President's Message - November 17, 2021

November 17, 2021

"We must seek to preserve the existence of our own people. We must not by our own act allow ourselves to be swamped. If the day comes when that is done, it must be by no act of ours."

"Pray that God may preserve the little Métis Nation and cause it to grow . . .and remain faithful to its mission. During the five years that I must pass in exile, I have only this to say to the Métis: Remain Métis, become more Métis than ever."
- Louis Riel

From the days of Cuthbert Grant and Louis Riel to today, the Red River Métis have fought vigorously to preserve and protect our identity and independence, earning the name Otipemisiwak - the people who own themselves. It's who we are and what we stand for. We have always known we can accomplish anything, as long as we remain united.

When Louis Riel and John Bruce informed MacDougall that he could not enter the Northwest - our Homeland - without permission in October of 1869, they made the declaration as the national government of the Red River Métis.

Today, the Manitoba Métis Federation is the democratic government and national voice of the Red River Métis, also known as the Manitoba Métis, which is the origin, root, and core of the Métis Nation. Our ancestors negotiated Canada's entry into the Northwest, and Manitoba's entry into Confederation. We remain committed to advancing our work to meet the needs of your family and your community, while we advance our Nation.

Last week, we paused to honour our veterans, peacekeepers and champions of democracy and reflect on their accomplishments and sacrifices. We have rapidly moved from having the deeds and valour of our veterans completely unrecognized and our soldiers uncounted, to this time and place where people are becoming increasingly aware of their contributions.

However, there is a sharp contrast between this increased recognition for our veterans and the continued disregard for our distinct heritage and history by those falsely claiming it as their own.

Identity theft in two cases

The most recent high-profile case of identity theft at the University of Saskatchewan has provoked outrage in the public eye. It's good to see that Canadians are starting to understand the challenges faced by the Indigenous community, particularly when people claim our identity without any basis in fact.

However, this case also highlights the fact that many Canadians still do not understand that the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) left the Métis National Council because of the risk of large-scale identity theft.

Let's be clear - there is very little difference between what has happened in Saskatchewan and what the Métis National Council is trying to do to our heritage and history.

We are the originators of the Red River Cart, the Red River Jig, the flower beadwork produced by our mothers and grandmothers and the music of our nation. We have a very clearly outlined and documented history that includes our interactions with the Catholic Church, the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Canadian government, as well as the creation of the first treaty of the Northwest with the Manitoba Act, predating the numbered treaties with the First Nations.

Has anyone ever heard of a Simcoe Jig? Or a Matawa Cart? Of course not, because they don't exist.

And yet interest groups in these cities and other places in Ontario are calling themselves Métis, wearing our sashes and combining our cultural artifacts with other artifacts from the First Nations in Ontario. They are doing this with the support of the Métis Nation of Ontario and the remaining members of the Métis National Council.

Even our flag, the oldest flag in Canada, is being used by those who don't belong to us. First unfurled at the Victory of Frog Plain/Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816, the flag announced the presence of la nouvelle nation. We had become a nation, with a political consciousness and a sharp awareness of our rights - rights we were prepared to defend against any and all who challenged us.

A monument to the Battle of Seven Oaks - called the Seven Oaks Massacre at the time, to ensure the Red River Métis were portrayed as the villains - still stands today on Main Street in downtown Winnipeg.

Now, people in Ontario want to connect themselves to us by proclaiming their mixed ancestry and wrapping themselves and their communities in our flag. This is particularly disturbing coming from a part of Canada that actively fought against our political consciousness and our collective will.

This is identity theft. The fact that it is being done by groups of people does not change the fact that it is identity theft. In both the individual and group cases, they are distorting our identity for their own gain and repurposing our history as their own. They are wearing our sashes and symbols and acting like they have a right to speak on our behalf.

But Canadians need to understand that Métis is not a shorthand for someone with an Indigenous ancestor. The Métis - the Red River Métis - have a distinct culture and history. To use our name as a generic term that applies to anyone in any region with Indigenous heritage violates that culture and identity.

Whether or not these individuals or communities have Indigenous ancestry, or if that ancestry makes them part of the nations their ancestors originated from, is not for us, as the Red River Métis, to decide. But it is up to us to be very clear that these groups and individuals are not us, and do not have a right to take our name.

We are finally regaining what was taken from our ancestors, and we cannot allow others to once again steal the opportunities that rightfully belong to our Citizens.

While we continue to do what we must to draw clear lines with the pan-Indigenous body calling itself the Métis National Council, we will also put greater rigour around ensuring that the only individuals who can claim to be Red River Métis are legitimately part of our nation.

The single source of truth for our identity

The fact is, the MMF is the modern-day successor of the 1869 National Committee of the Red River Métis, led by President John Bruce and President Louis Riel's 1869-70 Provisional Government. In July 2021, we affirmed our role when the MMF and Canada signed the Manitoba Métis Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement.

That agreement means your Métis government is recognized and understood to be the exclusive voice and representative of the Red River Métis across provincial and international boundaries. We are the government and representation of our nation, no matter where our Citizens, and those eligible to be Citizens, live. We are also the only body that can affirm the identity of our own Citizens.

Only through the MMF's objective, transparent, and verifiable process, using the individual's self-identification, genealogy, and supporting evidence, and our acceptance of this information, can a person be confirmed as Red River Métis and a part of our nation. No one else can make this representation or claim.

We will be communicating with all levels of government and post-secondary academic institutions to make it clear they can't affirm any claims to our identity by themselves. We will collaborate and cooperate with these organizations to ensure that when they employ someone who says they are Red River Métis, we are all confident that the individual is part of our nation.

It is only through this work that we will be able to continue growing recognition for the heroism of our veterans and celebrating the deeds and accomplishments of our Citizens, without having to contend with individuals and groups who want to grow their own recognition at our expense.

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

 


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