Annie Martel

Environ-Métis Studies: Annie Martel Learns About Caring For the Earth

“As Métis women, we have a very specific and kind of intimate relationship with the land, and specifically the water as well,” shares Annie Martel. She is Red River Métis from a small community southeast of Winnipeg called St. Pierre. She left her home community to go to an international boarding school in tenth grade but recently moved back home. 

"As Métis women, we have a very specific and kind of intimate relationship with the land, and specifically the water as well."

“I'm lucky I grew up knowing that I was Métis. I come from a very proud Métis family,” she recalls. Despite that pride, there was still some shame and some intergenerational knowledge transmission that was interrupted. She, like many others, is trying to reconnect with those teachings, family and elders to learn more about the environment. 

Martel isn’t just learning for herself. She’s sharing what she’s learned with her grandparents and her nieces and nephews, bridging the gaps where different generations have been disconnected from wisdom and teachings over the years. Along the way, she’s helping everyone learn to take better care of the physical environment.  

In her undergraduate studies, Martel majored in environmental studies with a minor in geography and Indigenous Environmental Science. Growing up, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do until she was in high school taking a class on environmental issues and her interest was sparked. The ongoing climate crisis and the way it was manifesting in her own community also inspired her to learn more about environmental studies. Her interest was more political than scientific and she was even more intrigued to be taking classes about traditional ecological knowledge, learning how Indigenous knowledge could support climate change adaptation and mitigation.

What Martel has been trying to do is connect what she’s learned in school to her own community and her own traditional teachings. She’s also been exploring traditional Métis environmental knowledge, asking her family about their relationships with the land and the waters and digging for the teachings that were not passed down. 

Working with the Manitoba Métis Federation in their energy, infrastructure and resource management department she’s been able to connect with elders, build relationships and do water testing. While the people she’s met started as strangers, some turned out to be relatives and alongside them, she’s been able to learn about the waterways, how water quality has changed and the impact of climate change. 

"I think it was really good for me to leave to realize what I have here and realize my connection to my family and my community."

Growing up, Martel hungered to leave her home community behind, wanting to explore new things and feeling stuck. “I loved the experience of being away but I think it was crucial because it made me realize how much my community means to me. It wasn't just being homesick and missing my family. It was missing where I'm from, missing my community, missing the land, everything. Every time I would come back home from being away, I just felt this relief like, ‘this is where I belong, this is where I'm from,’” she recalls.  

Open-ended assignments at school would circle back to home and every lesson she learned she was conscious of the impact it could make. “This knowledge that I'm gaining here, I'm bringing it back home with me and I'm hoping to make changes big or small back in my home community with regards to climate change,” she would tell herself. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

Her advice for youth looking to leave their home community for post-secondary is to anticipate that it might be more challenging for them than it is for other Canadian university students. Her peers were excited to be away while she was homesick. Martel recommends preparing for not being able to relate to most other people and seeking out other Indigenous students through the Indigenous student support systems at school. 

Finding an Indigenous community away from home was what she found most helpful, students with similar values and experiences. As the only Métis student in her support group, she wasn’t sure how she would relate to the other First Nations students but she found a lot of common ground and the group grew into a chosen family. She suggests remembering where you come from, staying connected with phone and video calls and looking for support when needed.   

Beadwork is a practice Martel took up a few years ago and it got her through pandemic isolation. For her it isn’t just art, it’s also self-care, medicine and healing. While she struggles with focus most of the time, she can focus when she does beadwork and tune out the world. Otherwise, she loves spending time with her nephews, grandparents, and other people who are important to her. 

While she grew up proud of her heritage, it wasn’t something that was discussed as much and reflecting on the experience, Martel says, “Reclaim your culture, be proud of who you are,’ I wish that was what someone would have told me when I was younger, but I'm proud that I'm doing it now but definitely would have been less challenging if I would have started at a younger age.” 

Moving forward, Martel hopes to see more cultural reclamation on a community level. One of the things she would love to see change is the name of her community. St. Pierre was named for the first priest who came to town, but the place had a name before, Muskrat Creek. While many Métis families are Catholic, she would love to see recognition of traditional culture as well. 

As a Métis woman, Annie Martel is exploring the very specific and intimate relationship she has with the land and water, traditional teachings and her cultural identity. Learning what she can to help her community weather climate change, she’s giving back with knowledge and connecting to learn more. Coming from a proud Métis family, she’s doing a lot they can be proud of, too.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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