Fieldnotes – My Other Side

This two-part story is a portrait of Kristal and Jim Fox and their children, Vince and Jamie. It deals with the many layers of identity in Native America – obviously a sensitive and politically charged topic. Kristal’s side of the story is very personal and emotional: it has to do with her “Indian-ness,” and with her feelings of being ostracized and marginalized growing up. But at the end, it is the remarkable and moving account of a woman whose husband and children rally around her as she searches for her roots, even learning to play traditional Métis music in her honor.

“For the Métis people,” Kristal told me, “the biggest pride and joy is to have a musician in the family…so I felt that…my kids doing this is like…God’s making up all the hurt…and He rewarded me with these talented children.”

In the second part of the story, which I recorded both at the Fox family home in Harlem, Montana, and at the Holter Museum in Helena, I tried to get out of the way and let the music do the talking. I was only able to include a small sampling of the Fox family’s repertoire, which is quite varied. At the core of their music is the traditional Métis fiddling of Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But they have absorbed many other styles into their playing, including “old timey,” French Canadian and Irish, as well as a few traditional Athabaskan tunes from the Alaskan interior. None of this makes their music less “Métis,” since Métis musicians have always absorbed and incorporated a variety of musical influences.

There is much confusion about Métis identity, and people in Montana and North Dakota who identify themselves by that term have had very different experiences from their kin in Canada (primarily Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.) The term itself is loaded with political implications on both sides of the border, which I’m not qualified to discuss. I am fortunate to have as an acquaintance the folklorist and anthropologist Nicholas Vrooman, a preeminent scholar of Métis history and culture. Nicholas provided me with a few links to research that might prove useful to those wishing to learn more about the Métis people.