Children’s book explores role of lobstick in Métis culture

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Matt Gardner
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A local author is taking young readers back to the fur trade era with a new book exploring the role of lobstick-making in Métis cultural traditions.

The latest children’s book by local author Leah Marie Dorion, My First Métis Lobstick tells the story of a young boy who learns about making lobstick trees from his father.

As a prominent Prince Albert-based artist, Leah Marie Dorion was able to use her skill in both illustration and prose in writing her latest children’s book, entitled My First Métis Lobstick.

Published through the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research -- where Dorion serves as a part-time instructor -- the book tells the story of a young boy who learns about making lobstick poles from his father.

“Through the story, young people learn about the role of the lobstick-making in the fur trade as a very important cultural practice of the Métis,” Dorion said.

“Through the little boy’s character, they learn about the different social and cultural traditions of the Métis families back during the fur trade era … The story really teaches the community and the children what a lobstick pole was, why it was made, and the social/cultural life around the lobstick pole-making tradition.”

Known among anthropologists as “culturally modified trees,” lobstick trees involve cutting away most of the branches on a tree while leaving a tuft near the top to serve as a landmark.

Comparing the lobstick poles to road signs, Dorion noted that the trees were often placed alongside the “river highway” for canoe trips, where they marked sites of interest such as food stashes and important stopover points.

The subject of Dorion’s latest book arose from her desire to educate youth on the historical and cultural significance of the lobstick.

“I find that a lot of young people are not learning about Métis history and the important place of Métis people in developing Canada, and the whole lobstick-making and the river highway culture was something I really wanted young people to learn about,” the author said.

“I wanted them to learn about it through the eyes of a young boy character learning about himself, and I really wanted to make history fun and educational.”

The Prince Albert area, Dorion noted, was once well-known for its lobstick-making tradition, with many lobstick poles placed on the north side of the river.

I’m so happy to have the book bilingual, so that young kids can just at least see and experience the Métis language that emerged during the fur trade. Leah Marie Dorion

One of the most famous lobsticks in Canada was the old lobstick tree at Waskesiu Golf Course, which was replaced last September after having presided over the course since 1935.

But while the Paddockwood area formerly contained many lobstick trees, none remain standing today.

“There’s no evidence of this tradition that was once so practiced in our territory,” Dorion said. “So it was nice to tell young people about this once-rich tradition right in our own backyard in our own community.”

Further strengthening the book’s cultural focus is the fact that it is written both in English and Michif, with Norman Fleury providing the translation into the Métis language.

“I’m so happy to have the book bilingual, so that young kids can just at least see and experience the Métis language that emerged during the fur trade,” Dorion said.

Though My First Métis Lobstick was released several weeks ago, Dorion is currently hard at work writing and illustrating a series of books on Métis history and culture for early readers, which are planned for a January release.

She hopes to hold a book signing or reading in the near future to promote My First Métis Lobstick -- with one location at the top of her wish list due to its significance to the book’s subject matter.

“I would sure like to do something up in Waskesiu, because that is such a known lobstick location,” Dorion said. “At some point I’d like to do some more in the region, too, to bring awareness to the local people about that tradition.”

Copies of the book are available through the Gabriel Dumont Institute at www.shopmetis.ca or by calling 306-934-4941.

Organizations: Gabriel Dumont Institute

Geographic location: Canada, Prince Albert, Paddockwood Waskesiu

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