By Michael MacDonald
Pauline Huppie Parsons explained: "I’m originally from Bonnyville, Alberta. When I was growing up there was always a fiddle and guitar around. There were always people coming over and there was always music. We have a pretty big family, not my immediate family but my extended family. Not very many of them would jig but my grandmother, My kookum (grandmother), would jig. Any time the fiddle would play she would be up there jigging. People would go up there with her and bounce around. I always wanted to learn. I’d be one of those people jigging with her, or trying to".
I met Pauline Huppie Parsons in Ottawa. I called the Metis National Council to find a Metis jigger that I could talk to for this project. The person that answered the phone suggested I talk with Pauline, a great dancer and member of the office. Pauline and I met at the National Office in Ottawa and talked about her experience with Metis Jigging.
"My kookum was First Nations so she’d always bring me to powwows. Myself and my little cousin, who she raised, would be the two that she would bring to the powwows with her, mostly because we’d be the ones that would work for her in the summer. We’d clean and do the dishes and that kind of stuff. As a reward she’d bring us to the powwows on the weekends.
"This began when I was eight years old. I’d be the only little blonde-white girl at the powwows dancing in the intertribal. I was so proud of My kookum, and she was so proud of me. We’d be always in there dancing and My mushum (grandfather) would be at the powwow playing hand games. We were always very rich culturally because we were exposed to it. This was all we were exposed to so it was all we knew.
"When I was ten or eleven I was skipping arm in arm with a friend of mine and she said, ‘I didn’t know you knew how to jig.’ I said, ‘What?’ I was just skipping, copying her steps as we moved along. She was jigging as we moved and because I was imitating her so was I. She invited me to her dance group and I agreed.
"A couple of days later I wore a really pretty dress and showed up for the dance group. There must have been about twenty people there. I didn’t know about square dancing or anything like that. There were eight people in a group and we started to dance in a circle. The teacher had to hold my shoulders back because I was skipping. I was going fast and he was trying to hold me back saying, ‘slow down, slow down!!’ When we were jigging he had to hold me back so I would stay in one spot. I was always trying to move! I remember him trying to keep me in one spot and my legs were just trying to bring me somewhere else. About an hour later the group folded. The teacher could not get people to work together. So, my first square dancing practice was my last one. I just figured I was never supposed to square dance.
"On Boxing Day in Bonnyville they have this huge talent show. So people come in from all the Metis settlements and reserves that surround the town. They would come in from everywhere in a 300 mile radius of the town. There was singing, fiddling and jigging and it would range from little kids to elders. So, every year my friend would enter the jigging and singing contest. I was always too shy. Eventually she taught me more. She taught me how to jig to the Red River Jig, which is the Metis national anthem. You do a basic jiggin’ step and you change into a fancy kind of step. There are more than 50 different fancy steps that you can do. As time goes on people add more types of fancy steps. People incorporate dance moves from dance music. It gets really interesting.
"Since I moved to Ottawa I’ve danced more. I’ve been dancing at conferences and different performances. I’ve even started to get paid for it, which is really neat. Since I’ve moved to Ottawa, there are Metis in Ottawa, but few of them really know how to jig. So every time a conference would call our office (Metis National Council) and ask for dancers I’d say, ‘yeah, I jig.’ So they would invite me. It would be a little bit of education and some dancing. Sometimes I go with a fiddler but the majority of the fiddlers are out West so usually I just use a CD. It’s difficult though with a CD, because you have a specific amount of time. With a fiddler you can go as long as you want or as short as you want and the fiddler works with you. You really need that break sometimes because jigging is like Metis aerobics.
"I really wanted to learn how to dance because My cookum danced and I didn’t want her to be the only one who knew how to dance. I work with the Metis National Council so I really like being able to jig. I travel a lot and like being able to jig at different places around the country".
The jig steps come from the Scottish and First Nations steps. The fiddle is Scottish and Irish. There is one dance called the Belt Dance. It used to be called the Sword Dance. When the Scottish would go out after they won their battles they would throw their swords on the ground and jig around them and over them. The Metis do this dance with belts now laid out on the floor. Pauline thought that the Metis may have danced around their rifles, but she was not sure.
As we have seen, Pauline learned to dance by watching other people. Now she is the person that people are watching and she believes that it is very important for other young Metis to see jigging.
"We have a National Metis Youth conference every year. At that conference we offer a jigging workshop. So there are a lot of youth there that want to learn. It’s either them coming to a conference for the first time or coming to Vancouver or Winnipeg for the first time. It’s always a huge experience over all. They find out that there are more Metis out there. They find out that there is a Metis way to be. Their language, their culture and the way they grew up wasn’t just their own family thing, it’s consistent from Vancouver to Ontario. The traditions which they thought were their own, they realize that, “Yeah, I am Metis and I am a member of this Metis Nation.” They feel more encouraged to learn how to jig when there are a lot of them jigging for the first time. It encourages them to learn a lot more".
Pauline works very hard to teach others in the Metis community about jigging. She is still learning from elders in the Metis Nation. This process of learning and sharing is very important for all of us.
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