IndigNation by Bev Cardinal
You think there’d be a word or phrase in the Michif language for “congratulations” — after all, we Métis are known to be an outgoing, celebratory and felicitous lot. But alas, my Michif dictionaries don’t have any singular word that aptly describes the pride and joy we have for the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research (aka GDI). So “miiyaashin” — “good job” — will have to do.
But that doesn’t mean for a second that what GDI and its champions have accomplished is merely a “good job”. Commemorating its 40th anniversary is a huge deal for me and especially for YOU, gentle readers! Here’s why.
In 1980, the Gabriel Dumont Institute achieved the outstanding milestone of being Canada’s ONLY Métis-governed and managed post-secondary research and educational institution. It still is!
Its beginnings were modest: a small band of Métis, First Nation and non-Indigenous academics, professionals and students housed in Regina’s Brent Building. The objective? To educate and graduate Indigenous folks with accredited B.Ed. degrees who would teach classrooms in their home communities.
“Why was this mandate so important?” you may ask. “Weren’t bunches of young teachers already being churned out by the province’s two universities?”
Sure. But by 1980, more than three-quarters of Indigenous high school students weren’t finishing grade 12. Something was obviously very wrong — it was (and sadly, still is) an educational crisis,
It was time to change things up in a big and serious way. Métis-specific education was off and running!
RĒ-SEARCH AND DOC-Ū-MEN-TĀ-TION
For those of us old enough to remember them, the ’60s and ’70s was a time of civil unrest and social movements across North America. Even here in Wexitland, we protested against human rights violations, antiquated attitudes about women and reproductive rights, and for Indigenous rights. Who knew? But I digress.
In the wake of the 70s, the Association of Métis and Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan (AMNSIS) — now known as the Métis Nation Saskatchewan (MNS) — foresaw the critical need for research and preservation of Métis history in light of broken federal government promises. This resulted in the spectacular primary research housed in GDI’s archives, which has served Métis across Canada very well. Métis rights, enshrined within Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution, have been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, and land claims litigation continues to move forward.
Couldn’t have happened without the Gabriel Dumont Institute!
The GDI has also done outstanding work to study, document, preserve, collect, authenticate, archive and preserve tangible and intangible Métis culture and heritage. “What’s the big deal?” some will say.
Well, as someone of mixed Métis and Scandinavian heritage, here’s the only way I can ’splain it: if I want to immerse myself in my Scandinavian heritage, I can visit (in real time or through virtual reality) Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. But when I want to immerse myself in my Métis culture, heritage and language, I can only do that HERE in western Canada — the homeland of the Métis.
GDI’s journey has just begun. “We must cherish our inheritance,” said Louis Riel. “We must preserve our nationality for the youth of our future. The story should be written down to pass on.”
For information on the Gabriel Dumont Institute’s 40th anniversary visit gdins.org.