LEWISTOWN - The American Prairie National Discovery Center in Lewistown recently hosted Little Shell author and storyteller Chris La Tray to deliver a free presentation to the public.
Chris La Tray is a member of the Métis people, a group of Indigenous peoples who once dotted the High Plains landscape but have since been relegated to the shadows.
The Métis were renowned as fur-trappers.
History books will tell you these trappers were French-Canadian, but the vast majority of them were actually indigenous, La Tray remarked during his presentation.
It’s these bits of information that demonstrate the erasure of Métis, and Native culture from the history books.
In 2019, the Little Shell Tribe was federally recognized as the 574th tribe in the United States.
Included within the Little Shell band are the Chippewa, Cree, Assiniboine, and Métis peoples.
La Tray’s presentation focuses on the 150-year journey the Métis took from being rejected to being federally recognized, including repeated U.S. conflict which split tight, family bands into refugees, often resulting in a generational loss of identity.
“The objective is long-term genocide,” says La Tray, “By defining a Native person by the amount of “Indian” blood they have in them, the government can “marry out” a Native person, until they aren’t related enough to legally place Indigenous on their birth certificate.”
La Tray is an award-winning author and poet whose father was born in Lewistown.
The Métis had and still have a strong presence in the town, and across Central Montana. La Tray’s goal is to keep that presence alive and well.
“My father, and his father, and his father before him, they all kept their identities a secret from others, due to dealing with racism and being called dirty half-breeds. It’s important that we acknowledge who we are and let others know too so we can be proud of who we are,” says La Tray.
La Tray’s presentation kicks off a fully slated weekend in Lewistown including a celebration of the Métis people and a powwow.