LEWISTOWN — A long overdue ceremony on hallowed grounds: “This is a big step in recognizing our presence here,” says Metis storyteller Chris La Tray.
On Friday, the Metis unveiled a memorial at Calvary Cemetery in Lewistown dedicated to their ancestors, the descendants of Native Americans and Europeans who fled their Canadian homeland because of threats from the Canadian government, many of whom settled in the surrounding area.
The monument was entirely funded by the community, the first donation being $100 given in 2014. The intent of the memorial, to honor and recognize the names of several deceased Metis left in mass graves at the site of present day calvary cemetery.
“It's been a work that's been in the dreams of tribal members, and I've been working on it for roughly 12 or 15 years to honor these people. They're buried here with a monument and have their names put out because everybody should be remembered and those names should be honored and those people should be honored,” says Little Shell elder Daniel Pocha.
An individual by the name of J. I. Corbly purchased a plot of land where the original Metis cemetery was located, electing to have the bodies dug up and removed from the property.
“He said he didn't want cattle degrading that cemetery. But I think in actuality he wanted to sell the land and it wasn't very valuable to him, with a mixed blood cemetery in the middle of his plot,” says Pocha.
The list of names on the memorial remains incomplete, and the installation is a work in progress.
“So we still don't know entirely who all is under this ground. We know about 30, but there's probably 40 or 50 more people that we're still trying to identify,” La Tray.
“We're trying to establish an endowment so that in the future, when people can identify and come forward, we can add more names to this,” says Pocha.
For many in attendance, the names etched into the stone reflect the names of cousins, and great-great grandparents. previously lost generations revealing themselves again into the light.
“My relationship is deeply tied to the bodies that are being recognized here as are those of so many people. So my role as a storyteller and as a poet is to remind people that of this kinship,” says La Tray.
The unveiling kicked off a weekend of Powwow celebration for the Metis.
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