THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT #36: AWAKENING TO HERITAGE

CALEB KITSON for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT

Curiosity. Stories. Exposure. Experience. Discovery. These are some of the many ways traditional culture lives on when conventional wisdom says it should end, is passing away, is gone. Many of the stories in this project have come from people who experienced the joy of discovery later in life, family traditions uncovered by seekers dedicated to uncovering family mysteries. In this contribution by Michigan native Caleb Kitson, continuity is experienced through story and tradition beginning as a young boy, even as a deeper connection to heritage and identity is found through the translation of one French word as an adult.—ed.

Richard Lee Mannor

Richard Lee Mannor, courtesy of Caleb Kitson

I never knew my grandfather, but what my mom used to tell me of him made me wish I had. She would tell me how when it was time for her and her siblings to clean their rooms, he would write poems and pin them to their bedroom doors. He was a Navy man, a Commander, and the area manager of the prisons in Kent County. He was strict, and expected excellence from his children, as he did from his subordinates. But he was also loving and generous, even to the point that he would have prisoners to his home for dinner. These were the stories I heard of my grandfather, Richard Lee Mannor, as a child.

Every once in a while however, I will hear a new story from either my auntie, or mother, or grandma. Just this summer my mother told me that when “Dick” was in high school, if the French teacher was out, Dick would teach the French classes. I also learned that my great-grandfather, Gilbert, spoke fluent French, though rarely, and that he used to pronounce his last name, Menard, as “me-Noh.”

As a child I learned of our family’s fur trade ancestry, and we had great fun on several occasions dressing as voyageurs on short summer excursions to Michilimackinac. We also knew through oral tradition that we had Anishnaabe ancestry, which later was discovered to be Algonquin. But even though we knew these things about ourselves, and took pride in who we were, we never knew ourselves to be “Metis.” We would say “we are French-Canadian.”  But we held in balance our Native heritage as well as our French heritage, letting go of neither. This was our identity. We were both.

I never heard the term “Metis” nor had I seen it in writing until approximately 2 years ago, when I began my search of my family tree in earnest, determined to discover proof and the identities of our Native ancestors. I first saw the term “Metis” attached to one of my ancestors whom I found on another researcher’s ancestry.com page.  His name was listed as Antoine Metis Menard dit Montour.”  I assumed “Metis” was a French name, and by-passed it as I continued my headlong search. However after discovering my ancestor Marie Mite8ameg8k8e, I slowed down, and started to learn more about her descendants. Consequently, I became curious what the name Metis might mean in French, and searched the word on google.com. I first saw the definition of the word described as being “…a person of mixed American Indian and Euro-American ancestry…”  I was shocked to discover that who I was had a name and a definition. But as I searched more, I was shocked more than anything by this novel revelation: I had a heritage.

For the first time, I felt like I belonged somewhere.  There were people out there like me, related to me, who called themselves a people.  I was a person.

I don’t know if Grandpa Dick, or Great-grandpa Gilbert took pride in who they were as French-Canadians.  I never knew them, and I am sorry that I did not. There is so much I wish I could have learned from them; at the very least, French! But I believe they did, or my family would not have been so filled with that pride. Even so, as our family is now discovering our identity and our heritage, we are experiencing an awakening, and are filled with anticipation and excitement for what the future holds for us as a family, and for us as a people. We are proud to be Metis. We are proud to be Muskrat Frenchmen.

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