MMF aims to bring Citizens home with Beyond Borders Task Force

The Beyond Borders meetings have been well attended with up to 75 participants per meeting.

The Manitoba Métis Federation has been busy connecting with Citizens across the Red River Métis Homeland with its Beyond Borders Task Force.

The meetings have taken place in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, the Northwest Territories, and even the United States, with the common goal of connecting with Citizens beyond the provincial borders. 

Minister of Housing and Property Management Will Goodon has been travelling with the task force to speak at the meetings and said they have been a great opportunity so far. 

"We were just in Ontario, in Toronto and Ottawa, and the reception was fantastic. We had over 75 (participants) in each location," he said. "It's probably the best turnout yet. To me, that seems like it's a snowball effect. Things are starting to pick up steam."

Clément Chartier, Ambassador of Inter-Nation and International Relations, is the lead of the task force. He said the purpose of the Beyond Borders meetings is to meet registered Citizens of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) who are living across the Red River Métis Homeland.

"We go there and provide information, and then we seek feedback and ask for questions, opinions, and interventions as to what Citizens are thinking in terms of future engagement," Ambassador Chartier said. "So, it's a two-way street, but it's the first foray into the Homeland to let them know that this governmental development is taking place and that it will unfold over a period of years, and that there will be no quick growth or development of our national government, but that this is an important first step." 

These conferences have ruffled the feathers of other organizations because the Métis National Council (MNC) guidelines state: to be registered as Métis, members must apply to the MNC governing member for the jurisdiction in which they reside.

Minister Goodon stressed poaching members from other organizations is not the intention of the Beyond Borders meetings.

"What we're doing is meeting with our Red River Métis Citizens who already have their (citizenship) cards and talking to them about the next steps," he said. "What do they see as the evolution of their national government, and how do they want to be represented?" 

Minister Goodon takes the stand to speak during a Beyond Borders meeting.

Part of the meetings involve asking Red River Métis Citizens what is important to them, whether it is housing, education, harvesting rights, or something else.  

"What we're finding is that identity is one of the biggest things, and that's obviously why the MMF left the Métis National Council, because the MNC became a pan-Indigenous organization. They are letting anybody in with some mixture of blood that goes back 10, 11, 12 generations," said Minister Goodon. "That idea of identity is important to protecting who we are."   

Ambassador Chartier believes that the Beyond Borders campaign follows what has been instilled over the last several years.

"For the MMF, opening up citizenship to Métis living outside of Manitoba in 2014 was a significant step, as was the (MMF AGA) resolution in 2019, by which 3,000-plus delegates unanimously voted in favour of giving the President and Cabinet a mandate to withdraw from the (Métis National Council) if basically Saskatchewan and Métis organizations brought the (Métis Nation of Ontario) back in," he said. "So, they did, and we are now on a path of no return, and our government will be the legitimate one that represents our people and Nation going forward." 

Part of the Beyond Borders meetings involve taking questions from Red River Métis Citizens.

During the meetings in Ontario, Minister Goodon found it poignant that Red River Métis Citizens living in the province feel like they're being left out and don't have a voice. 

"From my understanding, 3/4 of the members in Métis Nation of Ontario are not connected to the Red River. So, the actual Métis Citizens are the ones who are being left out, which is kind of a strange backwards thing that's been happening," he said. "But, they felt so good that the Red River Métis Government was there listening, hearing them, and not forgetting them. I think the idea of reunifying the Nation is picking up steam, and I'm so proud to be able to play a small part." 

While travelling across the Nation with the task force, Minister Goodon has enjoyed meeting with Red River Métis Citizens and hearing their stories. He said one interaction in Victoria especially stood out to him.

"There was this young girl Lily - she couldn't have been more than four or five years old. She carried around a little stuffed dog with her, and she was with her grandparents," Minister Goodon said. "She came up to us and said, would it be okay if she danced the Red River Jig because she'd been learning it? So, we said 'absolutely, of course.' During the break, we put some music on, she danced, then afterwards, we gave her a sash and everything to thank her." 

Minister Goodon, Lily, and Kyra De La Ronde, Beyond Borders Co-Chair and Youth Representative, pose for a photo after gifting her a Red River Métis sash and a slingshot Minister Goodon crafted.

Later, during the conference, Lily came up to the microphone and thanked the Beyond Borders committee for hosting the meeting, which Minister Goodon described as heartwarming.

"I think that is the sentiment that we're hearing," he said. "It (may have come) from a young girl, but that sentiment is something we're feeling wherever we go."

Ambassador Chartier said Citizens becoming engaged in the dialogue and expressing their heartfelt gratitude that someone is doing something for Métis Citizens has been a highlight.

"I think that's what strikes me the most is that people are so appreciative of being included, being involved, and knowing they have a strong representative government that is looking towards the future," he said. "They see there is hope in what we're doing, and their desire to protect the integrity of the Métis Nation, its cultural identity, and its Homeland."  

Minister Goodon has been seeing more and more Youth show up at these meetings, which he said is a step in the right direction. 

"We have lots of older folks who've been involved in the movement for decades and put their heart, soul, and life on the line when it comes to protecting who we are and fighting for our rights," he said. "The Youth are (now) learning why it's important to learn the language, why it's important to protect our identity, and it's a place for people to belong, but it's a place for people to belong if you're actually us. I think that's important - this idea of identity and protecting the integrity of our Nation." 

Minister Goodon said it's invigorating to see young people like Lily who are taught to be proud of who they are by their family and be vocal about it.

"It helps to energize us to keep going (from meeting to meeting), even though it gets tiring (with) long days, early mornings, and flying from one end of the country to the other," he said. "But, once you get up on stage and people start asking these good hard questions, it makes you want to keep going and fight with all we have to protect what we have."

Ambassador Chartier has spoken at each Beyond Borders meeting.

Ambassador Chartier noted there was a period where Youth became disengaged, which created a problem in terms of momentum going forward.

"But, over the past 10 years, I have seen more engagement by Youth, not as much as I'd like to see, but it's important," he said. "There are quite a few Youths today that see the merits and the value of being engaged and ensuring the protection of our people. I think a large part of it comes from many more of our Youth going to university and looking at, understanding, and being able to articulate the issues. Many of them are getting involved, and it's always good to have Youth movements within our government." 

Throughout the duration of these meetings, Minister Goodon acknowledged that it takes a great team to make these meetings a reality. 

"We've got at least a dozen people, not just on the task force, but staff to organize the hotels, the airfare, the mileage, or the meals. Trying to find a place in some of these locations is hard," he said. "That logistical stuff is so important because if you look like you know what you're doing, then people have more faith and trust in you, and our team is one of the best. I have nothing but praise for all of them - the IT guys who do the sound, the Communications people who are doing the video, audio, photography, and the people who are booking the rooms, everybody from top to bottom. I can see they also believe in what we're doing, and they also believe in the importance of what we're trying to achieve." 

Left to right: MMF Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President Al Benoit, Beyond Borders Coordinator Melinda Haney, Minister Goodon, Infinity Women Secretariat Representative Joan Church, Ambassador Chartier, Media Relations Advisor Kat Patenaude, Kyra De La Ronde, and Legal Counsel Genevieve Benoit pose for a photo during a Beyond Borders meeting.

Minister Goodon hopes one thing participants take away from the Beyond Borders meetings is that the historic Red River Métis Nation is one Nation. 

"One of the things that we have emphasized all along is the colonial borders, like the provincial borders, the international border between us, and the United States, aren't important to the Métis Nation," he said. "In fact, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples specifically said that borders cutting the territory of an Indigenous nation shouldn't basically be there, that we should be able to work, live, and enjoy our territory, our Homeland, just like we did before the colonial borders came in." 

Minister Goodon noted how appalling it is that other leaders in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and British Columbia cling to these colonial borders and disregard the notion of one Nation.

"What I want, hope, and am seeing at these meetings is that people are willing to stand up and say that 'I'm Red River Métis,'" he said. "They're not going to stand idly by and let somebody else do the fighting for them." 

Al Benoit shows off the Métis beadwork on his vest as a symbol of Métis culture.

Minister Goodon analogizes this to the 1960 Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus, which revolves around a gladiator who leads a violent revolt against the Roman Republic. At the film's peak, a Roman General will spare the troops' lives if they turn in Spartacus. 

"So, he's about to stand up and say, 'I'm Spartacus' when his friend stands beside him and says, 'I'm Spartacus.' On the other side, his friend says, 'I'm Spartacus,' and the next thing you know, there are 10,000 (troops) saying, 'I'm Spartacus,'" Minister Goodon said. "I use that, as an illustration, to say what we need is people to stand up and say, 'I'm Red River Métis,' to be proud and to be standing up and not letting anybody take that away from us. We need to stand up for what's right, and what's right is protecting the integrity of our Nation."

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