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The North-West Is Our Mother by Jean Teillet

The North-West Is Our Mother by Jean Teillet

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There is a missing chapter in the narrative of Canada’s Indigenous peoples—the story of the Métis Nation, a new Indigenous people descended from both First Nations and Europeans

Their story begins in the last decade of the eighteenth century in the Canadian North-West. Within twenty years the Métis proclaimed themselves a nation and won their first battle. Within forty years they were famous throughout North America for their military skills, their nomadic life and their buffalo hunts.

The Métis Nation didn’t just drift slowly into the Canadian consciousness in the early 1800s; it burst onto the scene fully formed. The Métis were flamboyant, defiant, loud and definitely not noble savages. They were nomads with a very different way of being in the world—always on the move, very much in the moment, passionate and fierce. They were romantics and visionaries with big dreams. They battled continuously—for recognition, for their lands and for their rights and freedoms. In 1870 and 1885, led by the iconic Louis Riel, they fought back when Canada took their lands. These acts of resistance became defining moments in Canadian history, with implications that reverberate to this day: Western alienation, Indigenous rights and the French/English divide.

After being defeated at the Battle of Batoche in 1885, the Métis lived in hiding for twenty years. But early in the twentieth century, they determined to hide no more and began a long, successful fight back into the Canadian consciousness. The Métis people are now recognized in Canada as a distinct Indigenous nation. Written by the great-grandniece of Louis Riel, this popular and engaging history of “forgotten people” tells the story up to the present era of national reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Jean Teillet is called to the Bar in Ontario, BC, NWT, Manitoba and Yukon.  She specializes in aboriginal rights litigation and negotiations and is currently the chief negotiator for the Stó:lo Xwexwilmexw >who are negotiating a treaty in the lower Fraser Valley in BC.  >Ms. Teillet has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in ten cases.  She maintains an active role as a public speaker and primarily speaks on aboriginal rights, access to justice, identity and equality issues.  She is published in many journals and law books and is the author of the annually updated Métis Law in Canada.  In addition to her aboriginal rights work, Ms. Teillet works in the field of reproductive rights.  She is an adjunct professor at the UBC Faculty of Law.

Ms. Teillet was the first recipient of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Lincoln Alexander Award.  In 2011, Ms. Teillet was awarded the title “Indigenous Peoples’ Counsel” by the Indigenous Bar Association.  In 2012, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.  She has been awarded two honorary doctorates: Guelph University (2014); Law Society of Upper Canada (2015). 

Prior to becoming a lawyer, Ms. Teillet worked for twenty years as a writer, dancer, actor, choreographer, director and producer. Jean has also been a visual artist for over thirty years.  Her work is in private collections in the United States and Canada.  One beaded piece, a replica of the “Two Row Wampum Belt” hangs in Flavelle Hall in the Law School of the University of Toronto as a symbol that two different peoples may embrace different legal regimes and still establish a working relationship if that relationship is built on respect and honesty.  The University of Toronto Faculty of Law also holds three other replica wampum belts created by Ms. Teillet – the Covenant Chain Belt, the Micmac Vatican Belt and the Hiawatha Belt. 

Ms. Teillet is the great grand niece of Louis Riel.