Actualizado: 2 abr 2020
She smiles all the time, even in that very moment when you meet her on an awkward situation and she have not enough reasons to trust you. Her smile is plain and sincere, always opening an implicit gate to overcome distance and the lack of confidence of a visitor that fear to break the order of his host´s daily order. She tries to make you notice that with the subtle language of her very black eyes –remarkable shiny, full of light, curiosity and pure life-, always staring at you in a simultaneous effort to make you feel welcome and decipher you.
We were just walking the streets of Slave Lake since 8 a.m., trying to breathe the air of the town and to measure its silences and its speeches, trying to hear the sound produced by people life in their daily rituals. The weather was cold, even with this young and pale sun shining undisputedly on the clean sky, and our hands progressively get a little bit freeze while taking some pictures in an intent to steal some essence from the hour. Anybody but me and Fredy seemed to be affected by the early autumn breeze, but excited by the view through the camera eye we persisted on our morning promenade without looking for the relieving warmth of a black coffee.
While I was trying to take a photo from the façade of a liquor store –it seemed to sleep an intense and guilty hangover nap-, Fredy just disappeared. I looked for him to and fro, and after five minutes of searching I found him behind the crystal windows of an office that puts ‘We´re closed’ on its door. Nobody but Fredy’s presence disturbed the peace of the empty desks and I got worried by the possibility of an involuntary private property trespass and its inconvenient effects. I entered swiftly in to the place, willing to take my friend out, but in the very moment I said ‘let’s go out man’, a woman left one of the office rooms and looked at us with a hard expression in her eyes. She looked like already prepared to any possible situation, all her body gestures full of energy, wearing a blue sporting sweater and resting her hand at her waist. ‘What are you doin’ here?’, she asked a little nervously, ‘What do you need?’. Immediately Fredy expressed the motives of his irruption –shared transitively by me, the only other trespasser in the room-, making clear that we were just walking around and wanted to know the functions of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region V Office –that was the institutional affiliation of the building, announced on the sign over the door, but missed by me on account of the hurry that led me in to the place-.
At the sound of Fredy’s words, the look in Beverly eyes turn from harsh suspicion to lovely kindness, and her hands –laying on her waist seconds before- began to point at the photos and paintings hanging from the walls, an abbreviated visual history of recent Métis people history. She told us about her and her Métis identity in a way so lively and animated that, even now, I can imagine this splendid and strong woman hunting with her tattooed hands on the territories shared by other Métis people from long ago. But if her hunting stories and powerful presence speaks of a woman –and women- of action, the nature of his labor in the Métis Office speaks of a very strong communal bond that links her, through words and teaching, with young people endangered with the loss of the very practices that weaves their Métis identity in modern Alberta. The booklets she designed to guide local kids into the depth of Métis culture -artifacts, dances, food, symbols and historical experiences- says quietly ‘It’s o.k. to be yourself. Be proudly yourself. You are us’, and it tasted sweet and powerful while you read it.
Beverly is a little bit shy when you take out your camera. Her eyes turn even darker, like sparkling obsidian, while her smile enlivens all the charming freckles in her face. In that kind of moments she, a woman in her last thirties, becomes a child proud of her self, knower of her strength, but modest enough to not get cocky about it and to recognize she´s part of a bigger whole. At the end of the photo round she get close to me, and taking the tap of my jacket pocket, crosses a pin with the portrait of Louis Riel, the epitome of every Métis hero. From that very moment, when I look at this gift, I like to think it’s a token, not of the male champion of justice, but of Beverly and the strong Métis women that pushes hard to take their people far beyond the present.
Juan Carlos Montero Vallejo