President's Message - July 22, 2020

July 22, 2020

Every year on July 15, the harvesting season opens for big game hunting. Our collective right to harvest is one that the Manitoba Métis hold close to our hearts. I encourage everyone to understand and responsibly exercise their collective right to harvest. It is important that all individuals intending to harvest refresh themselves on the Manitoba Métis Laws of the Harvest and obtain their 2020-2021 harvesting tags and Conservation Trust Fund Stickers.

This July 15 was also the 150th anniversary of Manitoba officially becoming the fifth province to join the Dominion of Canada. This monumental event is one that calls for celebration for all Manitobans. July 15 is a day on which we can all celebrate and showcase our pride in this diverse and beautiful province that all Manitobans helped build.

As Canada attempted to complete the purchase of the North-West Territory, our Ancestors began to anticipate Canada's takeover of the land which included what is now Manitoba, and questioned if Canada would respect the rights and landholdings of the inhabitants of the Red River Settlement. We required Canada to first negotiate and reach an agreement with us before they could begin to survey our lands and promise them to settlers.

The body leading these negotiations evolved through time. At first it was the Métis National Committee. This Committee organized "La Barrière" and successfully prevented Governor McDougall and his men from entering the Red River Settlement, effectively starting what is now called the Red River Resistance. Originally only comprised of 12 representatives from the French parishes, the committee was joined by 12 delegates from the English parishes to form the Provisional Government with equal linguistic representation.

As negotiations continued in Ottawa, Canada sent a representative, Donald A. Smith, to speak directly to the Provisional Government and the citizens of the Red River Settlement. During this address, Smith asserted that Canada intended to respect the existing rights and privileges of the Red River Settlement. As a result, the Provisional Government needed to decide how to proceed. In order to do so, they added representatives to form the Convention of 40 or "La Grande Convention."

This Convention sat from January 25 to February 10, 1870, to discuss under what conditions the Métis would join Canada as partners in Confederation. This Convention drafted and passed the List of Rights in order to secure the rights of all residents in what would eventually become Manitoba. This List of Rights was enshrined in the Manitoba Act (1870), which received royal assent on May 12, 1870. When the act took effect on July 15, 1870, Manitoba officially became the fifth province to join Canada. The Métis are the only Indigenous people to negotiate a province's entry into Confederation.

This day deserved to be celebrated by all Manitobans across the province. With this year being the 150th anniversary, the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) hosted a memorable celebration that was inclusive of all Manitobans and their families. The MMF presented a first-of-its-kind fireworks celebration that started simultaneously in numerous villages and towns across the province, from Turtle Mountain and St. Malo through West St. Paul and from Winnipeg to Churchill, at 10:45 pm on July 15.

The MMF provided everyone an opportunity to forget about the stress and worries caused by COVID-19 and instead watch a beautiful fireworks display light up the sky. To comply with social distancing protocols, the MMF encouraged Manitobans not to watch the display on-site, but rather watch from the safety of their backyards, homes, vehicles, or screens, as the event was also livestreamed on mmf.mb.ca.

That said, not every City invited to partake in this once-in-a-lifetime celebration wanted to participate. The City of Selkirk's City Council voted against providing the MMF with the approval required to put on this spectacular event. I would like to express my sincere apology for being unable to bring this live to the City of Selkirk.

As a result, it will now be another 50 years before our children and grandchildren can celebrate a milestone anniversary and showcase our pride in this diverse and beautiful province that we all helped build. The MMF and our Métis 150 Committee are determined to prevent COVID-19 from stealing the opportunities to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Manitoba joining Canada in Confederation. The Métis Government will continue to put on events and give all Manitobans a chance to celebrate this historic year with your loved ones.

The City of Selkirk has a large and proud Métis population. Despite this disappointing outcome, the City has always been a supporter of the Métis and of the MMF, and we look forward to holding future events, maintaining this partnership, and making other significant investments in the City.

This coming week is also the 135th anniversary of the trial of Louis Riel. Riel was called by his people to return from exile in Montana and once again lead the Métis in resisting Canada. After seeing the poor conditions the Indigenous peoples of the North-West were living in, he knew he had to act. What ensued was the Canadian army's first conflict, called the Battle of Fish Creek, or Tourond's Coulee.

After suffering defeat at the Battle of Batoche, Riel and others surrendered themselves to the authorities. Riel hoped that at trial he would be able to tell his story and educate the public on the events that led to this armed conflict and advocate for his people. In his words, "I saw they were deprived of responsible government; I saw that they were deprived of their public liberties."

Arguably the most discussed trial in Canadian history, Riel's trial took place between July 28 and 31 of 1885, and is still subject to controversy. For example, the trial took place in the North-West and was subject to British laws, where treason was punishable by death. If he were to be tried in Manitoba, there would have been no execution.

On July 31, 1885, Riel was found guilty of treason with a recommendation from the jury of mercy. The judge ignored this recommendation and sentenced him to death. The execution of Riel was clearly in retaliation for the Métis execution of Thomas Scott in 1870. As one juror put it: "We tried Riel for treason, and he was hanged for the murder of Scott."

This is a significant historic moment, and I encourage all Canadians to take some time this week and think about the trial and Riel's effect on the Canadian legal landscape. To this day, people still refer to Riel as a traitor, but if they knew the full story, they would perhaps form a new opinion.

The story of Riel is an example of why we need to continue to educate and share the true history. The Métis Nation Heritage Centre will make an excellent forum to help inform the public on Métis and indeed Canadian history. We are very excited to be opening this one-of-a-kind, world-class Heritage Centre in the near future. As we move forward on the project, stay tuned for announcements on mmf.mb.ca.

I will be keeping those affected by COVID-19 in my prayers, and I encourage everyone to do the same. We are slowly recovering, but as we saw last week, it does not take much for another spike to happen. Please remain COVID-conscience and adhere to pandemic protocols. Our swift recovery is the result of the hard work of all Manitobans, and we do not want to make this hard work go to waste.

Meeqwetch,

 


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