Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Métis of convenience, or conviction?

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A friend of mine recently mentioned he'd met someone I'd call a Métis of Convenience.

The Métis of Convenience are an elusive sort. They come out of the closet once in a while so you might spot one in your daily life.

But before I offend anyone too badly, let me make a clear distinction. The Métis of Convenience should not be confused with a newfound Métis person. They are much like the newfound status Indian; they'll tell anyone who will listen to them about their aboriginal heritage.

For whatever reason -- adoption, loss of family members, or a well-kept family secret -- a newfound Métis person didn't know they were Métis for part of their lives, although they might have had their suspicions.

A newfound Métis person often refers to themselves as "a proud Métis," much like a "proud member" of a First Nation. This is very cool -- I can't wait until the day I can say I'm a proud member of my grandma's reserve.

Some Métis people are so proud they sport an infinity symbol bumper sticker on their vehicle, own and wear a Métis sash on special occasions, or whip their Manitoba Métis Federation card out of their wallet faster than you can say Ray St. Germain.

The biggest difference is a Métis of Convenience is neither loud, nor proud. They wouldn't be caught dead wearing a sash, or even know why the infinity symbol is important to the Métis people.

And yes, there are "Indians" of Convenience, too, in case you were wondering.

You could be friends with a Métis of Convenience for months, or even years before you find out they are Métis. Physically they might look like a non-aboriginal person, so it's hard to tell. This isn't surprising.

Métis people -- like many aboriginal people -- come in all kinds of wonderful shades, sizes and shapes. Don't be shocked when you meet a fair-haired Métis person or a fair-skinned First Nation person.

Being aboriginal has more to do with what's inside.

At some of my old jobs, and back in my university days, I came across a few Métis of Convenience. I would be in a class, and think I was the only aboriginal person in the group since I was the only one outspoken about it. Then, when awards and bursary season came around, I found out there was more than just me.

Métis of Convenience only seem to make their heritage known when it benefits them -- like when a job posting is saying aboriginal applicants are encouraged to apply. Otherwise, you'd never know.

The problem I have is what they are doing is morally wrong -- taking credit for being something they are, when in their heart they're not living their lives as a Métis person.

You don't have to become an expert on the life of Louis Riel, but be vocal about your identity.

If you don't identify yourself as an aboriginal person in everyday life, interact with any Métis people, or have at least a bit of knowledge of Métis culture, then you shouldn't be calling yourself Métis.

Maybe I feel so strongly about this because of my own mistakes. I was once a Métis of Convenience.

One year in my long educational path of student loans and part-time jobs, I actually scored some educational funding by way of my Métis card. I'd never used it in my life before, since my parents had signed us kids up for them back in the '80s.

Technically, I am Métis because I fit the official guidelines set out for who is Métis and who isn't. But in my heart I feel different.

I'm proud to have some Métis heritage, but because I was raised a First Nation person, I've always had trouble identifying myself as solely Métis. Growing up, I wasn't given any teachings in the rich Métis culture, so I'd just feel like a phony calling myself only Métis.

I felt bad benefitting from my Métis card, since I've always self-identified as a non-status Indian. Especially since there are lots of other Métis people out there struggling to get those benefits too. However, that bit of funding took a huge amount of stress off my mind, and I was able to concentrate on finishing school.

There's nothing wrong with embracing your identity. Gone are the dark ages when people were taught it was better to pass yourself off as non-aboriginal.

If you're aboriginal, stand up and be proud of it, at all times -- even when it's a hard road to walk. It's all part of the package, and we are a tough lot.

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2011 J6

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