President's Message - July 8, 2020

July 8, 2020

Last week the Metis Nation celebrated Canada Day alongside all Manitobans and Canadians. Most of the province was blessed with nice weather, and I hope that everyone got to take advantage of it and celebrate with loved ones.

This Canada Day is particularly close to the heart of the Metis Nation, as 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Metis, led by the Convention of 40, negotiating Canada's entry into the North-West and Manitoba's entry into Confederation. Though these events have been affected by pandemic protocols, we have continued forward and celebrated important dates using innovative methods. On Canada Day, for instance, the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) hosted a virtual celebration with a highlight reel of Metis entertainment.

Similar to what Metis 150 symbolizes for the Metis Nation, people view Canada Day as a celebration of Canada's birthday, but it means so much more. Though both Metis 150 and Canada Day celebrate anniversaries of important events, the celebration provides a wonderful opportunity to remember our stories of independence and unique history.

July 1 marks a milestone on the road to Canada's independence from the United Kingdom. Though Canada was still a colony after July 1, 1867, Canada gained sovereignty from the signing of the British North America Act. Among other things, this act enabled Canada to initiate its own foreign relations and protect her borders. Through the years, various acts of bravery in the World Wars and diplomacy set the stage for Canada to pass its own Constitution in 1982 and be more independent from the Crown.

This story is very similar to the story of the Metis and our battle for independence. When the Manitoba Act (1870) was passed 150 years ago, the Metis had negotiated for 1.4 million acres of land to be set aside for Metis children. This land would have provided our ancestors with independence and an economic "head start" before having to compete for land with an influx of settlers from out east.

The Metis also advocated for democratic participation as well as religious and language rights. As a result of the work done by the Convention of 40, Manitoba had representation in the House of Commons as well as the Senate protected within the Act. Other results included the right to have denominational schools, the requirement for laws to be written and enforced in both English and French, and the use of either English or French in the Legislature of Manitoba. Their contribution to religious and language rights shaped the rights of all Canadians.

Of course, we know now that this land was not properly distributed. Afterward our people went through many hard years of oppression and discrimination. Through the brave actions of Metis Veterans in the World Wars, our people gained more respect and recognition by fellow Canadians.

The passing of Canada's Constitution in 1982 was also an important event in the evolution of the legal landscape for the Metis Nation. After hard work and negotiations with Canada, the Metis were included in section 35 of the Constitution as an Aboriginal people, formally recognizing our inherent rights. On the back of this recognition, the MMF has built one of the most comprehensive Indigenous Governments in all of Canada.

Though our relationship with Canada was not always positive, we should still remember where our Nation came from so we can continue forward. Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government, the Metis Nation is flourishing in ways that we never could have imagined. Never before have the Metis enjoyed so much growth and prosperity. Of course, what comes with this progress is a responsibility to make sure we are wise and construct a sturdy foundation for future generations to build on this progress.

Canada Day for the Metis Nation should do just that: recognize the historic relationship with Canada and how our stories are intertwined while also celebrating our growth as a Nation and as a country. We should always be proud to celebrate our past, present, and future.

This year, a group of MMF leadership had the opportunity join me in spending Canada Day in Churchill. While there, we unveiled the new Metis hall, named after Myrtle de Meulles. Myrtle was a Metis Elder who led tours of Churchill and the surrounding area for decades. She was a masterful storyteller and artist, known for her entertaining story-filled tours and creating 3D art with scraps of caribou fur, called "tufting". Both her stories and art were experienced by people across Canada and the world.

Myrtle was a keeper of Metis traditional knowledge in the North. She stored many irreplaceable artifacts in the previous Churchill Metis hall that were lost in the fire. Myrtle dedicated her life to preserving Metis culture and heritage in the North, and we could not have named this hall after a more deserving person.

Last week, three Metis women were also honoured for their work preserving a Metis tradition, our language of Michif. Lorraine Coutu-Lavallee, June Bruce, and Agathe Chartrand received honourary doctorates from the University of Winnipeg for their work promoting and protecting Michif. These ladies wrote a Michif dictionary and are teaching Michif to adults in Winnipeg and Selkirk, as well as children and Youth from K-12 in St. Laurent starting this Fall.

The importance of these contributions cannot be stressed enough. We need to stay connected to our history and culture via our storytellers and cultural teachers. Teaching all age groups the stories and language of our forefathers is critical to ensure a strong and connected Nation moving forward. It is especially important to teach the children and Youth, as they are the future of our Nation.

It is very unfortunate that our colleagues at the Government of Manitoba do not share this sentiment. Premier Brian Pallister's government is once again harming our most vulnerable population, the children in the care of Child and Family Services (CFS). Under the new "single envelope" block funding model, our Metis CFS are suffering greatly from the pandemic.

CFS is a very complex field with many daily challenges. Premier Pallister is further complicating these challenges by his lack of pandemic planning for children in care. Metis CFS is responsible for providing service to over 1,200 children, and the pandemic has caused new hurdles in order to effectively continue service to these children. If no new money is injected into the CFS system, service deliverers will suffer and be forced to either cut or run a deficit.

The MMF reacted proactively to help our Metis CFS by contributing $400,000 to our service providers, ensuring they could effectively work remotely during the pandemic. A pandemic should not be viewed as an opportunity to selfishly count nickels and dimes. Rest assured, the MMF will hold Premier Pallister and his government accountable for the extra expenses and their lack of foresight.

I continue to keep everyone affected by COVID-19 in my thoughts and prayers, and I encourage you all to do the same. I look forward to being able to gather together in the near future to celebrate Metis 150 and rejoice in the progress of our Nation.



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