Mike Perry…Mike Cadeau? Story of a newfound “Half-breed”

By Mike Perry

“Oh, and by the way … we’re Métis,” my long-lost sister shouted into the phone last New Year’s Eve, talking over the background chatter and clinking of glasses at her house party in Madrid.

That got my attention.

Early the next morning, I hopped onto Ancestry.ca with a curious spirit and fresh cup of coffee, ready to explore my sister’s family tree. And there it was, numbered and everything, with some 400 pages of documentation: Verified Métis Family Line 7023. My birth father’s last name is Cadeau.

Mike Perry.

My ancestral grandmother — Niganihijigak — was Anishinaabe/Menominee (“the people”) hailing from what is known today as northern Wisconsin. Her daughter married my great-great-great-grandfather, a fur trader from Quebec, in Red River, Manitoba.

The family emigrated via the historic Métis communities of Sault Ste. Marie and Drummond Island to settle in the historic Métis community at Penetanguishene in the early 1800s. I have even found a copy of my distant grandfather’s fur trading licence with the Northwest Company.

But what is Métis? According to the census, there are some 600,000 Métis people across Canada including more than 120,000 here in Ontario This past year, I have been learning a lot more.

I have learned that, contrary to the popular misconception, having an Indigenous relative does not make a person Métis. One must prove — with documentation — their connection to a root ancestor who was Métis and lived in historic Métis lands in the Métis way of life.

I have also learned that, unlike settlers, the Métis were unique not simply by their marriage to, and families with, Indigenous people, but in living highly mobile lives with their own language (Michif) and distinct culture as hunters, trappers, traders, interpreters and guides.

And I have learned that while Métis people are counted among the Indigenous peoples of these lands, including in the Canadian Constitution, their rights tie back to the Metis’ historic existence as a thriving people that existed before Canada became a country.

Speaking of government, the Métis people already had peaceful government with a constitution and trade long before the Crown came calling in Manitoba.

I must admit, it’s been overwhelming at times, though oddly familiar. I had a Quebec flag in my bedroom as a teenager in Fenelon Falls, I already speak French and I’ve gone to powwows and advocated for Indigenous justice for a long time. My daughter even has her bundle from her first birthday where we smudged. A friend of mine who is Haudenosaunee called it “blood memory.” I like that term. And my great-grandmother was born right here in Lindsay. Life’s connections.

I keep practising my French and reading about Métis history and culture. I want to play the fiddle, go on the hunt and play Métis games with my kids. I’m planning a family trip — once COVID permits — to retrace the steps of our ancestors through Georgian Bay back to Red River and the Menominee.

For now though, I’m just enjoying learning, celebrating the richness of life’s surprises and who knows — I may even get a tattoo!

Marsee! Pishshapmishko!

6 Comments

  1. Rachel Desroches says:

    Bonjour Mike. Nous partageons le même ancêtre, Niganihijigak, et pour moi si nous suivons la descendance, nous allons de Françoise Clermont – mariée à François Dussome; à sa filleJane Dussome – mariée à Louis Brunelle; à leuf fils Emery Brunelle; à sa fille Gertrude Brunelle, à moi-même Rachel Desroches Brunelle. Ton arbre généalogique est-il semblable? Ta grand-mère serait-elle Monique Brunelle Cadeau? Sommes-nous cousins?
    Je t’écris car j’ai beaucoup aimé ton site web et les informations que tu as sur Niganihijigak. Si jamais tu trouves plus d’informations sur cette amérindienne, svp laisse-moi savoir.

    • Yvette Marie Aube says:

      Hello Mike and Rachel

      My ancestral grandmother was also Niganihijigak !!!
      from Francois Clermont thru the same lines as Rachel!!

      woudl love to tie my family tree to yours

      \my family name is Robitaille from Penetanguishene

      hat a small world we live in 🙂

  2. Christine Natasha says:

    I am also related to the Brunelles and desroches. I’m Metis, all from my father’s side (Brunet, Brunette, Brûlé, Desroches, Carrier/Carrière, Brousseau, Clermont, Dussome, Cadeau, Tranchemontagne, etc),

    What a small world! 🙂
    I’m on Ancestry.ca and Wikitree, but my ancestry.ca family tree is very extensive. Perhaps we share further common ancestors and possibly relatives?? I’m so happy that I stumbled upon your page while researching Niganihijigak!

  3. Rachel Desroches says:

    Mike, je viens de relire ton article dans le journal de Lindsay. Tellement intéressant. Grâce à ton article, j’ai appris à propos de la langue Michif. Je suis allée au lexique Michif en ligne et me suis apperçue que le Michif est très semblable au Joual français. Il serait relativement facile d’apprendre cette langue. Merci encore d’avoir approfondi mon apprentissage de ma langue.
    P.S. Je crois avoir rencontré ton père Cadeau une seule fois dans ma jeunesse lorsqu’il est venue visiter mes parents accompagné de ma tante Monique et mon oncle Jos Cadeau. Small world as Christine says.

  4. Marc Langlois says:

    kue!
    I am looking for a Metis lineage connecting with Donald Cadeau who was the President of the Ontario Metis Allegiance Port McNicoll. A friend of mine has her Grandmother, Prima Cadeau who was probably Donald’s siter.
    Regards (iame)
    Marc Langlois
    Levis, Quebec

    • Linda Simons says:

      Niganihijigak was my 4th great grandmother. I’m just learning about her. I live in the U.P. and we have open enrollment coming up. Im.trying to see if she was on any of the rolls at that time.

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