President's Message - June 24, 2020

June 24, 2020

This past weekend, the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) hosted a number of events to celebrate Manitoba 150. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Metis Nation Jig & Jam Variety Show was able to bring our people together to celebrate the creation of our beautiful province.

As we all know 2020 is the 150th anniversary of the Metis joining Canada in Confederation and our Metis 150 committee has been finding innovative ways to celebrate throughout the past couple months despite COVID-19. I am very confident that the success of our Metis 150 celebrations is in the capable hands of the MMF's Metis 150 Committee.

The Jig & Jam Variety Show is one such success, which took place on June 21 as a part of the MMF's celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day. The intention of this day is to give all Canadians an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous heritage, diversity, and achievements.

The Jig & Jam was an eight-hour livestream that included one hour featured on CTV. We showcased world-class Metis entertainment, including jiggers, fiddlers, and musicians, as well as beading, blacksmithing, and woodworking workshops. Thank you to all the artists that contributed, and we truly appreciated our special guest Johnny Reid joining us in celebrating the role that Indigenous people have in our great country.

The Metis Nation has no shortage of achievements worth celebrating. The Metis shaped the North-West with our various inventions and contributions to the Indigenous landscape. After all, it is the Metis that invented the Red River Cart and York Boat, changing the background of the fur trade and how our ancestors navigated our Homeland.

The Red River Cart allowed for easier travel across the plains of North America. Traders and travellers were no longer stuck travelling along the waterways if they did not need to. The Red River Cart was tough and versatile. These carts could transfer between 300 to 400 kilograms of freight and cross waterways if needed. And if fur traders were forced to cross large waterways, the York Boat was critical. York Boats were shallow and designed to navigate large bodies of water with a large carrying capacity.

On June 19, we hosted yet another event celebrating the legacy of our ancestors at the Victory at Frog Plain. This was a great afternoon that included a barbeque at Seven Oaks House Museum, followed by a ceremony with guest speakers at the Seven Oaks Monument on Main Street in Winnipeg. June 19 is truly one of the most historically significant days of Metis history. More than two centuries ago, over a couple of years, our Ancestors pushed back against the arbitrary laws and improper seizures announced and approved by the Governors of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) territories in Rupert's Land, including the Red River Settlement.

In 1814 the HBC issued the Pemmican Proclamation which prohibited the export of pemmican from the Red River Settlement. The Metis did not recognize the HBC as having any authority over the Settlement and continued to trade pemmican outside of the Settlement. The HBC retaliated by stealing pemmican from the Metis.

As you can imagine, this led to a very adversarial relationship. In 1816, Metis leader Cuthbert Grant Jr. and his men encountered a group - a militia - led by Governor Semple and an altercation broke out. The reports made at the time show that Semple's party shot first. The Metis quickly responded. This battle not only marks a major victory for our Ancestors, but it is also widely considered the birth of the Metis Nation.

Celebrating the Victory at Frog Plain allows us to tell the true story of what transpired two centuries ago. For 200 years the skirmish was wrongly blamed on the Metis and described as a massacre. In 2016, during the 200th anniversary, the park was redeveloped, and the true story was finally told: the Metis did not fire the first shot and we were not the villains of the story.

The Victory at Frog Plain also helped give us a reputation as a Nation that is not afraid to fight for our rights. This spirit lives on in the Metis today as we continue to further the rights of our Nation. One of the major fights that we face today is with the misuse of Metis identity in Canada.

I believe that we are in a pivotal moment in history when it comes to protecting our Nation. We face threats from fake Metis across Canada in places like eastern Ontario, Quebec, and even in the Homeland. Our Ancestors forged a new and unique identity that is not found anywhere else. These individuals who want to claim they are Metis are trying to piggyback on the hard work of our modern and historic Metis Governments.

Just on June 15 a man in Brandon pled guilty for falsely claiming to be Metis in an attempt to evade charges under the Fisheries Act. The man was confronted by a Manitoba Conservation officer after he saw that the man had too many lines in the water and eventually found barbed hooks on the lines. The man claimed he was Metis but could not produce a card when asked and was given three days to produce this card but never did.

The man was not only charged under the Fisheries Act, but Judge Donavan Dvorak also fined the man $750 for attempting to obstruct the investigation by claiming Metis identity. I want to commend Judge Dvorak for doing his part and handing down a stiff penalty to show that abusing Indigenous rights is not to be taken lightly.

I would also like to commend the conservation officer for continuing to follow up with this man and making sure that he did not get away with this false claim. We need to protect our inherent Section 35 rights for which we fought so hard to get recognition. These rights are collective and belong to the Manitoba Metis. Individuals cannot hijack these for personal gain.

We can learn a lot from our history. As the President of the MMF I was asked over this past week to comment on the petition calling for Wolseley's name to be removed from street signs, schools, and neighbourhoods. We discussed this at our Cabinet meetings and came to a consensus that we did not want Wolseley's name removed from any monuments or signs.

Rather than erasing the colonial history of Canada and risk forgetting about it, we want these monuments to stand the test of time and give us the opportunity to tell our story. For generations we have been denied the ability to tell our story, just like the Victory at Frog Plain. But now we have a voice. Now is the time for schools across the nation to teach the story of Wolseley's Reign of Terror and the turmoil he brought to our Settlement. However, if Wolseley's name gets removed from signs and schools he will slowly fade from our memory, and so will the voices of our Ancestors who sacrificed so much. These names on signs, monuments, and schools offer unsurpassed educational teaching moments.

Speaking of education, over the past few months, the MMF has been working diligently to plan numerous graduation ceremonies in every Region across Manitoba. These ceremonies are meant to give our Metis university and college graduates an opportunity to still walk across the stage in front of their loved ones and celebrate with fellow Metis classmates despite pandemic protocols.

It is no small accomplishment to complete your post-secondary studies and we wish these graduates well as they are enjoying their celebrations across the province. They are the future of our Nation and I look forward to reporting back on details of this success story.

Please, continue to keep those affected by COVID-19 in your prayers. Though the cases in Manitoba are among the lowest in Canada, there are still many people suffering across the country and the world. Manitobans are not out of the woods yet, as many health experts are warning of a second wave of the virus to come in a few months. We need to remain mindful of this potential threat and continue to diligently adhere to pandemic protocols in order to keep those around us safe.

Meeqwetch,

 


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