President's Message - March 13, 2024

March 13, 2024

Last weekend, I had the honour and privilege of joining survivors of the Sixties Scoop, as well as residential and day school survivors, at a Symposium designed to support each individual on their healing journey.

In the Sixties Scoop, our children were ripped from their culture and their community, and nobody in this country raised a finger to protect them. In 1870, they stole our wealth and took our land. In the Sixties Scoop, they stole our children, and kept stealing our children afterward through the child welfare system. These are all part of the same efforts to erase our culture and kill our spirit. While they haven't been able to erase us, they certainly hurt many of our families and children.

What many Canadians do not understand about the effects of the Sixties Scoop, as well as residential and day schools, is that the scars last a lifetime, and they can't be fully healed without survivors being able to reclaim their place in our Nation. While reconnecting brings them great strength, it doesn't resolve everything. These are people who were stolen from their community, family, and identity, and in some cases, purchased by people in the United States who were not interested in building a family or loving them. Our children were stolen to be farmhands and labourers. They were stolen to be abused and hurt by people who did not have their best interests at heart.

During the worst of the Sixties Scoop era, children growing up in our villages knew that when the black vans showed up, they had to go and hide in the bushes. Our families were vulnerable, and our children "easy pickings" to scoop and sell. Our children were stolen, not because their parents were bad, but because they didn't know how to defend our children against the authorities.

Those who weren't scooped or sent to residential schools were often subjected to cruelty in day schools, either by the racism and prejudice of regular teachers, or through prejudiced nuns who were transferred into the provincial school systems from the federal residential schools after they began closing. Many of our Elders and seniors left school early to escape the treatment at the hands of people who had no respect for us and our ways. These experiences are just as important as those of our Sixties Scoop and residential school survivors, and we have not lost sight of the fact that there must be an accounting for these experiences in our Nation.

During these times, our Nation wasn't as strong as it is today. I am so proud that we are no longer defenceless, and that our Citizens know that your Red River Métis Government has your back. The advancements we make for our Nation today - and there are many - are not just for political recognition. We advance so that we can protect our children, help our families gain financial well-being, and build up our towns and villages as economically viable places to live and work. We also advance our Nation so we can ensure that permanent adoptions are a thing of the past, so that our children will always be able to access their identity, community, and culture. Together we work to ensure that no one else has to suffer what our survivors suffered. We will keep our community together and strong.

But make no mistake, I have listened to the stories of our survivors and I have cried with them. They have come to me to talk about their pain, and to say that they don't know how to find peace. One individual in attendance at the Symposium shared that they used to cry at night and didn't really understand why. It was only when they came home to our Red River Métis Government and community that they understood why they cried, because they understood what was missing all their lives. Being reconnected with the community that was stolen from them helped them understand their grief and start the healing journey. This is a journey that takes a lifetime, and may never be truly completed.

Looking around at the 100+ survivors and family members of survivors this past weekend, I could see that this population is aging. It's hard not to be frustrated with Canada when I see this, knowing that the pursuit of justice for our survivors is not complete. Canada needs to be able to come to the table and negotiate with us to settle with our survivors before they are all gone. We know we have a special place in Canada's confederation, and it's time Canada owned up to its responsibility to our survivors.

I know that everyone is frustrated about the Métis Sixties Scoop class action lawsuit. I'm frustrated, too. The case was five years ago, on behalf of Métis who were taken from their homes between 1951 and 1991 and placed in the care of non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents.

To be clear, the MMF does not have any say in this lawsuit, which highlights the challenge with class action lawsuits. Using the consent of a small number of individuals, a class action can include anyone else with similar circumstances, without any consent or consultation of these individuals. Subject to court approval, the lawyers taking these cases can come to an agreement on what the settlement looks like for members of the class action. They decide how much of the settlement their firms keep. They decide whether or not funds are set aside for healing or legacy programs.

What's worse is that every time a new class action is filed, our efforts to negotiate with Canada on your behalf are interrupted. Canada cannot work directly with us as long as there's a class action for "Indigenous" survivors, because they have to wait to be clear about whether or not these class actions purport to represent our people. Your Red River Métis Government is seeing the issue of class action lawsuits come up across a variety of different areas, including for our kids in care, and we know that they present a challenge for us as a self-governing people. No one should be able to represent us without our consent and active participation, but in these class actions, your government is not part of the process. This means we can't help these law firms understand our culturally distinct needs, which go well beyond a monetary payout. Our survivors tell us that there must be support for healing in place - not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren. Just as the scars never leave our survivors, their children and grandchildren also bear the weight of what happened, and our survivors are wise to see it and want to bring healing to their families. This is one of the many ways our survivors make me proud of our people.

These are complex issues and complex cases, but our Citizens know that our government - like our Nation - never gives up. It took us 153 years to see Louis Riel recognized as the first premier of Manitoba, but we made it happen. Of course, we won't make our survivors wait that long. We will continue to fight on their behalf. If necessary, we will get ahead of the federal government and deliver the long-awaited settlement to our survivors from our own funds, and settle the bill with Canada later.

To our survivors - I know you are angry and frustrated, and you should be. You deserve justice, and it's been far too slow in coming. But I also want you to know that your presence in our Nation is valuable to us. You are valuable to us, and you always will be. Your history is hard, but I want you to know that your suffering has not been in vain. We have learned from your experiences and your willingness to share your stories with us. They are what fuel us to continue to pursue justice for you.

I urge to you stay connected with each other, and lean on one another. Sometimes, you are each other's best medicine. A cheque is a cheque and it's part of the justice you deserve, but you will still need to live, heal, and find peace. That's where a sense of community and your Red River Métis Government will play critical roles on your journey forward. We are here for you. I thank Minister Denise Thomas (Sixties Scoop) and Minister Andrew Carrier (Residential and Day Schools) for their work on these important portfolios, ensuring that we never lose sight of your needs and experiences.

Until we meet again, I offer my prayers to all our families, Citizens, friends, and neighbours, and my deepest condolences to those who have been caused to grieve.



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