Sitting with Charlotte by Gregory Scofield - Excerpt
Sitting with Charlotte: Stitching My History Bead by Bead

a memoir by Gregory Scofield

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Award-winning Métis poet Gregory Scofield’s second memoir, Sitting With Charlotte, is an act of reclamation, celebration, and defiance that traces the story of his female ancestors, bead by bead, through photos and text, to document his Cree and Métis history, offering insights into the culture and community that he has so passionately written about for decades.

Part of Gregory’s family can be traced back to George Atkinson Sr., Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor at Eastmain, Quebec, who had a “country wife,” a James Bay Cree woman named Necushin. Their daughter, Sarah, Gregory’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother, went on to marry James Whitford, another HBC employee, who moved his family down to York Factory and then onto the Red River Settlement in Manitoba. During this time in the early nineteenth century there were two distinct groups of mixed-bloods in the Northwest: the French Métis and the Scottish/English half-breeds. Gregory’s family was known then as half-breeds, a term that has been changed today to the more appropriate term, Métis.


Beadwork


Moving to more current relationships, Gregory explores his loving but sometimes troubled relationship with his mother, a former addict, whose early life included the sex-trade and various psychiatric interventions. Gregory also explores his mother’s life with his father, a petty criminal from Winnipeg whom Gregory never met but later comes to discovers much about.

As a young boy, Gregory is introduced to his adopted aunty, a Cree/Métis woman who had a similar life to his mother’s. She takes Gregory as her nikosis—her son—because she lost all three of her own birth children. Through her, Gregory is given the gift of the Cree language and traditional Cree teachings. She also teaches Gregory about his place in the world and how to do traditional floral beadwork, providing him a prideful sense of identity and community. Young Gregory existed almost entirely within a woman’s world, experiencing the violence and racism, the hopelessness and crushing poverty of his mother and aunty. However, through beadwork his aunty teaches him patience and pride, instilling in him a lifelong love of language and storytelling.

Beadwork among various First Nations communities varies greatly in style and composition. Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, western Métis developed a unique style of beadwork reminiscent of fine European tapestries. Métis craftswomen often incorporated European artistic elements into more traditional forms of beadwork. This unique form of beadwork earned the Métis and half-breeds the name “The Floral Beadwork People,” a name that is believed to have come from the Sioux. More recently beadwork, along with storytelling, has become a part of reclaiming one’s history and culture for both men and women. Currently, there are a number of very talented male beadworkers among many First Nations and Métis.

The concepts of family and community have always been at the core of First Nations and Métis identity. Oftentimes, as it was practiced in the days before colonization, family is not determined by blood but rather by unique circumstances and kinship ties. In Sitting with Charlotte, Gregory explores his connections to the women of his blood, the women of his heart, and to a nation that predates Canada and that is woven deeply into the establishment of this country.

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