Tracing your family lineage
Join the Native Student Centre on Wednesdays to discover more about your family tree
Everyone wants to know where they comes from, but it’s not always an easy thing to find out. It becomes much harder if you are aboriginal, and especially Métis. This is why Robyn Kirk has teamed up with our Native Student Centre to help native and Métis students trace their ancestry and lineage.
Cory Cardinal works for the Students’ Association Native Centre, and is the coordinator of this project. He says that Mount Royal is unique to be able to offer such a program, and is excited to have it is available for students.
He mentioned that there are a lot of native students who were adopted, and do not have many connections to their birth families. Even those who grew up with their families may not know much about their genealogical history.
It can be expensive to look up native ancestry because it is a very time consuming research process. For low or no cost, students can show up at the Native Centre between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. every Wednesday to work with Robyn to discover their family roots.
Searching for aboriginal and Métis ancestry has been Robyn’s passion for 20 years. She grew up as a blonde haired, blue eyed Métis, and has spent most of her life working against prejudice from both native and non-native communities.
She knew some of her family’s Métis roots, and wanted to know more — but people did not want to accept her claim to Métis ancestry because of her appearance. She worked hard to back track her lineage. It took Kirk years of research, paperwork and even a trip to Edmonton to get her Métis status card.
Métis Alberta states that there are four conditions to fulfill in order to get status with the Alberta Government: you have to self-identify as Métis, be distinct from other aboriginal peoples, be accepted by the Métis Nation and have proof of Métis ancestry. This proof needs to follow family trees all the way back to ancestors who were granted land in the Dominion Land Acts of 1872.
Because of poor governmental record-keeping and a lack of accurate birth certificates there is no easy way to search bloodlines, and this takes a lot of source material.
Kirk got her material from the late Geoff Burtonshaw, who she met volunteering at the Glenbow museum. Burtonshaw had spent years collecting data and had the most extensive collection of Métis genealogical records in Alberta.
His work has helped a lot of people. Before Burtonshaw’s passing, Kirk spent five years working for the government to copy Burtonshaw’s records, and now she continues his work. The original records remain at the Glenbow museum, available for anyone of Métis origin to view.
Kirk says that there are a lot of sad stories about Métis who are unable to get their papers. She wants to help those people, and reach a wider audience, which is why she now works with the Native Centre. She says it can be intense, but fun, to search for the links in someone’s family. Although this is a new service that has not been used much yet, Kirk and Cardinal hope that it will continue and help lots of students.
The Native Student Centre also runs multiple programs and events including sweat lodges, craft programs and an Elders speaker series. Every year the centre also publishes Red Word, a compilation of stories centering around native content and experiences. Anyone, aboriginal or not, is welcome to submit stories for the book, and all of the centre’s events are open to anyone who would like to learn or ask questions about native culture.