Walking in the Woods: A Métis Journey
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Reflecting on his evolving identity as a human being, a Canadian and a Métis westerner, Herb Belcourt tells the remarkable story of one familys enduring connection to the dramatic history of western Canada. Belcourt traces his ancestry directly to an early French-Canadian voyageur and his Cree-Métis wife who lived in Ruperts Land after 1800. The eldest of ten children, Belcourt grew up in a small log home near Lac Ste. Anne during the Depression. His father purchased furs from local First Nations and Métis trappers and, with arduous work, began a family fur trading business that survives to this day. When Belcourt left home at 15 to become a labourer in coal mines and sawmills, his father told him to save his money so he could work for himself. Over the next three decades, Belcourt began a number of small Alberta businesses that prospered and eventually enabled him to make significant contributions to the Métis community in Alberta.
Belcourt has devoted over 30 years of his life to improving access to affordable housing and further education for aboriginal Albertans. In 1971, he co-founded Canative Housing Corporation, a non-profit agency charged with providing homes for urban aboriginal people who confronted housing discrimination in Edmonton and Calgary. In 2004, Belcourt and his colleagues established the Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards Fund, a $13-million endowment with a mandate to support the educational dreams of Métis youth and mature students in Alberta and to make a permanent difference in the lives of Métis Albertans.
Awarded an honourary doctorate of laws by the University of Alberta in 2001, Belcourt is also the 2006 recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Housing. In this memoir, Walking In the Woods, he describes Albertas opportunities with admiration while speaking bluntly about the loss of aboriginal and Métis land in western Canada, and about the difficult consequences of generations of interracial misunderstanding in the West. Addressed to young Métis, and to all Canadians, he speaks with compelling candour about his love for this country, and his concerns about its future.
, and Buena Vista. I heard my first “no” from the Warner Brothers representative at 9 , so I immediately invited him and the rest of the distributors to a meeting the next day at the Royal York Hotel. Meanwhile, I phoned our premier at the time, Peter Lougheed, and asked if he could help get rid of this invisible umbrella over Alberta. His people phoned the film distributors. I also phoned Peter Elzinga, my in Ottawa at the time, and he too agreed to help. The next morning at 10 , the
affordable rates. We looked for three-bedroom homes with large basements so that we could renovate them to accommodate larger families. We hired a highly capable manager, Gordon Hornby, who worked with office administrators Sharon Martin, Judy Hilbert, and Vicki Gillis. Diane McLellan joined us in the later years. We had a Métis contractor, Joe Letendre, who made sure that workers had renovated the houses completely before anyone moved in—with new paint, new carpets, yards fixed, and fences
hard. We bought from anybody, and they were all good customers, as far north as A Mét is Jour ne y 143 Grande Prairie and beyond, across northern Alberta and northern . When the fur market would crash for one skin—beaver, say—we would concentrate on something else. Up at Jasper, Blue River, McBride, and Prince George, we picked up a lot of marten. Williams Lake. Bella Coola. For three or four years, we seemed to be on the road all the time. I used to say sometimes: “What am I doing in
premature. Azlan’s father was still living with Jolene at the time, and we think he was the one taking caring of the little boy much of the time. The couple separated a few years later. We were visiting Disneyland with Amethyst—she was about four at this point—when we received a phone call from Social Services in British Columbia. “Have you still got Amethyst?” the social worker said. “Have you sent her back to her mother yet?” “No, we haven’t,” I said. “Please, don’t send her back. We have had
generations in this country, you have Native blood, too.” He wouldn’t believe me. “Why do you make the bloodline so important?” I asked. “If you had to take my blood as a transfusion to survive, would you be French or would you be Métis?” He just turned beet red after that. After the research I did, I have learned the truth about what happened in our country. I am ashamed of some of it. It was disappointing. There was discrimination against so many people: the farmers in the Hungry Thirties who