Celebrating Métis culture with annual Kitchen Party

Carol Baldwin / LJI Reporter / Wakaw Recorder. Jason Lepine plays the fiddle while Courtney-Dawn Anaquod dances during the second annual Metis Kitchen Party in Bellevue on March 16.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder

The Métis… theirs is a history shaped by resilience and adaptation; a history that for too many decades hibernated, waiting for the warmth of spring.

Batoche is commonly referred to as the ‘heartland’ of the Métis in Saskatchewan, and with its proximity to Bellevue, it is not surprising that the heart of the community beats in time to the Métis fiddle. It is particularly important, that the tradition of Métis fiddling is kept alive. It keeps going, as music is very much part of the heart of Métis culture. While there are different styles within the Métis fiddle community depending on the location, as well as early influences, the feel is the common thread, providing a pulse and heart to the music. It is the music and its feel, that is unique to the Métis culture and very much tied to inspiring dance.

The hamlet of Bellevue and its surrounding rural community is home to many residents who have direct ancestral ties to the Battle of Batoche and the francophone community in Saskatchewan. Métis settlers began making homes here in the 1860s and 1870s, many of them fleeing economic and social dislocation from Red River, Manitoba. Communautés métisses de la rivière Saskatchewan Sud (the Southbranch Settlements) stretched along both sides of the South Saskatchewan River in river lot style from Fish Creek north through Batoche and St. Laurent to St. Louis which was its northern boundary. Batoche and St. Laurent de Grandin were founded by French Métis hivernants (winterers), hunters, and trappers who spent the winter on the prairies and returned to the Red River settlement in the spring with their winter catch. Gabriel Dumont was the leader of the buffalo hunt for his group of 200 hunters living in the Southbranch settlements from 1863 to the end of the Métis buffalo hunts in about 1875. In 1873 the Southbranch settlements organized a form of local government, under Gabriel Dumont, based on the laws of the buffalo hunt. Some estimates count the number of Métis in the Southbranch settlements during the 1880s as between 1300 and 1500. At St-Isidore-de-Bellevue, the francophone population included Métis families who had settled in the district by the early 1880s, followed by descendants of Acadian exiles who had resettled in Quebec before coming to Bellevue in the years 1883 to 1894.

With the arrival of the French immigrants after the 1885 Resistance, the Métis settlement became the nucleus of one of the largest French settlements in the prairies, despite the scattering of the Métis. For the Métis, Batoche is more than a place to celebrate their culture: it is also a sacred place, where their ancestors resisted marginalization. After the fighting at Batoche in 1885, the Metis women and children sheltered at Minichinas Hills lying to the east of the hamlet, while their homes and property were destroyed and looted by the military forces following the battle. The Resistance led to a new era of systemic marginalization of both Métis and First Nations peoples in Saskatchewan and western Canada. 

The second annual Métis Kitchen Party was held in the community hall in Bellevue on Saturday, March 16th. The kitchen party is more than just a social event for the Batoche Homeland of the Métis Local #51, it is a celebration of the culture of the Métis people. It is also an investment in the community itself. The hamlet has suffered the same struggles of rural depopulation as its anglophone neighbours throughout the province and its unique positioning in the story of our provincial history has fallen, for the most part, off the shelf of our collective memory. The Métis Kitchen party brings people from near and far to join in an evening of cultural celebration while also building awareness of the community itself. 

The success of the first kitchen party last year resulted in this year’s event being sold out within days of tickets going on sale. The Bellevue Community Hall saw two hundred people sit for a tasty supper of buffalo stew, meatballs, coleslaw, and bannock, before President of Local 51, Victor Guillet, introduced the evening’s entertainment. An additional twenty individuals were able to attend the social and dance following the meal as the Kitchen Party brought together an amazingly talented group of performers including the multi-award-winning Lionel Desjarlais, Fiddling Hall of Fame member Jason Lepine and the Métis Spirit Band, along with jigging champion Courtney-Dawn Anaquod, an Annishanbe Cree-Métis woman from Muscowpetung Saulteau Nation.

Jason Lepine is a Métis Fiddle Champion and Recording Artist who was born and raised in Portage la Prairie, but now resides in Winnipeg, Mb. He regularly performs at Back to Batoche and his unique Métis fiddling style is full of lots of energy! Backed by “The Métis Spirit Band” comprised of Ben Page on drums and Trevor Smith on bass, along with Lionel Desjarlais featured as lead guitarist, the beat was felt by even the youngest of dancers. 

As a youth mentor, a jigging instructor, and the founder of the Qu’Appelle Valley Dancers, it was not surprising that the young children in attendance flocked to Courtney-Dawn when she invited them to join her in expressing their ‘feel’ for the music. Courtney-Dawn is the granddaughter of the late fiddling champion Morris Anaquod, jigging champion Theresa Anaquod, and the great-granddaughter of the late Joe Amyotte. A traditional kitchen party always included three things, food, music, and dancing, and once the meal was finished, chairs were pushed back to clear space for dancing.

A Métis gathering is not an average gathering. Everyone feels like family, even if they have not met many of them before. Family was and is, especially important to the Métis, and in the long months of winter, while everyone awaits the re-awakening of the earth, it is good to have occasions such as this that bring people together where the music gets one’s toes tapping and blood pumping. The earth awakens slowly at first and then bursts forth into full life, Métis culture and heritage follows that same path and after years of slow re-awakening, it is bursting forth into full life.