Métis author and entrepreneur Herb Belcourt is remembered largely as a philanthropist who devoted more than 30 years of his life to improving access to affordable housing and furthering education for Aboriginal Albertans with his non-profit, CanNative Housing Corporation. Today we excerpt from the updated edition of his memoir
Walking in the Woods: A Métis Memoir (Brindle & Glass) published just one month after he passed away in 2017.
I used to say when I was young that I never wanted to be as poor as my mum and dad. I didn’t realize at that time that we were rich. We had everything we needed at Lac Ste. Anne, although I did not understand that for a long time. As the oldest boy in a family of ten children, I left home at the age of fifteen with a one-way bus ticket to my first job and a life of my own. Except for short visits to see my family, I never lived in Lac Ste. Anne again.
I return more often these days. The place means more to me now that I am an older man. I am looking for a trail through the woods, a path I have lost, and that is where I want to begin this story.
Last Saturday I drove out to the lake with my wife, Lesley, and our grandchildren, Amethyst and Azlan. I told them I wanted to find an old wagon trail on the land that had once belonged to the Belcourt family. I was hoping the old fence lines would still be in place, and I could find the farm where we had lived when I was a child. Lesley and I approach everything in life as a team, and she is as interested in this search as I am. Our grandchildren, who we are raising, are willing to go on any road trip as long as they can bring along their dog, Snuggles, who is quite an entertainer. We left home in the early morning. It was one of those perfect Alberta days in the first part of summer: blue skies with no clouds, and bright sunshine all the way. We live in Sherwood Park, a large community of fifty-five thousand people just beyond Edmonton’s eastern city limits, our home for thirty years. We drove straight west across the middle of Edmonton, and then followed the highway west and north to reach the little community where I was born. The trip takes about an hour.
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Herb Belcourt was a member of the Metis Nation as well as an entrepreneur and philanthropist from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by the University of Alberta in 2001, and was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business in 2016. He was inducted into both Alberta’s Hall of Fame and Edmonton’s Hall of Fame, and in 2017, Sherwood Park, Alberta declared January 20 Herb Belcourt Day. He passed away in July 2017.
Photo credit: Brad Gibbons
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READ INDIGENOUS books and get this stunning limited-run tote bag featuring colourful artwork from Indigenous visual artists Kaya Joan, Alan Syliboy, Dawn Oman, and Lauren Crazybull until November 15th (while supplies last). And don't forget to check out today's other READ INDIGENOUS feature,
Where the Blood Mixesby Kevin Loring (Talonbooks).
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