Part of the inspiration for the second season of Pieces, a CBC podcast exploring Indigenous identity, came about in an unusual way — through a Twitter direct message.
Jeremy Ratt was 19 when he set out to make the first season, which explores his identity as half Indigenous (Woods-Cree heritage) and half white. At the time, he knew he had been given a big platform and he was anxious about having that responsibility.
“There was that small part of me that wondered whether I was deserving of a platform when so many people had been through so much worse,” said Ratt, now 20.
He says his anxieties were somewhat confirmed when he got a Twitter message from Regan Flavelle, who took issue with how Ratt used the term Métis, which Ratt had used to describe himself as someone who has mixed ancestry.
“I felt the premise of your podcast was really important … I’m well aware of how isolating it can be to seek out answers about belonging,” Flavelle wrote to Ratt.
“[But] I felt isolated and erased by the way Métis identity was being constructed or implied over the course of the podcast.”
Flavelle said Ratt’s use of the word Métis did not take into account the distinct cultural identity of the Métis people and effectively erased Flavelle’s own experiences as a Métis person.
Flavelle’s inquiry inspired Ratt to dig deeper into what being Métis really meant. In his new season, Ratt asks the question of what it means to be Indigenous and broaden his question to other Indigenous people on similar journeys about their identity.
While the word métis is a French adjective referring to someone of mixed ancestry, Métis identity is more than just having mixed Indigenous and European heritage. Métis have a distinct collective identity, customs and way of life, unique from Indigenous or European roots.
David Parent, an assistant professor of Métis History at the University of Manitoba in Indigenous Studies and History, says Métis families come from particular areas, or have settled in particular cities, on the peripheries of certain reserves or in proximity to other Métis families.
He says a shared culture is an important part of Métis identity.
“So the Metis Nation that I’m a part of … we have a discernible shared history and when I teach, we talk about what we consider a people hood,” Parent said.
“[People hood] means you have shared history, language and place and shared ceremonial cycles and activities what I like to think of as every day life… a shared experience.”
Ratt ended up reaching out to Flavelle and inviting him on the podcast. The two of them shared a conversation about Flavelle’s own journey uncovering his Métis identity from his grandfather, who revealed he was Métis when Flavelle was a young adult. It helped Flavelle fill in the pieces of who he was and where he came from.
“I really only knew about my European heritage. There was a missing gap because I [wasn’t] in contact with my biological grandfather. There was always some information that I didn’t really have,” he told Ratt.
Knowing where you come from is a powerful tool, Flavelle said.
“If you know where you’re from, you have that to fall back on. This is where I’m from. This is what I can use to draw conclusions about who I am and where I want to go.”