Indigenous Elder honours Métis culture by sharing it with others

Posted by Nadia Daniell-Colarossi on Jun 20, 2023

Harriet St. Pierre loves languages. By the time she was in school she could already speak three, Michif, French and English. As an Indigenous elder, Harriet shares her passion for languages by teaching Michif, one of the languages of the Métis people in Canada, to students of all ages. At 84 years old, from her home at Aspira Yorkton Crossing Retirement Living, Harriet is determined to keep Michif alive by inspiring others to see the rich history and beauty of Métis culture.

“I’ve always been fascinated by other languages, but my mother tongue holds a special place in my heart,” says Harriet. “In Michif, we do a lot of laughing, if you watch when two Métis people meet each other you will see the laughter while they’re speaking their language.”

In March 2023, Harriet's unwavering commitment to preserving, promoting, and revitalizing Métis culture was recognized when she was inducted into the Order of Gabriel Dumont. The prestigious honor bestowed upon her came in the form of a Gold Medal, a testament to her enduring presence as a pillar in the community.

Harriet stands beside Bonnie a team member at Yorkton Crossing while holding her award from the Gabriel Dumont Institute

But teaching isn’t the only thing that keeps Harriet’s days bustling with purpose. Life at Aspira Yorkton Crossing fulfills her deep-seated passion for helping others.

“In my younger days, I worked in a seniors’ hospital in B.C. that is where my love for older people took root. When I notice a friend or neighbour in need of something, it compels me to lend a helping hand,” says Harriet. “I love participating in exercise classes, and will help out Bonnie, our recreation manager whenever I can. But beyond that, I enjoy chatting or do a puzzle with others.”

Harriet’s influence is well-known in the province. In 2021, the Mayor of Saskatoon sought Harriet's guidance when the city decided to honor Métis people by naming a street in Michif. Entrusted with this significant responsibility, Harriet bestowed the name Shakamohtta, which means "connect."

“Many, many young people are curious about our language and culture, and given the opportunity then want to learn more,” says Harriet. “They understand when I tell them it’s only the elders who know how to speak the language. Our ancestors were given the language as a gift from our Creator. It is passed down from generation to generation and we have to hang on to it because it’s a gift.”

Harriet's unwavering determination to preserve Métis culture and language resonates throughout the province, leaving an indelible mark on all who encounter her. She stands as a shining example, an advocate for Indigenous history, and an embodiment of the profound connection between language, identity, and community.

Topics: Cultivating Happiness, Ontario, Aspira, Retirement Living, Aspira Retirement Living, Community, Yorkton Crossing, National Indigenous Peoples Day