Back to Batoche special for regulars and first-timers alike

A dancer competes in the jigging contest at Back to Batoche 2018 (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Whether first-time visitors or long-time regulars, the weekend’s Back to Batoche festival was an opportunity for the nation’s Métis people to connect with their heritage.

The annual festival, held just outside of the Batoche National Historic Site, is a national gathering celebrating Métis culture. It features jigging, storytelling, cooking, fiddling and singing.

The festival started with a signing of a historic document between the federal government and Metis nation promising a collaborative relationship. Sunday, the last day of the festival, featured jigging, slo-pitch and fiddling finals, as well as the traditional journey to the Batoche cemetery.

For some, like Brandon’s Rick Beam, Back to Batoche 2018 was a chance to fulfill a longtime dream.

‘This is our first trip,” Beam said.

He was able to participate in the Sunday ceremony at the cemetery.

“It as moving. I had read lots about it, but I wanted to go and see that.”

Beam said making it to Back to Batoche had always been on his bucket list. He enjoyed meeting other Métis people and hearing the music. He said he’d definitely like to return again.

Joining Beam from Brandon was Brian Ricker, who was also visiting Batoche for the first time.

“I really like it,” he said.

“It’s a central point, a meeting place for the Métis, and I feel it’s part of what I believe in. It’s nice to come to it.”

While Ricker wasn’t able to attend Sunday’s service, he did take the time to make his own journey to the cemetery.

“It was such an insight,” he said. “Just to be somewhere and get the feeling of it was great.”

Like Beam, for Ricker, the best part was the socializing and the music.

“I like the fiddle music and the jigging and dancing. I like all of that stuff. And all of the great food.”

Others, like Charlene Nanapey, make the journey to Back to Batoche as much as possible.

“I started way back in the day,” Nanapey said.

She also enjoyed the jigging and dancing.

For her, though, Back to Batoche means “to be back home, as Métis people, meeting new friends, and meeting old friends we have met before.”

that’s similar to how Shirley Shillinglaw feels. She’s from the Edmonton area and often comes to Back to Batoche.

“It’s really good,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of fun. We come every year. We love it, we wouldn’t miss it.”

While she also enjoys the fiddling and jigging, Shillinglaw said spending time at the National Historic Site is quite moving.

‘We imagine how it was,” she said.

“Just being there, you can almost feel the spirits flowing through you.”

Shillinglaw said celebrating Back to Batoche is important.

“(It’s) in memory of pour people, and in celebration of our people’s lives,” she said.

“And, because we have little children here, for the lives to come.”