• The Tree: “Cowboys and Indians” — Genealogy and Objectification

    Most Native people have from the very beginning, a sense of where their grandparents came from, who they descended from. It’s not only the oral tradition – it’s the United States government. We have to have a very detailed description of our background in order to be enrolled in our own tribe. It’s very different for minority peoples. We have to know where we come from down to the last degree. …. A very strong component of Native Life is to know who you are. My mother made us very proud of who we are.

    — Louise Erdrich, Faces of America interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

    “Cross Addressing”, David Garneau.

    “Cross Addressing”, David Garneau.

    I was brought up in a big family in Northern Lower Michigan, the youngest of eight. That alone set us apart at a time when big families tended to max out at four children. By the 1970s, the day of broods numbering into the double digits was largely over for the French Canadian Catholic. Mine was, perhaps, one of the last of its kind, stretching toward ten.

    Early on, I took a strong interest in our family history, asking many questions, lucky to be surrounded by multiple generations. One of the questions I innocently asked my Dad was: Are we Indian? I don’t remember why. I don’t remember what brought that particular question to the surface so early in my research. I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 12 years old. Perhaps because I was a boy and that’s what boys were interested in.

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  • The Fiddle: C’est l’aviron


    Ayla Bouvette, Metis artist, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

    Learning what I could of traditional French Canadian music before I began the fiddle, I knew right away when taking lessons that I wanted to learn something from the canon of Voyageur songs. It is said that having a good singing voice was a job requirement to join the canoe brigades in the 18th and 19th century fur trade. Songs were vital to breaking up the monotony along the thousands of miles rowed from Montreal to the interior and back.

    Singing also served another purpose: the music helped the paddlers keep pace by timing their rowing to the songs. Song also undoubtedly helped maintain a spirit of levity and camaraderie. Some voyageur songs evoked ‘home’ – either Quebec or France. Songs would have been learned by ear and kept in memory.

    The culture of the voyageurs, including their songs, tales, and memories, was an oral culture – and their oral tradition was passed on to us generations later through the forethought of scholars who ensured the survival of their songs as the fur trade ended and the world changed irreversibly.

    Yet French Canadian culture and that of the Voyageur Metis has also survived because of the continuation of storytelling down to the modern-day. Our modern identities are formed in part by the legacy of family, cultural, and historical stories left to us by previous generations. In that way, we maintain an oral tradition that will benefit generations to come.

    The first voyageur song I have learned is “C’est L’aviron,” a jolly song with a catchy tune. It is a wonderful example of an upbeat tempo and a funny story. You can almost hear the paddles splashing into the water as the voyageurs ply their way to the Sweet Water sea. You can hear this song in Norman McClaren’s 1944 vignette for the National Film Board of Canada and on You Tube.

    Le violon: C’est l’aviron

    Apprenant ce que je pouvais de la musique traditionnelle canadienne-française avant de commencer à jouer du violon, j’ai su immédiatement lors des leçons que je voulais apprendre quelque chose du répertoire des chants de voyageurs.  On dit que d’avoir une bonne voix de chanteur était une condition requise pour faire partie des brigades de canoes au 18ème siècle et . . .

    (Merci á Marie-Reine Mikesell pour la petite traduction.)