From July through November 2023, Crystal Gibbins will be in residency at the Minnesota History Center’s Gale Family Library, researching her family history and exploring her Métis heritage. In the Stacks has been on hold for some time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are honored and grateful that Crystal’s research marks the start of a new chapter in this initiative. Read Crystal’s artist statement about her project below.
Many of us are sitting on stories that we don’t think are good or worthy enough to share—they are just things that happened to us. But that’s not true. Storytelling is a major hallmark of the human experience and sharing family stories (oral or written) allows us to preserve history, cultures, traditions, values, and to gain perspective and create meaning of our lives.
But how does one reassert a family narrative that has been fractured or silenced?
How does one search for and reconnect with a family history and cultural heritage when it has been marginalized, erased, and, in some cases, completely omitted from the records?
Throughout my residency at the Minnesota Historical Society’s Gale Family Library, I will consider and confront these questions and concerns. My hope is to uncover, discern, and reconnect with my Métis family history and heritage. To achieve this, I will immerse myself in a range of resources—from family stories passed down through generations to historical documents, archives, and engage with historians and Métis community members.
The Métis people hold a unique place within the intricate patchwork of Canada’s multicultural past. Combining Indigenous and European ancestry, the Métis community flourished as a distinct entity, fostering their language, traditions, and ways of life. Yet, despite their vibrant contributions to the nation’s history, their stories and heritage are often overshadowed, overlooked, or even intentionally forgotten.
Margaret (St. Pierre) McPherson and John McPherson, paternal great-grandparents. Lake of the Woods, ON.
Margaret (McPherson) Gibbins, paternal grandmother. Lake of the Woods, ON.
Carl Gibbins, paternal grandfather. French Portage, Lake of the Woods, ON.
Finding oneself amidst this complex cultural mosaic can be an awe-inspiring yet bewildering experience. I confess that my knowledge of my Métis ancestry remains somewhat fragmented and elusive. It is this very curiosity that has propelled me to embark on this journey–to bridge the gaps in my understanding and weave together the disparate threads of my family’s history.
While conducting this research, I am aware of the broader significance it holds. It is not solely for my personal understanding, but also to evoke a wider reflection on issues of identity, belonging, and cultural preservation. By sharing my experiences, I hope to initiate a dialogue around the importance of heritage preservation and the significance of acknowledging the Indigenous contributions that influenced the nation’s history.
As I delve into the stacks at the Gale Family Library, I recognize that I am not merely an observer and explorer of the past, I am a storyteller. My aim is to piece together the fragments of my family’s history and to create a comprehensive narrative that sheds light on the struggles, triumphs, traditions, and cultural nuances of my Indigenous ancestors.
Crystal S. Gibbins is a Canadian American writer of Métis (Ojibwe/Scottish and Cree/French) descent. She’s the founder/editor of Split Rock Review and Split Rock Press, editor of the anthology Rewilding: Poems for the Environment, and author of the poetry collection NOW/HERE, winner of the 2017 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for poetry and runner-up for the 2017 Edna Meudt Poetry Book Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, selected by Sean Thomas Dougherty. Her poetry and comics have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Coffee House Writers Project, Hobart, The Minnesota Review, North American Review, Oyster River Pages, Parentheses, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, among others. Crystal is the recipient of grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, and Chequamegon Bay Arts Council. She holds a PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MFA from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Originally from the Northwest Angle and Islands in Lake of the Woods (MN/ON), Crystal now lives on the south shore of Lake Superior with her husband and son. crystalgibbins.com