Métis Elder Cecile Blanke celebrating at her book launch in July 2019 | Ev Bowman photo

Métis Elder receives Saskatchewan Book Award nomination for first book

by Bryana Couture

In 2019, at 84 years, respected Métis Elder Cecile Blanke published her first book Lac Pelletier: My Métis Home, which is nominated for a Saskatchewan Book Award (SBA).

Born as Cecile LaRocque at Lac Pelletier, 50 kilometres south of Swift Current, she married Walter Blanke at 16. Then, a farmer’s wife, she would go on to raise six children.

Today, at 85, Blanke recalls a time when the Métis played a vital role in Canada’s history, a role she said has been largely forgotten.

“I wrote the book so people would understand who we are, where we came from, and where we are today,” said Blanke. 

What started as a collection of hand-written stories is now a published book, filled with accounts and photographs of Blanke’s early-life surroundings. 

A prominent public speaker, Blanke was encouraged by many to share her writing, including her daughter, Clare McNab, who helped digitize her stories. Blanke also credits her cousin and fellow author, Louise (Trottier) Moine, for inspiring her foray in print.

“My cousin that wrote two books was older, too. Not as old as me with her first book, but her last book, she was older than me,” Blanke said of Moine fondly. 

Lac Pelletier: My Métis Home book cover | Bryana Couture photo

The book was released in 2019 by Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI) Press, who entered Blanke’s book into contention for the awards, garnering a nomination for the Publishing in Education Award.

“I was so honoured when I heard (GDI) did that for me, and then when I was chosen … that was very exciting news,” said Blanke of the nomination.

“(Blanke) is an Elder, she’s a story-teller. The only distinction is that instead of doing it as oral history, as she has done for years as an elder, she’s put it into writing,” said Kam Teo, Executive Director of the SBA.

Jesse Archibald-Barber, a professor of Indigenous Languages with First Nations University of Canada, has built his career on the historic importance of stories like Blanke’s.

“Great literature is often a reflection of identity, history … social and political struggles,” said Archibald-Barber.  

“The (importance of) the awards is that it brings so much more attention to the great writing and quality work that’s being done by Indigenous writers and knowledge-keepers,” he said.  

Finalists for the 27th annual Saskatchewan Book Awards will announced online at a date yet to be determined.

“I wrote the book so people would understand who we are, where we came from, and where we are today.”

Cecile Blanke, author

Infographic by Bryana Couture

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