ROME — When fiddler Alex Kusturok led the Métis delegation out of the Vatican Monday, his one-month-old son was on his mind.

ROME — When fiddler Alex Kusturok led the Métis delegation out of the Vatican Monday, his one-month-old son was on his mind.

"I was thinking how great it will be one day that he can read his father was here at this time, honouring the delegates and elders with my music," he said.

Kusturok, 30, lives in Cold Lake, Alta. His family moved around, from Vancouver to Ottawa to Swan Lake, but he started life in Winnipeg.

"I’m building roots in Cold Lake, but Winnipeg is home," he said. "I still love the taste of Sals."

Kusturok and Brianna Lizotte, 21, were asked by the Métis National Council to accompany the delegation to Rome and provide musical support, which included playing the Red River Jig — the Métis "anthem"— as they led the delegation into St. Peter’s Square following their meeting with Pope Francis.

"No words can describe how powerful it felt," he said. "I came here to be of service. I’m honoured to be able to support the delegates and elders in this way. I’m very blessed to be part of this experience."

It’s something he recognizes he might have missed had he not decided to give up alcohol in 2019.

"I’ve had three years of sobriety," he said. "(Before that) I had fallen off track. I couldn’t hold down a gig due to my drinking."

He marked his first year of sobriety with a recording titled Phoenix, about being a fiddle player and lifting himself out of the ashes of alcoholism.

The son of Patti Kusturok — 1994-1996 national fiddling champion and member of the Manitoba Fiddle Association Hall of Fame and the North American Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame — he learned to play at the age of seven and grew up going to dances throughout Manitoba with his mother.

Jigging — a combination of First Nations dancing and Scottish and French-Canadian step-dancing — originated in the Red River area in the 19th century.

Although the musical tradition is dying out in Manitoba, he said the opposite is true in northern Alberta, where he moved in 2016.

"There, everybody jigs," he said. "It’s like what Manitoba used to be. A lot more young people are involved."

He teaches fiddle, jigging, dancing and playing the spoons in Métis settlements and First Nations communities in Alberta.

Although he grew up Catholic, he doesn’t consider himself to be one now.

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"I’m on a spiritual journey," he said. "I believe in a power greater than myself. God is bigger than anything I can understand."

He said he’ll always be searching in an effort to live a fulfilled life and find meaning.

"That’s something I can do now that I’m not drunk," he said.

And he’s committed to preserving his Métis musical roots.

"I want to pass it on," he said. "I want to make sure it doesn’t end with my generation."

John Longhurst is in Rome this week to cover the papal visit by Indigenous people for the Free Press. See coverage of the visit at www.winnipegfreepress.com/papalvisit

John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.