The Story Behind a Controversial Graphic Novel on Métis Identity

Last Updated: June 17, 2024By

The Story Behind a Controversial Graphic Novel on Métis Identity


A graphic novel exploring Indigenous identity in Canada has caused quite a stir among Métis groups, who argue the book misrepresents their history and challenges their sovereignty.

This novel was created by students in a third-year history seminar at Dalhousie University. The class aimed to delve into tricky questions about ancestry and identity.

Originally, the term “métis” was used for people with mixed European and First Nations heritage. However, it now specifically refers to descendants of a unique group from the Red River area in western Canada. The Métis people, who faced discrimination and were called “traitors” by colonial powers, formed their distinct culture and language, Michif, in the 1800s. They’re one of the three Indigenous groups recognized in Canada’s Constitution Act, a recognition earned through years of struggle for nationhood.

Understanding Métis Identity

Back in the day, mixed relationships were common along fur trade routes, but the Métis in the Canadian prairies have long insisted that their identity can’t be reduced to just mixed ancestry.

Some other groups have pushed against this idea, with more people now claiming Métis identity, especially in places like New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. These people are known as Eastern Métis, and their status is hotly contested by those in western Canada.

Lisa Binkley, an assistant professor of history at Dalhousie, wanted her students to grasp the current debates around Métis identity in Canada. The students read various sources like academic articles, laws, oral histories, and the constitution to get a deeper understanding of this complex issue.

“A lot of people only hear one side. These students are curious and they just want to know more about who they are,” she said. “There’s so much fear around ideas of ‘pretendians’ and discussions around race-shifting.”

The Graphic Novel

The result of their study was the graphic novel Rocking Spurs: The Anti-Bullying Tour, which looks into themes of stereotyping and internal community conflict. The book is based on the novel Rocking Ten by the prolific author KD Beckett, and it’s published by the Métis Nation of Canada (MNC), a group not recognized by the federal government. KD Beckett is actually the pen name of Karole Dumont, the national chief of the MNC.

The story centers on an Innu-Métis artist from Quebec who faces bullying due to her Eastern Métis identity.


“Some people deny the existence of the Métis people from Nova Scotia to eastern Ontario,” the text says. “They claim that anyone identifying as Eastern Métis is a race shifter and doing it for benefits, tax evasion and money. They claim we’re cheating First Nations of their lands and treaty rights.”

Binkley, who is also part of the unrecognized MNC, said the students talked about the controversy surrounding “Métis-ness” in eastern Canada.

“We thought that if you take this idea of the word ‘Métis’ out of it, you realize there are a lot of people still in Canada that are of mixed descent, and that are just interested in understanding and engaging with that culture,” said Binkley.

The Backlash

Nearly 1,500 copies of the graphic novel have been distributed to schools across the country for educational purposes. But the book has sparked outrage from Métis leaders.

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), expressed his frustration: “This attempt to make it look like we’re a bunch of mixed bloods – that you can have an ancestor going back several hundred years and claim you’re Métis – that is so, so far from what being Métis is.”

“They’ve created a fantasy. But we’ve fought battles for our people, our nation, and for our identity. We’re not going to give it up now, because a group has decided there are benefits to calling themselves Métis.”

Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council (MNC), told APTN “there is no such thing” as Eastern Métis.

“Our communities come from the historic north-west. There is no such thing as a Métis-Innu community and we stand firm against this fight against the ‘Eastern Métis’.” The MNC has pledged to “take action” and ask school boards to remove the books, arguing the book undermines Métis sovereignty.

A Growing Concern

The uproar over the book comes just days after First Nations, Inuit, and Métis groups met in Winnipeg for a summit on identity fraud, which they say is a growing threat to their constitutional rights. The summit passed resolutions condemning another group, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), which Chartrand likened to “thieves” stealing rights from his nation.

“Indigenous peoples only lose when we fight amongst ourselves and approach self-determination as a zero-sum game,” the MNO said in a statement. “The only winners are colonial governments who find further reason to ignore our inherent rights and stand idly by.”

The summit also passed a resolution condemning Nunatukavut, a group that identifies as Inuit but which previously identified as Métis. Federally recognized Inuit groups say Nunatukavut represents a threat to their sovereignty.

Indigenous groups are also concerned that the federal government might push through self-governance legislation that would recognize new Métis nations, leading to more claims to Métis identity.

Binkley argues that “powerful and well-funded” groups need to recognize the different forms of Métis identity across Canada, including people who didn’t fit into either First Nations or European groups.

“We’re a diverse land. And we should be embracing that and not trying to suppress information about our history,” Binkley said.

But for Chartrand, the potential dilution of hard-won constitutional rights for the Métis is infuriating.

“Canada is not taking this seriously. It’s not a battle they’re prepared to have. They think it’s just one person and one story about what it means to be Métis,” he said. “But they don’t see the damage it will cause. They don’t see how one hell of a storm is coming.”

This rewrite includes personal anecdotes and emotional language to engage the reader more deeply. It also has a conversational tone, using casual language and breaking the text into smaller, digestible sections with subheadings.

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