Melanie Ferris honours family, history of Treaty 1 territory

This First Person article is the experience of Melanie Ferris, a parent and proud member of the Long Plain First Nation in southern Manitoba. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

When I think of growing up in Treaty 1 in the 1980s, I remember music, being on the land and my family’s teachings — especially those shared by my grandma.

Music was a constant presence. My uncle was always playing the piano, my great-uncle was an accomplished fiddle player, and my grandma was always humming or singing as she did her work around her house. She was a cheerful person.

I remember the pull of the drum the only time I attended a powwow as a child in Long Plain First Nation. I vividly remember the beat of the drum, but I also remember pushing my face into my dad’s protective shoulder as a dust storm cut our powwow visit short.

My first seven years of life were spent growing up in a small non-Indigenous village in Treaty 1 territory.

We had a forest behind our house, where I would spend countless hours. I was able to roam freely (and safely) in this place. 

Our house was four miles from my paternal grandparents’ house. They lived on 11 acres of land, not far outside out of Portage la Prairie. 

Melanie Ferris grew up learning to love and respect the land, thanks to her parents and grandparents. (Submitted by Melanie Ferris)

My grandparents had cows, corn and potatoes as well as wild turkeys. I loved gobbling to the turkeys and having them respond to me with enthusiasm. 

I recall being involved in the farming work, pulling a large burlap sack full of potatoes through my grandfather’s field when I was just a small tot. 

I was raised to be a strong, independent child. My dad came from a non-Indigenous farming family, while my mom came from a First Nation family that I met only a handful of times. 

I am thankful for the knowledge my family has passed to me about how to live off the land in a way that honours the earth– Melanie Ferris

I later learned the disconnection was due to the impact of colonial practices, such as residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the foster care system. 

My mom supported my land-based education. Despite being removed from Treaty 1 territory during the Sixties Scoop — when she and her sisters were relocated to a family in Oregon — she professed her love for Manitoba and the land.

In the winter, she helped me collect snow and melt it in a pot so I could learn about water and science. We grew a garden and she made me enter our flowers into the local exhibition fair every summer. I always won lots of ribbons.

In the last decade, the concept of food security became a major interest as I started learning about Indigenous health. I came to learn how removed many of us have become from our food systems, even though traditional ways of obtaining food had always helped us to maintain our health. 

There are many people who still maintain ties to their cultural practices of growing, gathering and harvesting food. 

I am thankful for the knowledge my family has passed to me about how to live off the land in a way that honours the earth. 

The act of gardening ties me to this land. It is grounding and healthy– Melanie Ferris

Respect for and stewardship of the land is a strong value that has been passed to me by both my Indigenous and non-Indigenous family members.

Today my auntie lives on the family farm, where we grow a large garden. My dad shares his knowledge of soil health and sustainable gardening. Our efforts are successful and rewarding.

The act of gardening ties me to this land. It is grounding and healthy. I am grateful for what the land provides to me and my family. 

I enjoy starting my seeds indoors, growing all sorts of produce, and finding ways to preserve the food. 

I also enjoy giving away food, as there is always more than we can use — my grandma always role-modelled the importance of sharing what we have with others. 

This is an important lesson as we navigate and revisit the importance of the treaties.

WATCH | Melanie Ferris celebrates her personal connection to Treaty 1 territory

Long Plain First Nations member Melanie Ferris celebrates her personal connection to Treaty 1 territory. 2:39

As an adult, I lived in the big cities of Toronto and Ottawa for a total of 15 years. When I would come home, my grandmother and I would spend our days talking about everything. We would visit the graveyard where my grandfather and other relatives were buried.

It was a sunny day when I sat down close to my grandfather’s grave to breastfeed my newborn baby. My grandma pondered, “You know Melanie, life is a series of losses.”

I think of this memory often when I remember my grandma. She passed away three years ago. 

Although I lost my grandma, her teachings and her love and respect for this land live on.

CBC Manitoba is thrilled to welcome Melanie Ferris as our Radio Noon community co-host on June 21, 12 p.m. CT on CBC Radio One. 

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