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Thursday, 23 June 2011 12:54

Keeping Métis culture alive

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By John R. Statton — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 For the past eight years, Cecile Blanke has been teaching local school students the history of Métis in Lac Pelletier.

“It’s just to make people aware of the valley and the lake, and how we were a prominent group there, and now there’s nobody left,” said Blanke, who is a Métis elder and president of the Lac Pelletier Historical Society.

“When I tell my story it’s just to make people aware that our culture was very strong at one time around here, and now there’s hardly anyone that knows there are Métis here.”

She was the 2010 Citizen of the Year for the southwest, and said it was the highlight of her life.

In 1978, Blanke was the very last Métis to leave Lac Pelletier.

Métis originally settled in the valley during the mid to late 1800s, at one point there were 300 living there.

They were hunter-gatherers, who worked as farm hands for European settlers.

“Our lifestyle was helping the settlers in how to survive in this vast, open country,” she said. “A lot of the settlers were European, and it was a real eye-opener on how to survive. Our culture would go and help them to survive.”

The Métis showed the Europeans how to hunt and prepare food, and gather herbs. Métis women would be employed to take care of the settlers’ children.

“The stores were quite far away from the valley, so I think they were a real boost to the settlers that came here,” she said.

Blanke’s great grandparents came to Lac Pelletier in the 1880s. The railway was built through Swift Current in 1882.

“My grandfather hauled mail from Swift Current to the Landing, and later from Swift Current to Ponteix by horse and sleigh,” she said.

“He told me he used to put a big stone in the oven overnight, and then put it in his sleigh to keep his hands and feet warm.”

She recounted the heavy buffalo coat he wore to brave the harsh prairie winters.

“They were very heavy, but very warm,” she said.

Blanke has given presentations to all of the schools in the Swift Current area including Oman, Central, Ponteix, and Hazlet.

She showed Ashley Park School students a chokecherry shooter at a presentation June 16.

The shooter was made out of dried hemp stalk, a native plant to the region.

“We would pick the stalk that was dry from the year before, and our dad would cut it and make a whistle for us, or a choke cherry shooter for the boys,” she said.

“(Hemp) grew in the coolies and bushes, and where I found mine was in the Cypress Hills because I don’t get a chance to go to the coulees anymore. It’s all private land now.”

Blanke is working on a book chronicling the history of Métis in the area, on behalf of the Lac Pelletier Historical Society. She hopes to release it in the near future.

“It’s an eye-opener of how prominent the Métis were in the early days here in Swift Current and surrounding area,” she said.

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