Growing up, Bonita Nowell says her mother, Métis Elder Angie Mercredi-Crerar, spoke little about her childhood in the Northwest Territories.
It wasn’t until Nowell began researching her family history, inspired by Alex Haley’s 1976 book Roots and the mini-series based on it, that she learned about her Métis heritage and her family’s long connection to the North.
“Self-identity is key to life, living, being understood and understanding yourself as you make your way and navigate this world,” she said.
In 2015, Nowell said her mother opened up for the first time about her experience attending St Joseph’s residential school in Fort Resolution, where 75 children never made it home.
“It wasn’t until 2015 that it was a little bit safer for residential school survivors to share their story when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided that space for them to share their stories,” Nowell said, adding that learning about those stories can be painful.
“You don’t want to learn that someone you love was harmed in some way, and that they kept that inside them and held that information inside them, and suffered in the process.”
Nowell’s new book – My Mother’s Legacy – celebrates Mercredi-Crerar’s life and perseverance.
It details her journey from growing up in Fort Resolution to meeting the Pope in 2022 as part of the Métis National Council’s delegation to the Vatican that sought an apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.
The book also reflects on life in the North and the history and culture of Indigenous people.
“The most important thing was to give my mother back something I felt she lost,” Nowell said of her motivation for writing the book.
She hopes to increase awareness and understanding of Canada’s residential school system.
“This book is a gift,” a review from Gwichyà Gwich’in historian Crystal Gail Fraser states, referring to My Mother’s Legacy as “a poetic story of Indigenous strength, resilience, and humour.”
“This is a remarkable contribution to how we understand the legacy of Indian Residential Schools in the North but also how Métis forms of storytelling and ancestral knowledge continues to guide our worldviews as Indigenous Peoples,” the review states. “This book is a must-read for Canadians of all backgrounds and heritages.”
Mercredi-Crerar, who is now 87 and lives in Grande Prairie, Alberta, was president of Métis Local 1990, founded an Elders’ caring shelter, and has been involved in more than a dozen community service groups.
She has received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, and a Governor General’s Canadian Caring Award among other accolades.