appear in the lists of the deported at Grand Pré. The returned Pothier, Muise, Surrette and Duon all have historically acknowledged Native Grandméres and we are only at the beginning of our genealogical investigation.

Actual proof of our existence as a people lies in the government papers of Edward Cornwallis and his successors at the Archives in Halifax. In Jon Tattrie’s, book, Cornwallis, The Violent Birth of Halifax, Pottersfield Press, 2013. Tattrie details how official government minutes disclose the reservations of paymasters who believe some of the scalps taken during the bounty were from the Sang-Mêlés Acadien. We are fortunate such evidence still exists because of the efforts of racist Land of Evangeline Acadians to write us out of history. We can hardly blame our Native cousins for forgetting about us when even Québecophile Acadian historians and intellectuals prefer to deny our existence. The passage from Tattrie is appended to this paper.

In 1847 American college professor, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his epic fictional poem Evangeline. This literary construction written in English posited the Acadians as a pure blood, French speaking white race. It’s a paradigm that persists to this day. Longfellow’s poem gradually began to be taught in schools and embraced by the racist, colonial Government of Nova Scotia, who enforced this artificial cultural straight jacket on the returned Acadien. In two generations, with insidious help from the Roman Catholic Church the Sang-Mêlés Acadien began to picture themselves as a lesser kind of racially pure Québecoise. This absurd racist construction precipitated the final split between the Sang-Mêlés and their Mi’kmaw cousins, who were even more stigmatized and reduced to virtually non-human status compared to the Land of Evangeline Acadians. Growing up in Halifax in the 1960’s I was aware French speaking Acadians were a second-class people, socially above the indigenous blacks and Mi’Kmaw only by virtue of their white skin. From this perspective it’s easy to see why the Sang-Mêlés assimilated.

Sang-Mêlés consciousness is a relatively new thing. Until our enlightened period of Recognition, Restitution and Reconciliation Acadians were content to view themselves as a lesser kind of Québécois, tucked away in their little corners of the Maritimes, the living embodiment of Longfellow’s people of the Expulsion, this attitude was underlined by both the Roman Catholic Church and an evolving Acadian intellectual and cultural elite centered on College Sainte-Anne, a French language Catholic undergraduate school founded in 1890 at Church Point, Nova Scotia. Gradually histories of the Acadians were written, mostly by Acadian scholars in Québec, funded by separatist governments and predictably these historians erased the Sang-Mêlés from their white supremacist histories.

The first authoritative history of the Acadien, from which most of my narrative originates, was published by James Hannay, a New Brunswick historian in 1879, less than a century after the Expulsion. In it Hannay frankly states the first Acadien were a mixed race people and details the split between the pacifist Acadians and the activist Sang-Mêlés Acadien. Hannay’s history is now smiled on by Acadian scholars as the product of an aggressive, racist Anglophone. Ironically the main criticism of Hannay’s history is his supposed negative depiction of the Souriquois and his conventional (for the 19th century) use of the word savage. I can’t agree with this analysis particularly where Hannay quotes Samuel de Champlain’s history of his visits to Canada and Acadia in the early 17th century. Hannay obviously quotes Champlain extensively and uses the word savage as Champlain did (sauvage) to infer a person or people who live in the wilds. Hannay does later use savage in the conventional construction meaning (vicious), but only in the context of the French and Indian War (1754-63,) where my Souriquois ancestors were indeed vicious and savage and waged a war of extermination on neighbouring tribes aligned with the British. Otherwise Hannay, with a few exceptions is very respectful of the Souriquois and describes them as having a highly ordered society and presents our great ancestor King Membertou as a thoughtful statesman.

The secret of our mixed blood was so profoundly hidden that I had no idea I and we had native heritage until I was in my thirties, then the dam broke with the publication of Roland Surrete’s Métis/Acadian Heritage 1604-2004 and the formation of the Eastern Woodland Métis Nation. More recently, Sébastien Malette, et all’s, An Ethnographic Report on the Acadian-Métis (Sang-Mêlés) People of Southwest Nova Scotia, has created a bedrock for the Sang-Mêlés Acadien to reclaim an almost vanished nation.

Louis Riel acknowledged the Sang-Mêlés Métis of L’acadie, writing:

“Quant aux provinces Canadiennes de l’Est, beaucoup de Métis y vivent méprisés sous le Costume indienne. Leurs villages sont des villages d’indigence. Leur titre indien au sol est pourtant aussi bon que le titre indien des Métis du Manitoba.”
Translated, this reads:

“When it comes to the Eastern provinces of Canada, many Métis live there persecuted in the attire of the Indian costume. Their villages are villages of indigence. Their Indian title to the land is, however, as good as the Indian title of the Métis of Manitoba.”

extract from Sébastien Malette, et all’s, An Ethnographic Report on the Acadian-Métis (Sang-Mêlés) People of Southwest Nova Scotia, 2018

In Our Councils

The Sang-Mêlés nation has been excluded from the Canadian family of Métis peoples. The Métis National Council is a combine of the Métis Nation of Ontario, the Manitoba Métis Federation, Métis Nation Saskatchewan, Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis Nation BC. Each organization has its own conditions for membership, which despite the show of solidarity are sometimes at odds with each other. If we take our Red River Métis cousins for example as the foundational Métis people, in the sense Louis Riel imagined, the people of Métis Nation BC are not Métis. Though they display Louie Riel’s image on their web page and use the word Métis to describe themselves, the mixed blood people of BC are plainly non-status Natives who self identify as Métis. Self-identification comes from Section 35 of the 1982 Canada Constitution and has empowered the foundation of the various Métis nations.

The oldest is the Manitoba Métis Federation founded in 1967. Ontario Métis Nation was founded in 1993, BC Metis Nation, 2003. This combine of Métis and non-status Natives have blocked the eastern Sang-Mêlés and their organizations from representing our unique interests on the national, federally sanctioned and funded advocacy organization for no justifiable reason, except to ignore us out of existence. To add insult to injury, this same Métis National Council not only denies us our right to seat representatives, but from time to time its members abuse us in the media by coldly asserting our organizations are illegal hunting clubs or other calumnies, such as asserting the Sang-Mêlés are white people posing as Indians, these racist, negative and hurtful characterizations hamper our efforts to effectively organize in the east.

We are a small nation, but undoubtedly we are the first, what Louis Riel would call Métis people in Canada. We accept the individual Métis association’s sovereignty over their own territories, why do they not respect ours?

Eric Walker (dit) Pothier 

Sackville and the Tantramar, Satelite Stitch, 2019, 95 x 61 cms, mixed media on plywood

Third work in the Sackville and Tantramar set, it depicts the Tantramar Basin in fall and winter as seen in a landsat stitch.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The View From Point Pleasnt, 2017, 16 minute experimental high definition video

 In 2015 I was deployed as a member of the Canadian Forces Artist Program at CFB Stadaconna and on the frigate HMCS Halifax. My program of work was very straightforward, it was to follow in my father Kenneth Walker’s footsteps some 60 years later by living briefly at Stadaconna and going to sea on a war ship as he did in 1942.

Three works evolved from this experience. The first, a photo documentation of my deployment, 330 photographs posted on Flickr, to which you will find a link further down in the blog and two works installed at the Canada War Museum, CFAP G7 exhibition in February 2018.

The installation works were both documentary in nature. An overhead view of HMC Dockyard and CFB Stadaconna, showing all the buildings and ships present before deployment on TGEX 615 and a high definition video, which presents life aboard HMCS Halifax at sea. My idea with the installation was to show a painted construction side by side with a video to encourage the viewers to wonder how the same artist could produce two very distinctly different types of images with all the contradictory meaning each medium carries.

I originally thought I would make a painted construction of HMCS Halifax alongside at the dockyard with North End Halifax in the background. However when I started doing image research on the North End, I discovered the Google satellite coincidentally passed over Halifax the very weekend I was living in Juno Tower at Stadaconna, so the work became an overhead view based on this satellite imagery. The high definition video, The View From Point Pleasant was intended both as a documentary and a poetic reflection on the spiritual connection between Halifax and the Royal Canadian Navy.

Point Pleasant is a historic park in South End Halifax with a view to the North Atlantic. People have been watching war ships depart and waiting their return here since the 18th Century. My Mi’kmaw ancestors watched and waited there in 1746 for the arrival of their French allies, the Duc Danville’s fleet and in 1749 watched as Cornwallis’ English fleet entered Chebucto to the general destruction of both the Mi’kmaw and Sang Mêlés Acadien.

Like generations of Haligonians I also watched war ships leave from Point Pleasant and wondered what life on board was like for the sailors. The View from Point Pleasant is meant to be a kind of poetic speculation of what people imagine as they look out to sea from that place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Rappie Pie (Rappure) in response to the absurd Wikipedia entry

Fair de rappure. Most people think rappie pie is a universal Acadian meal, but in fact the rappure is confined to a small part of Western Nova Scotia, most Acadians eat Québec type Christmas meals like tourtiere. The rappure was not the product of thrifty Evangeline's producing starch for their husbands garments in Grand Pré, but the creation of our mixed blood Acadien grand-méres when we were exiled in Canada (New Brunswick) and no flour was available to make a suitable Christmas Eve pie. The rappure is sacred to all who make it.

This picture depicts squeezing the grated potato

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Cut and the Arm, 1978 (2018) 83 x 122 cms mixed media construction on plywood

The Cut and the Arm, 1978 is based of an aerial view from the City of Halifax Archives and shows west end Halifax from the Armdale railway cut and the Northwest Arm to the roundhouse in Rockingham, circa 1978. Because of family breakdown I spent the first year of my life living next to the ocean in my Sang Mêlés homeland, Tus'ket Wedge in Yarmouth Co., Nova Scotia. Returning to Halifax the family lived in a dilapidated Victorian, cold-water flat off Windsor Street. In 1966 we moved to the west end into a new world of new things - streets, houses, schools, parks, shopping malls, all new and clean with smooth unbroken pavement for as far as the eye could see. Nothing can touch the perfection of this place on a quiet Sunday in high summer when all was so still the chirping of grasshoppers drifted over the hot paved parking lots and I was drawn to the historic train line behind Simpson-Sears to wait for trains. In contrast to everything around me the rail line was old, covered in oil and the margins overgrown with grass. The engineers knew this was a playground for children like me, particularly Chebucto Road Bridge so they sounded their horns from a great distance in the railway cut to warn us. Hearing the high pitched glassy sounding chime tooting and bending in the fluctuating winds we stepped away from the tracks and waited in the long grass for the train to pass, usually a modest double hitch Dayliner on the way to Yarmouth, or a long passenger train bound for Montréal. Before I could understand what sacred meant I knew this place was somehow sacred and eternal and that I was just a passing shadow over the pristine grey pavement on a quiet summer day.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Six Diamonds on the Petitcodiac. 2018.

Fourth work in the 64 Points elaboration series. 60 x 60 cms, mixed media construction on plywood. A view of Moncton, New Brunswick on the sacred Petitcodiac River.