Sydney Kuppenbender is a graduate student in the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS), and speaking Michif is an important part of proudly reaffirming Métis heritage and language, reclaiming her connection to the homeland of the Métis, and reprising family history that traces back to relatives like the late great Gabriel Dumont, one of the most prominent leaders of the North-West Resistance of 1885.
“Part of how we introduce ourselves is to place our family within our nation’s history and part of our responsibility as Métis individuals is to articulate our family history and sometimes that can be really hard,” said Kuppenbender, who was raised in La Ronge in northern Saskatchewan. “People like my grandpa who was taught to be ashamed despite the fact that my great, great, great, great, great, great, great uncle was Gabriel Dumont. There is a lot of family oral history that has been lost because our ancestors were ashamed to share that. So, it can be really hard sometimes for some of us to place ourselves in the greater history of our nation. But I think part of claiming Métis identity is doing that work.”
For Kuppenbender, that path to the past has been a journey of self-discovery for her and her family, who have roots in the Duck Lake area, the site of the first battle of the North-West Resistance that culminated in The Battle of Batoche. Like so many Métis people from the area, her great uncle was later evicted from the land he had settled on, and hid his heritage in the years that followed.
“That is the history of many, many, many Métis families in Saskatchewan,” said Kuppenbender. “Our family has been in the Duck Lake area since the Métis Resistance, so after experiencing generations of racism, they kind of learned to hide their identity and the fact that they are Métis, but that became easier when my great great grandma married an American and inherited his last name.
“My dad is the first generation in a long time to embrace his identity and it didn’t really come until adulthood when he would openly identify as Métis, but he raised my sisters and I to do the same. I think settling in La Ronge probably encouraged that process. It is a community that, especially at the time when they moved in the 90s, it was predominantly Indigenous population, Dene and Woodland Cree and Métis.”
Growing up in northern Saskatchewan amidst a large Indigenous community and with parents who were both teachers, Kuppenbender developed an appreciation of academia as well as a spiritual and cultural connection to the land and the animals who live there, an area of interest that has become the focus of her master’s research in relation to sustainability and the effects of climate change.
“I have kind of taken on the role of bringing voice to animals and to the land, air, water and rocks, and that is kind of the mission I have taken on as part of my research and I think will also likely be my life’s work,” she said. “But absolutely, the community that I grew up in, and the land that I grew up on, definitely have shaped that and has continued to shape and evolve as I have continued to grow.”
By James Shewaga
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