Norman Fluery is an Elder, Michif language expert and storyteller from St. Lazare, Manitoba. His work is prolific and diverse in nature. Norman works tirelessly to promote and educate on the importance of the Michif language to the Métis people, and larger community. He is widely recognized as the leading expert in Michif language and has worked on numerous important projects as a language expert over the past decades. Norman is the author of a 11,500 word comprehensive Michif dictionary that serves as the primary source for Michif language. This dictionary can be found online through the Gabriel Dumont’s Website in a digital version here.
Our project team first met with Norman at the Gabriel Dumont Institute in Saskatoon. Norman is the primary Michif language consultant with our team and we worked to create a dictionary of Michif terms specific to the building of traditional Métis folk homes. Norman grew up around this typology of home in St. Lazare. These single room log homes were small in stature and created a sense of mental, physical and spiritual closeness within the home. These structures promoted a communal and egalitarian sense of community. The home was that of both a plains tipi and a frontier home. The homes exterior functioned as a visual mask and took on a settler appearance. However, once past the threshold of the home, Indigenous culture and language thrived through the form of the architecture. These log homes had an open floor plan where family, extended kin and visitors ate and slept in one room. The grandmother of the household always slept near the door and functioned as a doorkeeper, to ensure the safety of her family. This way of living created close ties with visiting families, which was needed to thrive in the prairies. A central hearth (wood cook-stove) functioned metaphorically and physically in much the same way as a fire did in the center of a tipi. Métis people were quick to adapt the technologies that best served their families in the harsh climate of the northern plains. In Norman’s community of St. Lazare, there are families of inter-generational log builders. The knowledge and craft of log building has been passed down through generations to ensure its long term presence in the community. Many Métis communities have a high-capacity of knowledge regarding the built environment. Norman’s grandfather was an expert log builder himself and constructed many homes in their communities.
My Grandfather would leave the log ends sticking out when he built his homes. These log ends could serve a multitude of purposes including hanging pails, horse harnesses and clothing. There was always a reason as to why he built the way that he did, our communities are very utilitarian.
It is evident that a critical design sense was and still is present within Métis communities across the plains. These folk homes were constructed of local materials and responded directly to the local landscape and climate to best serve the needs of each family. Vernacular architecture is the form of architecture you build when you cannot afford to get it wrong. Each year, these homes were plastered and whitewashed with a mixture of clay and straw/grass in a community event where many families would come together. This was to ensure the longevity of the structures and functioned as a social event around a home. This event brought families together around a sense of home and connected the community each year to the craft of building. Many communities still have a strong building culture, and continue to self build their homes in a truly contemporary Métis fashion by adopting contemporary materials while utilizes the knowledge of their ancestors.
Part of Norman’s work with our project was to translate terms relating to Métis architecture into the Michif language. Below is a list of terms that our project team worked on with Norman.
Norman has authored and translated over 20 different books including dictionaries, resource guides and numerous children’s books. Norman is often brought in to help translate books into the Michif language. This promotes learning of Michif to Métis youth, a great initiative. Many of these books have been published through the Gabriel Dumont Institute and can be found here.
Most recently, Norman worked with Canadian naturalist, prairie writer and activist Trevor Herriot on a book titled: Towards a Prairie Atonement. This work narrates a history of the prairies that addresses displacement and dispossession of Indigenous people off of their traditional prairie territories. Norman’s ancestors lived in a small Métis community, Ste. Madeleine which was on the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border. Hundreds of Indigenous people, including Norman’s family were forced out of this area to create a community pasture for settler farmers.
A few of my siblings were born there [in Ste. Madeleine] and they were part of the movement when they had to leave the community because of converting a homeland into a community pasture. When you’re accustomed to having been land-based people for centuries or for a long time, and then all of a sudden you’re thrown out, they totally felt like, “What do we do now? Our total existence culturally and our livelihood is gone. Now where do we look?” … That word “reconciliation” has been thrown around a lot. To reconcile, it means government has a big responsibility for us to regain those things that we lost, to reclaim. And when we talk about healing and empowerment, we want to feel good about ourselves by saying, “This is how we were a people and we want to get back to those people.” (1)
The full CBC interview can be heard here. Norman’s body of work is prolific and diverse in nature. He has an incredible portfolio of work and is a passionate advocate and voice for Métis language and culture. He continues to work tirelessly on numerous projects to advance the Métis nation forward.
(1) “Trevor Herriot and Norman Fleury make the case for atonement.” CBC news. CBC/Radio Canada, 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 01 June 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thenextchapter/barbara-gowdy-cary-fagan-catherine-leroux-1.4065369/trevor-herriot-and-norman-fleury-make-the-case-for-atonement-1.4065449
https://news.usask.ca/articles/people/2016/living-language.php Photo: L Porter