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Home Arts Jason McKay’s Wandering Métis project celebrates identity and culture in Sask.

Jason McKay’s Wandering Métis project celebrates identity and culture in Sask.

Jason McKay’s Wandering Métis project celebrates identity and culture in Sask.
Jason McKay drives his decorated Ford Bronco around the province as the Wandering Metis. -- Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Julia Peterson

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

At any Métis gathering, Jason McKay is easy to find — just look for the man in the middle of the action.

McKay, who has worked for Métis Nation — Saskatchewan (MN-S) for nearly five years, has always been the outgoing sort, eager to talk to people and hear their stories. Whether MCing from the podium or handing out microphones in the crowd, he has a knack for putting people at ease and striking up conversations with old friends or total strangers.

“I get the gift of gab from my dad and my grandmother,” he said. “I call it the McKay gift of gab.”

This year, McKay is taking his talents on the road as the Wandering Métis, driving all over Saskatchewan to promote Métis culture and learn from Métis communities near and far.

The idea came about last year during Back to Batoche, a four-day Métis culture and heritage celebration in Batoche, Sask., when McKay was the director of education for MN-S. He was tasked with strolling around the grounds, asking people about their fondest memories of being at Batoche.

“I love talking to people and meeting people,” he said. “And that’s what happened. I went to Batoche with a selfie stick and my phone … and by the end of Batoche, I had talked to over 200 people.”

McKay heard stories from families who had come from as far away as India as well as from locals who attend the festival every year. Everyone had something to share, and McKay returned home feeling exhilarated. But he thought that would be the end of it.

“I didn’t anticipate anything more than that,” he said. “But I gave all the footage over to our creative team, who created a little vignette of all my interviews — and management loved it. They said, ‘Let’s do this full-time. Are you interested?’

“And I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

McKay has always loved travel shows on TV — especially watching the late Anthony Bourdain travel the world, celebrating different places, foods and cultures.

So for McKay, becoming the Wandering Métis has been the chance to do something similar on a smaller scale.

“(Bourdain) was lucky to be able to go all around the world, and I’m going all around Saskatchewan, but it’s the same sort of concept,” said McKay. “I’m trying to capture these stories and food and culture. It’s meaningful, and the Métis story needs to be out there.”

In less than three months, McKay has logged nearly 10,000 kilometres as he travelled to La Loche, La Ronge, Pinehouse, Prince Albert, Christopher Lake, Kindersley, Regina and Indian Head.

He continues to gather footage and interviews, and MN-S says there are “big plans” for the future of his project.

“A priority of this government is (to) engage our citizens, promote Métis culture, language and tradition, and showcase our Métis communities,” said MN-S tourism minister Brent Digness. “With the Wandering Métis, MN-S has created an opportunity to highlight the amazing things being done in every region of the province — north, central and south.”

McKay plans to visit Stony Rapids and Cumberland House next. 

“It’s a lot of road time, but I enjoy it,” he said. “I enjoy going into the communities and meeting people.”

‘Bringing back Métis pride’

Gathering these stories has allowed McKay to learn more about his own Métis culture.

In Pinehouse, he learned how to set a net to catch fish. In La Loche, he joined a group of young students from Ducharme Elementary School as they went into the bush for five days. 

“I got to learn how to trap and fish and set snares, which was our Métis way of life since forever,” McKay said. “I’m 49 years old, and I was so happy to be there and learning along with the students.”

But some of the most exciting moments from McKay’s travels were totally unexpected.

In Rosthern, he met a woman who was intrigued by his colourful Ford Bronco, which he has decorated in bright Wandering Métis decals to promote his project.

“She actually had her Métis Nation registration in her car, in a plastic sleeve,” McKay recalled. “And she said, ‘You know what? Now that I’ve talked to you, I’m going to take this in. I want to be a Métis citizen.’

“In driving that car and letting people see it and be proud of their heritage, we’re getting the Métis story out there. That absolutely means a lot to me. If it encourages anyone to get their registration in and obtain their Métis card, then I’m happy and proud to be a part of that.”

McKay’s friends and colleagues are thrilled to see him shine in this new role.

Calvin Racette, a retired educator in Regina, has been eagerly following his progress. “I love his energy. I love his honesty, his sincerity, his patience, his willingness to work with the community. He’s very genuine.”

Racette describes McKay as the kind of person who will throw himself “all in” to any project, working from sunrise to sundown to bring an idea to fruition.

“I’ve developed a huge respect for him,” Racette said. “When you sit back and watch a young man like that, you know he’s committed. And he’s doing a remarkable job.”

Racette says he can’t imagine a better person to gather Métis stories throughout the province.

“He’s a natural at it,” Racette continued. “He always takes the high road and speaks well of others, and he’s always positive and approaches things with a handshake first. That’s just the way he operates.”

As McKay travels the province, he often reflects on his own family legacy — particularly the lessons he learned from his father about what it means to be Métis.

“Being Métis is near and dear to my heart,” McKay said. “My father lived and died a proud Métis, and I’m my dad’s only son, so I want to follow in his footsteps and carry on his legacy for as long as I can.”

McKay plans to continue carrying on that legacy as the Wandering Métis for as long as he can, visiting Métis people and communities in every corner of Saskatchewan to celebrate their culture and achievements.

“I’m a part of bringing back Métis pride,” he added. “For me, it doesn’t get any more powerful than that.”