President's Message - March 31, 2021

March 31, 2021

It's been a busy time for your Métis Government - between our 52nd annual and first virtual general assembly and the Citizens Forum on Identity, Citizenship, and Homeland the week before, we've been connecting with Métis Nation across the internet more than ever before.

Métis Nation Citizens Forum on Identity, Citizenship, and Homeland

During the Citizens Forum on March 20 and 21, we heard from experts as they talked about topics that ranged from traditional Métis migratory patterns to floral beadwork. I was especially moved by the discussion about our Métis beadwork, so easily differentiated from Cree and Sioux styles. Our floral designs are unique to the Métis people, with their representations of prairie flowers. We learned that it was even possible in some cases to identify which family the bead worker was from.

To hear about our beadwork and our culture and history around things like Red River Carts, the pemmican trade, and our fiddle music shows what we already know - that our Nation accomplished much here in the West. We did not do these things in Ontario, except for parts of the northwest, where some of our people migrated. It tells us that there are two histories of two different peoples - one is Métis Nation. The other is something else.

I want to thank all the presenters for sharing their tremendous knowledge with our Citizens. The Forum was so well-received that many demanded a third session, so they could invite their families and community members to hear the important message about protecting our identity as Métis Nation. I'm proud that our Nation is ready to stand against outsiders trying to claim our heritage. Know that your Métis Government will continue to defend our Nation against these outsiders trying to steal our identity.

Annual General Assembly goes virtual

While COVID-19 continues to rob us of our usual in-person, dynamic assemblies that combine governance with music, dancing, friends and family, I'm glad we were still able to engage with Citizens and bring some entertainment to their homes.

Citizens took to the internet in record numbers to watch the proceedings of our first-ever virtual Annual General Assembly on March 27 and 28. I think we're all getting more used to this digital world, because the assembly saw Facebook page views up 225 per cent, well over 55,000 hits on our AGA website and an additional 7,500 plus hits to our website. Social media engagement reached its peak with over 7,000 reactions to our evening of music and entertainment.

The Saturday evening edition of The Beat Goes On for our AGA had my toes tapping. It was so good to hear Clint and Tom Dutiaume, Don Ranville, and Paul Hampton as they backed all our Métis fiddlers, vocalists, and jiggers, including Ray St. Germain, Holly Vezina, Johnny Dietrich, Colleen Bryce, Michael Audette, and other talented performers.

We're very proud of our delegates who attended the event, along with the many Métis Citizens and allies who livestreamed the event to watch our democratic process in action. I can't say enough about the dedication of our Local Executives, who stayed online throughout the entire proceedings and even worked through their lunch.

We also had several milestone announcements. Out of respect for our Citizens and our democratic process, this virtual assembly only passed essential motions. Non-essential resolutions were not deliberated or voted on. Any constitutional changes require notice to be given to the assembly prior to any voting. Once COVID-19 vaccinations are complete in Manitoba, later this autumn, we'll host an in-person assembly - usually 3,000 strong - where these resolutions will be voted on.

Recognition of our right to self-governance

In what I know is a truly historic moment, the Annual General Assembly saw the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) sign a Negotiators' Statement of Understanding with the Government of Canada. I cannot emphasize enough that this goes back to what Louis Riel dreamed about and had a vision for in 1870, when he and his provisional government created the Manitoba Act. This recognition of Métis Nation's right to self-governance was what he was trying to achieve. After 150 years, this recognition of our inherent rights of self-determination and self-government - as differentiated from contingent rights - is what we've been fighting for since the time of Louis Riel.

The statement recognizes the MMF as the government of the Manitoba Métis, rather than a club or an organization. This document and the negotiations that will continue mean we are in a new era that will fundamentally change the way Canada and Manitoba do business with us on a government-to-government basis.

The statement signing, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's video to assembly participants, showed Canada's commitment to continue negotiating with us and resolve our outstanding land claim.

I'm so excited about our future. I can't wait to share more with you.

Investment in our Nation's Youth

There was still more good news when Minister of Sports and Youth Richard Genaille and I announced a $1-million investment in professional and structured sports development for Métis Youth. Along with skill-building conferences, the MMF will support Métis Youth as they pursue their athletic goals in hockey, baseball, curling, golf, and more. It's time to start filling the empty baseball diamonds in our Métis villages. With this fund, we can build Youth camps that will be the best in the province and give our hockey players and other athletes a strong system to help them develop their skills.

Another thing that has me feeling proud of Louis Riel's little Nation is our Mini AGA. The session was completely filled up, with 90 Youth between the ages of five and 12 registered to participate. It's so important that our Youth and future leaders grow up learning about their Métis identity, what it means to be a part of the community and how to work their way up our political system. This is the pathway to ensuring that they understand the importance of our Constitution, our governing principles, and the values that make us who we are - the people who own themselves.

Giving voices to our missing loved ones

We also announced a new program that will give $1 million to support the location of missing and murdered loved ones. Called Pey Key Way Ta Hin in Michif and Bring Me Home in English, it will provide individual rewards for information that leads to locating missing individuals. The name of this program gives these lost loved ones their voices back and reminds us that they are still missing and want to come home.

In many cases, the families are no longer very interested in seeing someone get charged for the crime, and they know they're unlikely to find their loved ones alive. They just want to bring them home, so family members can visit them and pray over them.

We are currently offering $10,000 for tips that lead to the location of Jennifer Catcheway and Marcus McKay. I pray for both families - and all other families with murdered or missing loved ones - that this program can help lead them to peace.

If you missed watching these important announcements, seeing the proceedings of the AGA or the tremendous talent of our Métis entertainers from Saturday night, the video footage is still available on our YouTube channel.

Many thanks

On behalf of Métis Citizens, I want to personally express my thanks to all the Local Executive leadership and all grassroots leadership in our government - they truly show that in order to lead grassroots, you must first be grassroots. The way they freely give their knowledge, expertise, and wisdom just shows the hardworking, community-minded approach that makes our Nation great.

I also want to personally thank everyone behind the scenes who made this virtual AGA possible, including co-chairs MMF Minister Will Goodon and the Métis National Council's Marc LeClair, the entertainers, and the organizers. I look forward to the time when we can gather for an in-person AGA, hopefully in the fall.

Until we can be together again, I offer my prayers to all of our Citizens, friends, and neighbours, and my deepest condolences to those who have been caused to grieve, including the families of Marcus McKay and Jennifer Catcheway.


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