(Michif, I tell a little bit of a story.)
Several years ago, when I was in the process of looking up information about my ancestors, I came across several articles about the early Métis communities in northeastern Wisconsin. I was fascinated. Métis history was a Canadian thing, everyone had told me. There my ancestors had fought the British and Canadians until the execution of Louis Riel. Here, the story went, we were just the forgotten descendants of French fur traders and marginalized Anishinaabeg.
These articles said differently. They said that not only were the Métis in Wisconsin, they were once the dominating figures of the area. In 1829, Green Bay was still 60% Métis. And many famous figures in Wisconsin history I had been told were “French settlers” were in fact mixed-descent participants in the creolized Métis culture–like Charles Michel de Langlade, who was always spoken of as the “Wisconsin’s first settler” but was actually of French and Odawa parentage and had strong connections to his indigenous family.
I cried the night that I read those articles. In all the years of school I had taken in Wisconsin, no one had ever told me that my ancestors had done anything of worth there. It’s an experience that nearly every indigenous kid knows, and it was one that has been repeated for me many times: reading about Cahokia, whose history is a niche archaeological interest rarely shared with indigenous descendants of the civilization; learning the history of the Beaver Wars and the many tribes that came to Wisconsin in the 1640s; hearing about what happened to my Canadian relatives after the Red River Resistance and what, despite the more visible Métis presence in that country, continues to be ignored by most citizens.
That is the reason that I started doing everything I could to learn about North American indigenous history. There are many studies suggesting indigenous students come to hate history because of the way their people are treated in most historical texts. It’s time for non-Native academia’s claim on indigenous history to end. I want to tell our histories in a way that have mostly been ignored outside our own communities, and in a place where indigenous people can easily access them. It’s time to reclaim our history.