MNO: Storying Together
March 20, 2017
For the first time ever, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Toronto and York Region Métis Council (TYRMC) has accepted placement students from a nearby university. This pairing is meant to ensure that the students gain new, employable skills and a better understanding of the Métis Nation as well as support the Council in its work. Self-identified Métis Elise St. Germain and settler-Canadian Gabriele Simmons, are University of Toronto (UT) students taking part in the Equity Department’s full-year Community-Engaged Learning course. They have worked alongside the MNO TYRMC since September of 2016. Both parties are learning from one another and the students have helped with some very large-scale projects. One such project was completed in January of this year; a storytelling event entitled Storying Together.
St. Germain and Simmons were given the opportunity to organize an interactive on-campus event that centred on the work of the MNO TYRMC. Reflecting on their own personal journeys, they hoped to explore more closely the ways in which we take part in, write and are affected by stories, as well as to invite more people into the work of the MNO TYRMC. As such, they conceived of Storying Together. Storying Together was made possible thanks to the generous partnering of Hart House, New College’s Community-Engaged Learning course, First Nations House and as well as the Centre for Community Partnerships and the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s Equity Ideas Fund.
Storying Together happened as part of the UT’s Indigenous Education Week and endeavored to capture the power of storytelling; also, the part it plays in forming, finding and reconciling identities. ‘Story’ was presented in a variety of forms at this event: as a short documentary on the MNO TYRMC’s Youth Committee’s Weaving the Sash project; which explores how urban Métis youth connect to identity and community through culture and tradition; as digital stories created and produced by Métis community members; and as an in-person sharing circle facilitated by St. Germain and Simmons. They held two circles concurrently because so many people turned out! After the closing of the circles, they asked that folks who were interested to record short sound bites on their thoughts around ‘story’ on a digital recorder. St. Germain and Simmons felt that the stories shared in the circles were so insightful that they could be turned into a larger mobile art installation to be presented at the year-end community-engaged learning symposium.
St. Germain and Simmons were moved by how honestly and openly people shared at the event. There was a palpable sense of urgency felt by all in attendance to collectively work towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples at a personal and community level. Many people turned out for this event; it was remarkable to see how Storying Together’s central themes spoke to such an array of people and how they all came together for such a successful evening. As the night came to a close, many individuals expressed an interest in volunteering with and learning more about the MNO TYRMC. St. Germain and Simmons felt so privileged to have helped to facilitate these new partnerships and to have deepened our existing ones. Trish Starling of Hart House generously supported the students in organizing the event while Sheila Laroque, a self-identified Métis and UT alumni, helped to facilitate it. Virginia Barter, Métis storyteller, generously permitted that her digital story be shared. Had St. Germain and Simmons not been placed with the MNO TYRMC, this event never would have been conceived!