Back in the 1990s, as production associate for the Folk Masters concert and radio series, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Jimmie LaRocque, a Métis fiddle player from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.
I will never forget this remarkably energetic, enthusiastic sixty-something year-old man who drove the entire way from his home near Belcourt, North Dakota (practically on the Canadian border) to Washington, DC (a distance of almost 1600 miles!) and arrived none the worse for wear.
As a young person, Mr. LaRocque absorbed many influences and, like so many musicians, was eager to play the popular music of the day. By age 17 he was in Texas, playing with a band called The Western Kings out of Corpus Christi. Later, he lived in California and played backup fiddle for touring country bands including Grand Ol' Opry performers Kitty Wells, Ray Price and Ernest Tubb.
But he never forgot the traditional tunes that he taught himself to play on his dad's fiddle as a boy. He is quoted in the 1994 Folk Masters program book:
The Indian old-time fiddle music is a lot different. It seems like it's got a lot more meaning. In my mind sometimes I play fiddle here, and I swear to God I close my eyes a little bit and I can see my dad sit there by me with his fiddle. You play this Indian music and then it's like the whole sky, it's like a great big movie camera is showing a big picture on there. On the sky you can see Indians coming on spotted horses and you can see the wind blow.
Mr. LaRocque passed away in 2009.
This link will take you to a short sample of Mr. LaRocque playing the Métis fiddle tune "Road to Batoche" on the Smithsonian Folkways recording Wood That Sings. Batoche (the Smithsonian Folkways listing misspells the name) was a Métis settlement in Saskatchewan and the headquarters of their fight against Canadian forces in 1885. Métis people sometimes call that resistance la guerre nationale "the national war," (i.e., the war of the Métis nation), which gives you a sense of its importance to them as a people.
Batoche is now a Parks Canada National Historic site, as well as the home of "Back to Batoche," the Métis nation's annual commemoration of its culture, traditions and heritage.