Contemporary Métis Dancer

éBy Michael MacDonald

Not everybody learns about his or her traditions from an early age. There are many people around the country who are just discovering that they are Métis. Lise McMillan, a contemporary dance student in Winnipeg, is an example of what it means when you discover your traditions.

“I found out that I was Métis just over five years ago. It was something that was hidden from the family. My grandparents just didn’t talk about it. It was actually my uncle who found out and he approached my grandparents and said, ‘Why didn’t we know about this?’ From there he did a lot of research into the paper work and our family tree and in the last three years my mom, my brother, myself and my aunts and uncles have all received our Métis status. My mom and brother are members of the Fraser Valley Métis Association in B.C. I started out as a member there at the same time but as I’m now living in Manitoba I had to cancel that membership and start to apply here in Manitoba.

“When I found out five years ago that I was Métis it didn’t feel like a big shock actually. I accepted it as being a new and interesting part of who I am. I’ve always been really interested in my ancestry and my family history, so when I found out that I was also Métis I added that to who I am. It fit. I said, ‘OK. I’m Scottish, I’m French Canadian and now I’m Métis.’ It became another part of who I was right away without me wondering too much about it. I was also a teenager so I was more worried about who I was personality-wise than what my ancestry was at that moment.

“I’ve been a dancer since I was three. My grandma told me I was, so I was. This is what I find really interesting. Ever since I was young I had an awareness that I needed to dance because it was a part of me, whatever that meant. It made me happy. My grandmother must have known that or could see it in me. Ever since I was young that is how I dealt with so many emotions. I would turn on the music and dance however I felt. I didn’t write poems, I danced. It is an innate thing that I need to do. It’s interesting that dance is such an important part of aboriginal and Métis history, just like it is for me”.

Lise began a process of discovering what being Métis would mean to her as a woman and a dancer. She learned that she was Métis at the same time she decided to become a contemporary dancer.

“When I discovered that I was Métis, it didn’t change how I looked at dance, not at first anyways. Later on I started to question how my new identity can effect my dancing. So, now I’m hearing more about it because my eyes are open to it now. I notice posters for Métis festivals and I’m very interested in seeing what’s out there. Just last week I noticed an audition poster for a contemporary aboriginal dance company in Toronto. I can’t get to it now but I’ve bookmarked the website so I can look into it in the future. I’m just starting to discover how being Métis can change my dancing and how it can change myself”.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
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