President's Message - March 4, 2020

March 4, 2020

I know many of you gathered at various celebrations over the February long weekend to celebrate Louis Riel's legacy, participating in Metis traditions such as beading, dancing, and more. Louis Riel Day events allow all Manitobans to embrace our distinct culture and heritage, while also recognizing the leadership Louis Riel demonstrated in the establishment of our province and his undeniable role in furthering both French and Indigenous rights. It is without a doubt in my mind that without Riel crusading for these rights, the landscape of Manitoba and Canada would be unrecognizable today.

During these festivities, the Federal and Provincial NDP leaders urged the province to recognize Riel as the first Premier of Manitoba. The Winnipeg Sun responded to this by asking readers if Riel should officially be recognized as the province's first Premier; 55.85 per cent responded yes, and 44.15 per cent said no.

While I am glad to see the majority of respondents believe that Riel is the first Premier, it is troubling that over 40 per cent of respondents still feel that Riel should not be recognized as such. The question has a simple answer for me. To us, the Metis, Riel was and always will be the first Premier. A Premier is the leader of a province. Upon creation of our province in 1870, Riel was its leader, holding the position of President of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia - which was the old name for the Government of Manitoba. The provisional government was denied by our country and deemed illegitimate. It is now a proven fact that it was a government. Therefore, the "President" title would be equivalent to "Premier."

Many dispute whether the title "Premier" is appropriate for Riel, as he never held said title officially. To those raising this point, I have one answer: Alfred Boyd is also commonly referred to as Manitoba's first Premier, but this is not accurate. Boyd wasn't known by that title at the time and did not lead the government. Boyd was actually the Provincial Secretary. Sir Adams George Archibald was Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and, at the same time, acted as the Premier. Prior to this, Louis Riel was our first Premier, even though the title was "President" at the time.

On December 8, 1869, the provisional government released a proclamation called the "Declaration of the People of Rupert's Land and the North-West". This proclamation denied Canada's power over the North-West. John Bruce stepped down as President at this time, and Riel took over from Secretary to President. 

Riel demanded the government of Canada recognize our traditional lands at Red River Settlement as a province and not as a colony. The provisional government's negotiators presented a List of Rights to the Government of Canada. The List of Rights was built upon an inclusive vision for Manitoba - one that valued bilingualism, multiculturalism, as well as Indigenous and minority rights. The List was a foundational document in establishing Manitoba as a province in Canadian Confederation through the Manitoba Act, 1870. The Manitoba Metis Federation upholds these rights of the Metis Nation.

Riel fought and died for this province - for his people, their lands, and their rights. In celebrating 150 years, we should honour Riel's role as the visionary leader of the Manitoba Metis - also known as the Red River Metis - the Indigenous People who are Canada's Negotiating Partner in Confederation and Founders of Manitoba. In fact, Bill 206, the Louis Riel Act, which would bestow Riel with the honourary title of First Premier of Manitoba, was recently introduced. This would ensure that future generations learn about all his contributions in school. 

Louis Riel and the Metis are not footnotes in our province's history - the province that we created. As we near celebrations for the province's 150th Anniversary, and to be consistent with the need reflected in the Sun's poll, more messaging is needed for Manitobans to understand the Metis Nation's crucial place in the history of this country and province. Official recognition of Riel as the first Premier would help protect the Metis Nation's history, and would reaffirm what the Metis and the majority of citizens already know.

The first legislative body under the leadership of Riel was described as the Convention of 40, with 20 English speakers and 20 French speakers. Riel didn't only represent the Métis; he represented all citizens. This impacts all Manitobans. 

Finally, I offer my thoughts and prayers for those who are experiencing hard times. May you find support and encouragement from family, friends, and community. I wish you the best as we leave the colder months and enter the spring season.


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