A Métis Journey: Trap Line to Vermont
A Métis friend of mine has recently been seen on the Game Show Network as part of the cast of the reality show, Family Trade. He is not the star, but his media appearances contrast with the humble beginnings of his own family, who until relatively recently, lived off the land itself.
Skariwate, of Vergennes, Vermont, grew up in this area of Turtle lsland, located a stone's throw from the picturesque waterfalls of Middlebury. His family connection to the area was his Métis grandfather, who was the last subsistence trapper on Otter Creek. Skariwate, also known as Darrell Tucker, speaks proudly of the influence the adaptable lifestyle of his grandfather, Frank Wade, had on him.
"He was the first survivalist that I ever knew." Skariwate told me, "Born in the year 1900, he lived to be 95 years young. He never had to read a book to certify himself as a survival "prepper." His whole life was based on what he could find on the end of his working trap lines. More often than not, he was successful."
This part of Vermont was an important transportation hub in the colonization of Turtle lsland. Otter Creek, one of the longest rivers in Vermont, was used to access Lake Champlain in the strategic valley dividing New York and the original Republic of Vermont. It represented the farthest colonial settlement at one point in history, an aquatic highway heavily influenced by the historical homeland of the dominant “Mohawk” culture (Kanienkehaka), located due west. Otter Creek became a traders' paradise, with lumber mills dotting the shoreline.
Bartering in these early days was quite common; a social mortar amidst different languages, customs, and value systems. The means by which to live a more comfortable life were as coveted then as they are today by many. Living off the land and providing assistance to settlers to do so created a wider community bulwark than the stereotypical Adirondack hermit who shunned others.
Skariwate’s family originated in the lands north, and possibly to the west, of his present location. The intermarriage of Canadian First Nation people and the colonizing Europeans created a distinct cultural group that extended itself throughout Canada, more routinely than formal settlement later on. Presently, over 400,000 individuals self-identify themselves as Métis in Canada.
The reality television show that this Métis grandson (with a striking black moustache) appears on combines a thriving, family-owned rural automobile dealership with an offbeat system in place for payment. The patriarchal owner of this business, Gardner Stone, claims to take any "salable" priced object in trade for items that he places up for sale. Livestock, dwellings and balloon aircraft have all been accepted to date.
As part of his employment, Skariwate draws upon an extensive personal network to develop sales leads. For this reason, he is known among neighboring villages and regional First Nation territories alike. "Everyone knew my grandfather," Skariwate once let me know. "He taught me the lessons that to be successful, you have to first make yourself indispensable. That started with us, his family."
Today, the Métis are stronger in First Nation politics than ever. Recent court rulings in Canada show more recognition of this self-identity. As a sprawling community, Métis have escaped the stigma placed on them as empowered people who once rallied around Louis Riel, the famed Métis leader, who was executed by the Canadian Government in 1886. Land speculation and dispossession in the aftermath of his revolutionary efforts (he was hung after being found guilty of treason, by a jury not of his peers) increasingly punished all First Nation people, especially in the Northwest Territories where his actions commenced.
Skariwate is intrigued by the attention placed on him as a North American Indian through his media exposure. "My grandfather might just have shaken his head about all this. He had another way of looking at turns in the road. One time, someone began working his regular trap line; he went in there and cut loose the animals, so those traps came up empty. Later it turned out to be my brother, his own grandson, who admitted that he tried to push out his own trap line too far, but came up short. Frank Wade never blinked an eye while he listened. Nor did he tell him. He had been taught to know better."
As much as modern Métis have accomplished, the path ahead remains tough footing. The far-flung populations are divided symbolically by both border and distance, as well as by socio-political perception. Without a definable homeland, Turtle Island itself is one big reservation for unborn Métis generations.
My Métis friend flies the blue flag of his people in front of his home. Like his ancestors, he does the very best that he can for his people. His gift is their survival.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War Two veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.