Stories from village of Lebret highlight beauty, vibrancy of Métis culture

‘The past is never finished with you,’ says author Joan Pelletier

When Métis author Joan Pelletier set out to write her poignant memoir Lebret: Looking Back and Beyond: An Autobiography from her home in Regina, she did so with the next generation in mind.

“My grandchildren are all getting older and they were unfortunately not brought up with stories about my childhood due to many different circumstances, them moving away, we just didn’t have that strong sense of community or family we once had when I was growing up. I wanted my children and grandchildren to know how we lived.”

Pelletier’s memoir transports readers back to a simpler time in the village of Lebret, Saskatchewan, a community in the Qu’Appelle Valley that is rich in Métis culture and history.

She spent time moving between one of the area’s several Métis road-allowance communities and a government-run Métis labour farm. Revisiting these memories raised mixed emotions for the author.

“It seemed like a catharsis, but very sad at times, and it made me realize how fast the world is changing,” she explains.

The culture shock Pelletier experienced after being suddenly uprooted from her beloved home community to the larger city of Regina was immense. There, she struggled to adapt to an unfamiliar landscape and a new, fast-paced lifestyle while also facing racism and stereotyping.

Happier memories are balanced with family stories that highlight issues faced by the Métis diaspora in Lebret (and across the country), including displacement, loss of language and culture, substance abuse, and medical experimentation in institutions such as the Weyburn Mental Hospital.

“It was very difficult to write about, especially about close people like my dad and my grandmother. Until I realized it was not their fault, but the realities of the time and place they grew up in.”

Joan Pelletier
Joan Pelletier

While Lebret: Looking Back and Beyond touches on some tough issues, it also highlights much of the beauty and vibrancy of Métis culture. This is reflected in the use of Michif language throughout the book and the Michif glossary provided for readers.

“These are the words that were most familiar with me when I was growing up. These were words that were in everyday use with my parents and my older siblings. The Michif language is a beautiful language that has different words to describe things and experiences that English does not have.”

Pelletier’s own story adds to a long legacy of Métis storytelling. “We grew up with stories all around us, our relatives, our friends, the old people, everyone had stories to tell. Stories that were passed down from generation to generation,” the author says of her Métis heritage.

Continuing to share these stories is something Pelletier feels compelled to do.

“You think you are finished with the past, but the past is never finished with you. Maybe you never grow up, you only grow old, and your stories are all you ever had, and you want to share them.”