Indigenous Stories Backgrounder
Who are the people in these stories of Indigenous E-RGM?
This set of stories focuses on individuals and families whose presence on the land in Northeastern Alberta pre-dates the establishment of Canada. By the second half of the 19C, a community of people known as the McMurray Métis had settled in the area in and around Fort McMurray. The community has a history of deep involvement in the fur trade and the movement of people and goods throughout the territory, playing key roles such as traders, boatmen, trappers, and labourers. As trading activities waned in the 1890s, Métis families continued to settle in and around Fort McMurray, forming the foundations of what is today an active and proud Métis community. As the 20C dawned, many continued their involvement in freighting and commercial harvesting activities while others found work in new industries such as salt production and fish processing. All the while, Métis families continued their involvement in hunting, fishing and trapping activities.
Unlike the many who have ventured to the Wood Buffalo region for work since the 1960s, the Métis people featured in these stories have not come from somewhere else. Their experience of labour mobility is thus unique in the sense that huge influxes of workers and large-scale development on their traditional lands has meant significant change for their way of life. In the face of this cultural shock, Métis society in the area has continually adapted to the needs of the labour market while at the same time maintaining connection to their cultural identity.
What research project(s) are these stories based on?
The stories included here are premised upon more than one hundred oral history interviews conducted by the McMurray Métis with community Elders and traditional knowledge holders over a period of several years, beginning in 2007. Dr. Tracy L. Friedel and Dr. Alison Taylor held discussions with the community beginning in 2014, which include shaping the research focus and arranging for use of the oral history interview transcripts. Two graduate research assistants worked to analyze the oral histories, and with a focus on aspects of mobility. As the interviewees tended to be elderly, the study itself sought to explore the impacts of large-scale industrial development on the mobility patterns of Métis individuals and families in the period 1930s through 1970s.
How did you create these stories out of your research?
For the Alberta Stories project, we selected narratives from among the hundred plus interview transcripts that we were given access to, and which tended to represent unique and descriptive stories of Métis mobility. An important finding underlying these narratives is that, while the impacts of socioeconomic change in the region has been consistent and oftentimes adverse, it is also clear that there is a strong persistence of Métis resilience that stretches back to the earliest part of the 20C.
In the latter stages of this work, we worked with a talented young artist who helped bring the narratives further alive in what are very creative and colourful ways.
What is most important to you about the relationship between work and mobility in these stories?
It is little known to most Albertans that the Fort McMurray area in the mid 20C was made up of a majority of Métis people. Oil sands development has brought with it dramatic socio-economic change, both abroad and at home. For Métis families in Wood Buffalo, there have certainly been many detrimental effects to their traditional lands and way of life. At the same time, an important finding underlying these narratives is the continued resilience of the Métis community in this area, and there maintenance of shared values in the form of maintaining cultural identity, family connections and community well-being.