President's Message - June 9, 2021

June 9, 2021

In recent weeks, our communities, our Nation, and our country have been coping with the truth and the tragedy of the residential school system, brought to light most recently by the 215 children whose remains were discovered in Kamloops, British Columbia.

As we know in the Métis Nation, this is far from an isolated incident. In 2018, the remains of more than 50 children who died at the Brandon Residential School were discovered under the Turtle Crossing Campground along the Assiniboine River. With 14 former residential schools in Manitoba, I know there are many more painful stories within the hearts and minds of survivors. I fear that there are more heartbreaking discoveries yet to be made, like the one at Turtle Crossing and the one in Kamloops. We grieve for the families and the communities who must come to terms with these stolen lives.

But Canada must also face the truth of the survivors living with the consequences of a system designed to "kill the Indian in the child." In my own experience, I remember having my wrists whipped at school for speaking Saulteaux, the language I spoke at home, and the only language my mother spoke.

For many, the consequences of their treatment in the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop have lasted a lifetime and have been handed down to the generations that follow. We know this to be true because we see the evidence where we find broken family and community networks, where we see drug and alcohol abuse, where we see poor or fragile mental health. In the past, seeking help to overcome these hurdles meant parents had to risk the threat of losing their children to the foster care system. As a result, many parents chose to suffer in silence, passing their pain on to their children. This is at the heart of generational trauma.

Preventing this cycle of trauma is one of the key reasons the Manitoba Metis Federation has been advocating for our right to care for our children and families for nearly 30 years.

The importance of Métis child and family services

Our children are near and dear to our hearts as a Nation. I am a proud great-grandfather, grandfather, father, uncle, brother, and son. As you can appreciate, my family means everything to me. I would not be who I am today if it were not for my family, with my mother as the bedrock.

This is why the work of our Métis child and family service providers are critically important to our people.

Through our designated agencies and Authority, we have been working with our Métis families for the past 18 years, with a focus on keeping our children within their communities and extended families, rather than having them placed where there is no Métis presence. Every child taken away from us represents a loss to our communities, and a loss of culture and connection for the child. We will not let this continue.

In January 2020, Bill C-92, formally known as An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, came into effect. The bill is an important step in continuing to make real change for our families and our children in care. It allows us to shift the focus of our child welfare system away from apprehension toward culturally appropriate prevention, early intervention, and family unification, driven by the extended family and community, staying within our Nation.

What this means is that we have a clear pathway to continue the work we were doing before Bill C-92 came into effect. It also makes it clear to other partners - like the provincial government - that the Métis Nation will help shape the future for our own children and families.

This pathway would have been more challenging and much slower without the partnership of the Government of Canada.

Our nation-to-nation relationship with Canada

Bill C-92 is part of Canada's plan to renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. It aims to make meaningful reform to child welfare nationwide and recognize the critical importance of self-determination and self-government in our caring for our children.

Throughout the history of the Métis Nation, there has never been a federal government more open and willing to work with us to better the lives of our Citizens. As a result, there has never been a time since the 1800s where we've made more progress toward self-determination.

A recent example of this nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship is the confirmation of $27 million in national funding as the beginning of support for Indigenous-led initiatives that help find and identify the remains of children who were victims of the residential school system, including school-specific research and knowledge gathering. We hope it will commemorate these children and return their remains home to their families, where possible.

Know that your Métis Government will continue to work with Canada on the issues that are important to our Citizens, like the aftermath of the residential school system and, through Metis child and family services, protecting our children from the loss of cultural and family connections that were hallmarks of the residential school system.

We'll also keep talking about other issues that you've told us are important, including identity, health care, land claims, and self-government, as we know that the only real pathway forward for our Nation is through partnerships and cooperation.

Resolving these issues is a major focus of your Métis Government, so that our future is secured and safe from the risk of changing political tides. As history has taught us yesterday and even today, and at times other governments teach us, we cannot be confident that all parties or elected officials will partner with us in the same way or to the same degree.

The resilience of the Métis Nation

In the Métis Nation, perhaps we can see the silver lining of our long fight to right the wrongs done to our Nation. Our fight has prepared us to withstand any and all threats to the fabric of our Nation, including the harms done by the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop.

This means that while we mourn the horror of the Kamloops discovery and the continuing pain of our families, our communities, and our fellow Indigenous peoples, we know how to be resilient. We know how to withstand and overcome. We know how to support each other through hard times.

I offer my prayers to all our Citizens, friends, and neighbours, and my deepest condolences to those who have been caused to grieve, including the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and all those families who still suffer today.

 


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