The North Cariboo Metis Jiggers provided lively entertainment for visitors at the Metis Jamboree at McLeese Lake on Saturday. They showcased some traditional Metis dances

The North Cariboo Metis Jiggers provided lively entertainment for visitors at the Metis Jamboree at McLeese Lake on Saturday. They showcased some traditional Metis dances

Metis jamboree welcomes 300 visitors

Approximately 300 guests gathered at the McLeese Lake Community Hall for the Metis Association Music Jamboree this past weekend.

Approximately 300 guests gathered at the McLeese Lake Community Hall for the Metis Association Music Jamboree this past weekend.

From Friday evening through Sunday, people from around the province and from as far away as Manitoba, enjoyed live music, great food, vendors, fellowship and the opportunity to revisit, discover and celebrate their Metis culture and tradition.

Dancing, storytelling, music and sharing an open mic characterized the weekend, as well as shopping at the vendors booths for things like natural health products, jewelry, décor and handcrafted items.

Entertainers included Wayne and Arnold Lucier, Troubadour Ray Leslie, Le Lala Dancers, Rosetta Paxton, Quesnel Metis Jiggers, Perfect Match, Cariboo Thunder, Country Calibre, River Edge Fiddle and Stuff and Skeena North.

The event was a partnership between the Cariboo Chilcotin Metis Association and the BC Metis Federation.

The North Cariboo Youth Jiggers from Quesnel, led by instructors Kim Berard and Amy Robertson, said they’ve been together for just over a year. They explained jigging is a type of Metis dance that includes step dancing, pattern and square dancing all combined. The group also included a high-energy broom dance in their performance, as well as an audience participation dance.

The group’s colourful costumes were characterized by woven sashes with great cultural significance, both decorative and practical.

“They were created as a belt, and in the old days were used to keep the Metis people’s coats closed,” explained instructor Amy Robertson.

“They served as a baby cradle around the waist, worn around the forehead and tied to heavy items for transport and even the tassel was used for specific purposes.”

The Metis were nomadic — they followed the buffalo, said Robertson.

“When traveling, all their small pieces that they didn’t carry in their trunks were tied onto the tassels: trunk keys, spoons and forks. Individual strings from the tassels were used for sewing and mending.”

The group explained that Metis traditionally wore the red sash when they went into war and the blue in peaceful times; the black sash was commemorative.

BC Metis Federation president Keith Henry said this is the first time the Federation and the local Metis Association have put on an event.

“We all really wanted to put together a whole weekend of culture with camping, so we started organizing about seven months ago,” he said. “Both boards started working together, and our board co-ordinator, musician Rene Therrien has been a real star for us, helping to make this happen. We worked with Arnold and Wayne Lucier and the rest of their board.”

Cindy Lightfoot from Perfect Match said that it was an honour and a pleasure to be invited to perform at the Metis Jamboree at McLeese Lake. The Williams Lake duo played a mix of old time favourites and some of their original tunes for an appreciative audience.

“Everyone was so friendly — it was a great atmosphere and a fun place to play,” she said. “It was so inspiring for us to hear the other groups and musicians, and we were glad to work with Paul Maas from the Guitar Seller. We’d definitely come back for this fun event again.”

There were approximately 70 campers on site, and 300 guests, which is what Keith Henry said the BC Metis hoped for at this first event.

“We’re really happy with the turnout and the weather couldn’t be better,” he added.

“This is all about keeping our culture alive. There have been issues and dysfunction in our communities and this is about putting politics away for a weekend and really focusing on people being proud of being Metis.”

He said the weekend was for celebration and awareness.

“A lot of our people don’t understand the Metis culture and are struggling, and there is no better way to make them feel comfortable and want to learn than in a setting like this event.”

To Metis people, this music was the cornerstone of how many of their families lived — the kitchen parties, fiddle music and jigging.

“This is about reconnection to an old-fashioned part of our culture,” he added. “We can be Metis and be contemporary without forgetting who we are and where we came from.”

He said that this event will definitely happen again, adding that the BC Metis Federation collaborated on five events last summer. He noted that the Cariboo Chilcotin Metis Jamboree marks their 10th partnership so far this summer, adding that they have two more coming up on the Lower Mainland in the next few weeks.

“Our goal is to keep our culture alive and you can see that people want this. People came from long distances to be here this weekend — there are people from at least 20 different communities. Our commitment is to keep growing these events and helping people be proud of who they are.”