Q&A with Lloyd Gwin, the Métis Santa

You were born in Rycroft, right?
Yes. I was born in Rycroft and went to school there – Grades 1-12. It’s been said that it takes a community to raise a child. I feel like I had a very rich upbringing in Rycroft, with all the great people in the community and so many lifelong friends. I now live in Sturgeon County.

How did Métis Santa begin?
I started dressing like a Métis Santa several years ago, when I worked for Rupertsland Institute. I dressed as Santa for a staff Christmas lunch by wearing a Métis sash as a belt instead of the traditional black one. The staff really enjoyed the wardrobe change.

When did your love for playing Santa start?
My first Santa event was in High Level in about 1975. I was a member of the volunteer fire department, and they were wanting someone to be Santa, ride around on the back of a skidoo and deliver gifts to all the volunteer firefighter families. That was so much fun watching those children (including my own children). They were so excited and happy to see Santa. One of my friends who owned the MacLeod’s store then decided to have a Santa in his store a few weeks later. I believe it was the first Santa in a store for High Level up to that time. It was supposed to be from about 11am to 2pm. But he called just after 9am to ask if I could come early because the children were already packing the store. It was a non-stop flow of excited children from about 10am until way after 7pm. For some of them, this was their first-ever Santa visit.

Can you explain the difference between a Métis Santa and the one we are used to?
Well, this Santa still wears the red suit. He is Métis, has a sash for a belt, wears handmade moose hide mukluks and handmade moose hide mittens with beadwork on the back, beaver fur trim and fringes.

How much fun was it to be Métis Santa?
It is so much fun! It’s hard to describe how excited children can be to see and talk to Santa and to be a part of that excitement. Of course, there are some who are scared stiff of the old guy in a beard.

The Métis Nation of Alberta did a video clip of Métis Santa. Tell us a bit about what you did.
Because of COVID-19, the usual Métis Nation Children’s Christmas party had to be cancelled, so they decided to do a video and circulate that on Christmas Eve instead. Santa read a book titled Métis Christmas Mittens and written by a Metis Author, Leah Marie Dorion. She writes about a Métis tradition of giving homemade gifts at Christmas, much like my own childhood. Many families didn’t have much money for gifts, so they would make items from whatever materials they had available. This could be tanned animal hides, fabrics, etc. and would decorate these items with fur, beadwork and fancy stitching. Items could be mittens, moccasins, mukluks, or other clothing.

You received a lot of publicity. Did you expect that?
No. After the video recording at the Métis Nation of Alberta offices, Tania Kruk sent me a couple of photos from the shoot which I shared with my family. My youngest daughter, Shani, who operates her own public relations company posted the picture on Twitter for one of her friends. The next thing I knew people from various media groups were asking if they could share the story with their viewers, locally first, then nationally and even in the United States.

What is the Christmas season all about for the Métis culture?
Christmas in the Métis Culture, as I know it, is all about being grateful, thanking our Creator for the gifts of family, friends and community and sharing the spirit of the Christmas season. For me growing up, our families would gather at one of the homes. There would be so much love, laughter and food. Many of my relatives were musicians, so after the meal, out would come the instruments and the party would go long into the night.

Do you have a message for our readers as Métis Santa?
2020 has been very trying times for all of us – not able to participate in sports, not able to visit with our friends and families. However, if we all look after ourselves by keeping a safe distance out in public, wear our masks and wash our hands to keep our families safe, we will hopefully soon be able to visit and celebrate as we did before the pandemic. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very healthy and happy 2021.

Are you hoping to do it again next year?
Yes. I would hope to do it again next year. One thing for sure: my little grandkids will see Santa as long as he can make the trip.