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11.00  A Tectonic Question of Métis Centeredness

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There is an implied collective sense of place, celebration, and assertion within the terminology of an “indigenous cultural centre.” The location of such an “indigenous” centre further suggests traditional territories and cultures predating European influence and colonialism. Yet, what is unique about the idea of a Métis Cultural Centre is that the Métis emerged post-European contact and its “centredness” is thus arguably linked to both the traditional lands and histories of its indigenous roots and the geographic and cultural traces of its European lineage. Adding to this complexity is the emergence of the Métis “nation,” established at Red River in Manitoba and subsequently dispersed throughout the prairies and beyond. The idea of representing Métis culture through the tectonic and spatial design of a centre, thus presents a unique opportunity to critically reflect on the essential intricacies of Métis identity in Canada and its expression. 

A current debate resides over who is Métis-“Métis” and/or “métis,” the former being recognized as the descendants of those residents in Red River during the critical events that defined the political unity and determination of a distinct “nation," while the latter would include all self-identifying Métis with documented indigenous ancestry. In both cases, the role of a cultural centre would be essential to the preservation of a perceived identity, especially at a time when the defining boundaries of that identity are not widely understood. Beyond the representation of Métis-ness, however, another essential question remains concerning centredness more broadly as related to Métis people. On the one hand, the idea of geographically anchored Métis centres, telling the histories and evolutions of their regionally specific cultures, as a national narrative entrenched in the “mixing” between First Nations and Europeans, would be the conceptual premise for such a “centre.” Yet, this approach would also position Métis “centredness” as problematic in the Deleuzian sense of rhizomatic entities that have no single point of origin and instead are in a constant state of being between, or becoming. But a second argument would insist that there is no such thing as a broader “métis” history and that a Métis cultural centre could only focus on the post-contact emergence of the Métis Nation with its precise geographic and genetic ties to the Canadian (and northern American) prairies, and most notably, Red River. This position would foreground the Red River Métis and their descendants as the essential conceptual framework for the centre’s content and its design. 

Making a critical contribution to a current research project, this essay will focus on three examples of such Métis Cultural Centres: the St. Boniface Museum in Manitoba, the Batoche Historical Site in Saskatchewan, and Métis Crossing in Alberta. More specifically, I will examine the tectonic and spatial experiences of the centres in terms of their representation of Métis identity through a combination of field research and literature review. While all three of the centres focus on historical preservation and representation, a proposed centre at Métis Crossing is a rare example of a contemporary interpretation. Given the complexity of Métis identity in Canada, the conceptual design of a cultural centre, though seemingly benign in its material and tectonic approach, instead has the potential to, consciously or not, present a polemical position about both Métis-ness and centredness and is therefore worthy of further discussion.

David T. Fortin


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