President's Message - December 28, 2021

December 28, 2021

I have always been taught that in order to know where you are going, you must reflect on where you've been. While it's always important to do this, thinking about the opportunities of a new year gives your Métis government time to think about our pathway forward as we continue to advance our Nation - the Red River Métis, also known as the Manitoba Métis.

We certainly accomplished a lot in 2021.

How we protected our Citizens against COVID-19

I can easily recall to my mind the emotions we were all facing at the beginning of 2021, when there were very few people who had access to vaccines, and we were fighting against a province that refused to prioritize the Métis, in spite of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization's recommendations. At the time, we said we bring every drop of our Nation's fighting spirit to bear in order to ensure our Elders and vulnerable Citizens could access these life-saving measures.

While we fought for that access, we introduced a COVID-19 testing site for Métis Citizens, and provided additional funding to keep our students safe and well in spite of the many business closures that took away their part-time jobs. We also continued providing funding to our small and medium sized businesses, including farmers, ranchers, fishers, and artisans, to keep them going and help them keep their families fed.

How we built economic resilience from the ground up

At the beginning of 2021, I promised Citizens and our federal partners, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet, that we would build child care centres, seniors housing and affordable housing units. I also told Citizens we would protect harvesting rights, bring focus to green initiatives and evolve our Nation's ability to be the economic engine of the West, as we were at our Nation's beginning.

I am so proud to say that, thanks to the hardworking Cabinet and staff at the MMF, we were able to accomplish everything we said we would in 2021, including protecting our harvesters and prioritizing the battle against climate change with our ambitious tree planting campaign to give back to the earth.

One of the most important ways we helped Citizens kickstart their economic well-being is through home ownership. When someone owns a home, they have equity, they have something to pass to their children, and they have security. A well-maintained home that is owned by the people living there is so critical to financial well-being. We have received over 1,000 applications for our housing program, with approximately 600 families having already purchased their homes and several hundred more still looking.

That said, with the housing market and the costs to repair homes in such a volatile state, many more Red River Métis homebuyers needed help to achieve their dreams of home ownership, and your Métis government was ready to help. We not only helped our Citizens buy houses, we also helped them maintain and upgrade their homes through our Home Enhancement Loan Program.

We know that the economy will continue to shift as the pandemic continues on. Many people, particularly Youth, are moving away from traditional jobs and into the microbusiness space, becoming entrepreneurs in their own right. That's why we started providing support in these important and growing spaces, while continuing to fund our students' academic dreams and delivering on critical training to help all our Citizens find employment and build economic stability for the future.

One new program we introduced in 2021 is designed to help Citizens in our communities where there are no child care centres. Your Métis government is offering Red River Métis Citizens training, support, and assistance with funding to offer child care services in their own homes. This can offer so many benefits, generating an income for the child care provider and allowing parents to seek educational or employment opportunities, secure in the knowledge that their children are receiving quality care in their home community.

We also purchased three sites in 2021 to create camps that help our Youth reach their potential. I know many families will be so excited for these camps to start, and I look forward to delivering on these plans in 2022.

I fully expect this momentum to continue into 2022, as we continue to support our Citizens, contribute to economic momentum in our Homeland and work to offset the harmful impacts of climate change, putting Canada on notice that our Nation is rising stronger than ever before.

Keeping in touch - virtually

We undertook a number of consultations over the course of the year, to make sure our Citizens' voices were heard and that we continued providing you with the transparent, accountable governance you are accustomed to. To help offset the challenge of COVID-19 risk, we went to online consultation on matters related to child and family services, identity and citizenship, implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, health, and more.

The need to stay connected is also the reason why our 52nd Annual General Assembly went virtual. Out of respect for our Citizens and our democratic process, we only passed essential motions, but did not deliberate or vote on constitutional resolutions. Instead, we wanted to wait until our next full Assembly so that our Citizens can meaningfully discuss, debate, and provide feedback on the proposed resolutions. We hope to be able to gather in person in the spring so we can hear more about your will.

During the virtual Assembly and for several months after, we also conducted surveys of Citizens to understand your needs and concerns. I want to assure you that your will has been heard. The thoughts you shared with us are important and have been heard by other governments and stakeholders in Canada.

It is one of my most cherished hopes that we will be able to gather together in person in 2022.

Coming together to mourn our past and build a brighter future

This year saw Canada begin to grapple with the truth of how the Métis, First Nations, and Inuit have been treated in this country. Canadians are waking up to the fact that the unmarked graves resulting from the residential and day school system are just the tip of the iceberg of mechanisms that have worked to take the spirit out of the Indigenous child, including the Sixties Scoop and the disproportionate number of kids in the foster system and the justice system today.

For many of our Citizens, these discussions have reawakened pain and forced them to relive the suffering they experienced at the hands of these horrific policies. Know that your Métis government will never let anyone forget what we went through as a Nation, nor will we let them forget that our resilience is the reason our people still have our culture and our identity.

I will deliver this important message to His Holiness when we meet with him in Rome, along with sharing our Nation's hopes for a revitalized relationship with the Catholic Church that reflects our longstanding history together.

While meeting with Pope Francis will be an important step on the road to healing, we know there are many policies and systems that need to be taken apart in order for us to find our rightful place in Canada's confederation as a sovereign nation with protected rights and a widely recognized place in the constitution.

As painful as the revelation of the unmarked graves was for us all, there were bright spots in 2021 that showed advancement in truth and reconciliation, including the passing of Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This was quickly followed by the signing of our Manitoba Métis Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement on July 6 of this year.

It was truly an honour to stand where our first President, Louis Riel, stood on the day we signed the agreement, and usher in a new era for the Red River Métis. I hope his spirit was with us as we were recognized as the legitimate government of our Citizens, at the very same place he and his provisional government first stood to proclaim our right to own ourselves, and were not recognized. It took 151 years for Canada to recognize the Métis government in the Prairies.

There are many more good things to come our way as a result of this agreement, but this was such a monumental and historic step, I still feel a deep sense of pride whenever I think of it.

Forging a path away from identity shifters

This year saw many disappointing behaviours and actions by former allies, who appear to have fundamentally lost their way. These provincial leaders in other provinces have opened the floodgates to non-Red River Métis, becoming a pan-Indigenous organization and truly losing the purpose of the Métis National Council (MNC) that was established in 1983.

The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) brought MNC to a corporate court in Eastern Canada to rule on Métis governance issues. In their arguments, the MNO said that the MNC is just a corporation, with no ability to operate as a government. It also argued that the General Assembly, a traditional and core institution of the Métis Nation and the MNC, does not have authority over its own governance. It is also the position of MNO and the other provincial leaders that their organizations are nothing more than clubs, giving them a right to control who receives membership, abandoning the very concept of citizenship.

That was only the beginning of the shameful actions of these clubs this year.

Once we withdrew from the MNC, in accordance with the mandate unanimously handed to us by you, our Citizens, our decision was validated by the terrible actions of the remaining members of the council. It did not take long for them to begin bringing us to court over our July 6 agreement with Canada and over our rights as outlined in Section 31 and 32 of the Manitoba Act. It also did not take long for them to start talking about "Métis Nations" as though there is more than one, or about sweat lodges and drums as though they ever belonged to the Red River Métis.

We know our Citizens made the right decision in giving us this mandate, and these actions are proving it again and again. I fully expect to see more of these shameful identity distortions in the coming year - it will become increasingly clear to all that these bodies do not wish to preserve and honour our identity, which is Louis Riel's identity, Cuthbert Grant's identity, and Gabriel Dumont's identity - those visionary leaders who gave so much to fight for our rights.

We know we are not alone in our concern for what's happening with these provincial organizations, and you can see it in the number of inquiries, requests, and calls for help we are receiving from across the Homeland. Patriots are gathering once again to the standard of the Red River Métis, ready to battle against those who would swamp us and use our identity for their own gain. That's why we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Alberta Métis Federation earlier in the year, and why we are receiving thousands upon thousands of individual citizenship applications from across the prairie provinces, and beyond.

To help ensure our voices are heard in Ottawa and there is good understanding of what our priorities are, we launched an incentive to help drive voting during the federal election in September, offering prizes donated by the Red River Métis business community. Through this, we not only set precedent in Canadian electoral policy, we saw a sharp increase in voters, particularly in our Youth. This is exactly the outcome we hoped for, and we know that the strength of our vote will ensure that our priorities are heard and addressed.

Exciting developments yet to come

Some of the important initiatives we've been working towards that we expect to see concluded in 2022 are Métis-specific healthcare legislation, settlement of our land claim and the creation of our modern-day treaty. We will also advance our work to assume full authority of our children in care by signing an agreement under Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. Of course, we will also continue building on our momentum with existing programs and services like culturally-focused child care in centres and licensed homes, housing, training, employment and Youth programming, just to name a few of the sectors your Métis government is active in.

These are such significant bodies of work that will set precedent and break ground for other Indigenous communities that they must be carefully thought through and negotiated with precision and expertise; they require significant time commitments and dedicated resources. I am hungry for these to conclude, but I know we must ensure that we leave no stone unturned on our pathway forward.

These longstanding promises from your government to you, our Citizens, will be completed and will help bring us back to the place we were promised when we brought the West into Canada. That is a commitment I've made to you, and I will not rest until it is fulfilled.

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful and safe New Year, and I look forward to serving you in 2022. I offer my prayers to Citizens and friends for whom this is a hard time of year as they mourn loved ones who are no longer with us. I also send my best wishes and joy to families who will be bringing new life into the world - for those Red River Métis yet to be born, I look forward to welcoming you into our Nation.

 


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