Early winter 2016 saw me trudging through the snow to meet a group of people I didn't know at an apartment above the famous Lakeview restaurant in Toronto. Bunz Trading Zone, the Facebook group, had put out a call for folx with diverse perspectives to help write some community guidelines and lend their voices to issues that were arising as the group's membership was exploding. I volunteered to lend my voice, as best I could, to conversations involving Indigenous concerns.
Bunz didn't stay Toronto's secret for very long, and I watched the group of a few thousand hit 50k members seemingly overnight, and Trading Zones pop up all over the world, from Tel Aviv to Lagos. Bunz was quickly becoming a worldwide community movement. Wherever people went when they left Toronto, they wanted to start a Bunz Trading Zone on their new soil.
In late summer 2016 I was asked if I wanted to work on the Bunz app doing quality assurance, and I said yes. By 2017 I was working full time, and now I am the lead QA working with a small, diverse, and fun team. We developed Bunz from solely being a trading app into a City Network, an idea that you can go to one place to find your community as well as a space to live and a job to pay the bills! But back to trading...
A big part of what drew me to Bunz was my heritage and its connection with the age old tradition of trading. I come from a Métis family who long predate Canada and who originate from the Métis homeland which is now Southern Manitoba and North Dakota. Some were fur traders in the North West Company, some worked for the Hudson Bay Company. Some were buffalo hunters like resistance leader Gabriel Dumont, and some held office in Riel's infamous provisional government of Assiniboia like Pierre Delorme (second from left, top row), John Bruce (second from left, middle row) and Pierre Parenteau (not pictured). Louis Riel (centre) used to go to my great uncle x3 Pierre Delorme's house to make plans for the "rebellion" in the 1860s.
My Métis family were French mixed with Cree and others with Chippewa. They were resisters. They were Half-Breeds. (A term that lasted long enough to make it on to my father's birth certificate in 1950 and a label being reclaimed by many proud Métis today.) But they were not desired by the newly minted Dominion of Canada, who claimed to be masters of the plains after purchasing Rupert's Land along with the North Western Territories from the Hudson Bay Company in 1869.
These were lands where my family and other Indigenous people lived in relative peace. They made treaty with the Dakota, Cree and other nations to share the land and the hunting on it. Our language was Michif, a mix of mostly Cree verbs with French nouns, and it was the speech of the fur trade. The Cree called us 'Otipemiswak' which means: the people who govern themselves. Based off the buffalo hunt's 'captain of the hunt' system, the Métis had a democratic governmental structure long before Canada even had a Prime Minister. However, the Dominion's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, called us "savages" and lumped the Métis into what he famously called "the Indian problem".
These impulsive half breeds have got spoilt by their émeute, and must be kept down by a strong hand until they are swamped by the influx of settlers. - John A. Macdonald
Violence, and "swamped by settlers" were tactics employed by the Dominion of Canada against Indigenous peoples on the plains, which some 20-30 years later would become provinces in the ever expanding colonial empire of Canada. Canada created the North West Mounted Police (later becoming the RCMP) to push the Métis and First Nations off their lands on the plains and into submission. Some Métis went underground, hiding in the forests isolated away from most contact with settlers, while others joined their families on reserves, and many who were white-passing and spoke French or English, hid their background entirely. Many of the latter still hide their identity because in 2017 the muskets are gone, but colonial violence and oppression remains.
The fact that my family managed to stay in one spot on the homeland, from the late 1700s (in recorded history) until I was running through the corn fields along the banks of the Red River as a kid in the 90s is a testament to their resilience. I don't know if any of them hid who they were, but I was raised to be proud of where I came from. By 1877, positions in local government in Manitoba, once entirely comprised of Métis, were gone, now held by better educated white settlers who were pouring out of the steam powered iron horse that rattled through the prairies. After the 1870s, my family lived a humble life by the river.
Times are changing, our customs are changing, but one of many things Métis people have in common with our First Nations and Inuit cuzzins is that we will always honour our ancestors, traditions, and roots. So here I am, over a century and half after the golden age of the fur trade, and I've found myself at the centre of a modern movement that is making trading relevant again. Bunz might be a catalyst of change today, but it knows its roots are deep in the soil of Turtle Island and in the transactions that have been going on here unrecorded, save for a few birch bark scrolls, for thousands of years. They say the economy is cyclical, styles of currencies come and go. Cryptocurrencies are still fresh, the penny is history, but bartering is back. My culture and people are ever present in my mind, but this being National
Aboriginal Indigenous History month, I can't help but think that I am, in some way, making a few of my ancestors smile.
Marcii, miigwetch, hiy hiy, kinanâskomitin, niá:wen-kowa.
All my relations.
Walking With Our Sisters is a grassroots community project started by Métis artist Christi Belcourt and others, honouring our missing and murdered Indigenous women through ceremony. It is currently on a 7 year tour throughout Canada with very little funding. It is an incredible cause to donate to for those with resources and no one associated with WWOS takes a cent for their involvement.
Artwork in the collage image (except for man on horse with flag which is by Sheldon Dawson) by Métis Artist David Garneau.