James Froh

Profile: James Froh

By Elizabeth Maier

Reprinted with permission from
Eagle Feather News - October 1998 - pg.5

James FrohEach month Eagle Feather News profiles an Aboriginal person who is a role model within his or her community. This month we interviewed James Froh, Tripartite and Bilateral Coordinator with the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan. The position oversees the intergovernmental relations with the government of Canada, Saskatchewan, and the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan. The tripartite has been in motion since 1993.

There are four sectors in the tripartite work plan. Two concern governance, one is in the northwest called the Northern project and the other one is an urban Metis governance project, which is in the initial stages of becoming a reality. Areas of justice and economic development are also involved in the tripartite process. James has been involved as a coordinator since September of 1997.

James was born in southern Saskatchewan and grew up in the Qu'Appelle valley. He attended school the School of Fort Qu'Appelle, the Fox Composite High School and then left the valley to go to university. James was away for over twenty years, returning to Saskatchewan in 1997. He attended Queens University, the University of Ottawa, and the University of St. Paul. James graduated with a degree in math and then entered a religious community, The Oblates of Mary Magedeline. He studied philosophy, psychology, and later theology and feels that this training provided him with an excellent background for understanding differing world views, which would prove very helpful in his present position.

James family includes his mother, four brothers and four sisters. His father died in 1984. James' Metis roots come from his mother's side. His dad's parents were homesteaders of German origin who came to this country in the early 1900's. His mother's family was from Saskatchewan. James grandfather and grandmother were Metis. James grandfather's name was Marchand and he grew up around Togo (Little Tokyo) near the southern Manitoba border. James traces back his ancestors on his grandfathers side, about seven generations to find they came from Quebec. Metis, who had been the Coureur de Bois, who come out west and settle in the prairies. James recalls an ancestor named - Benjamin Marchand who came out west and married a Metis woman. They met and settled in Fort La Prairie, near present day Edmonton. Their family moved to the Red River area in hopes of settling in a Metis homeland. This family were traders, hunters and lived off the land.

Growing up in what James describes as rather typical mainstream, James mother spoke, French or Mitchif, while his father's first language was German. The children were raised with English as their first language. James learned about life through stories, mostly from his grandfather, where he was taught the value of family, taught to respect differences amongst people, although there were really no direct discussions about being of Metis heritage. In talking about Metis identity, James explained that while he always thought he was Metis, he didn't really feel he was Metis until he started exploring the history of his family and his heritage.

As an Oblate, James spent some time in a northern community in Labrador. After fire destroyed his possessions, James was taken into the Innu community, where he came to experience and understand his own 'Native' roots. Later, James, settled into an urban Native parish in Toronto. He met many different Native parishioners, including Mohawk, Anishanabe, Cree, Mic Mac, Ojibway, to name just a few. James worked in the prison system and with people in the street.

The need for a different focus to his life work and the desire to have a family of his own influenced James to leave the priesthood and seek a secular life. After a traditional Metis country-marriage, to Cindy Doxtader, a woman of Oneida heritage, James once again became involved in social issues.

Working in out-reach programs, he spent time with people who were waiting in remand centres, where Talking Circles and vistis from Native elders helped ease the problems of incarceration. His work for the next two years, also involved coordinating housing projects for the homeless and outreach programs to help those individuals who lived in the streets of Toronto.

James accepted the position with the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan and made the move to Saskatoon. After working so closely within the service aspect of social issues, James saw the chance to work within policy setting as a ways and means of expanding his coordinating abilities to a broader concept.

Traveling across Saskatchewan to meet people and hear their concerns is an important aspect of James's work as coordinator of the Tripartite and Bilateral Coordinator for the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan. Seeing the tripartite process as a step towards a more equitable future, James feels that initiatives within the Metis Nation will empower leaders and other individuals to claim their birth-right of self governance.

In terms of a Metis homeland and the desire to have a land-base, James explains that the government is not willing to discuss the future those terms. Using the term 'self-governance' he feels, will eventually lead to a dialogue that includes land claimes, examinations of script settlements, and acceptance of the Metis Nation as a cohesive, viable, governing body.

Seeing the Metis Nation first as a mind-set, James feels that healing from both overt and subvert oppression that existed historically and still exists in the present day, will come about with guarantees of a homeland or land base. Having 'land' as a way of establishing boundaries and reaffirming a sense of place, is a very personal issue with James as a Metis man. James Froh looks to the Metis Elders and Senators as role models and examples of those who lived and conducted themselves in the "Metis way." He hopes that as an individual working within the systems and institutions of society, that he is following in the footsteps of ancestors like his grandfather, who worked towards ensuring a better life for themselves and for their children.

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