President's Message - November 18, 2020

November 18, 2020

Though this year's celebration of Louis Riel's life was different from previous years due to COVID, we once again commemorated the life of Louis Riel on November 16. Though we were not able to gather in person and go back to the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) to continue the celebration over stew and bannock, we are honoured to have continued this event virtually.

Louis Riel is the Founder of Manitoba, the first Premier of Manitoba, who led the Métis Nation into joining Canada as a negotiating partner in Confederation. Under the leadership of Riel, the Métis played a crucial role in building a Western Canada that had a place for the French, the Catholic, the Indigenous, the farmers, and other minorities that have lived in the territory for generations.

In order to achieve this, the Métis had to resist Canada's unwelcomed entry into the North-West Territories in 1870 during the Red River Resistance. After the signing of the Manitoba Act in 1870, Canada sent an expedition to come into the Red River Settlement and cause chaos in an attempt to apprehend Louis Riel and other leaders of the Red River Resistance. This and the promises of land for our families (which later turned out to be false) pressed the Métis to escape the settlement we built and flee for what our Ancestors were hoping would be a brighter future in the North-West.

In 1885, a Métis-led force once again had to resist against Canada as the voices of those in the North-West were being ignored and its inhabitants oppressed. This conflict is now known as "The North-West Resistance". The Métis searched out Riel and brought him back to lead the Métis once again against the government of Canada. After a brave, hard-fought effort by the Métis, our Ancestors were eventually overwhelmed by the waves of Canadian militia and British Soldiers and were forced to surrender.

Following the Métis surrender, Riel turned himself in, hoping that on trial he would be able to tell the story of the Métis and let all Canadians know of the atrocities being committed on the Métis people in the North-West.

Of course, Riel never had this opportunity. While on trial, his own legal team attempted to get Riel to plead insanity. Of course, Riel knew he was not insane, and agreeing to this plea, though it would have saved his life, was not part of his vision or the vision of the people.

For this act of bravery, Riel paid the ultimate sacrifice. On November 16, 1885, the judicial murder of Riel took place in Regina, which at the time was still part of the North-West Territories. However, if this trial had taken place in the Red River Settlement, as it should have, this crime would not have been punishable by death and Riel would have only faced time in prison. However, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald knew he would not want a living martyr.

Recently, there have been random requests for Canada to pardon or exonerate our leader, Louis Riel. What many may not realize is that if you are seeking to pardon Riel, you are admitting that although he gave his life to stand up for the inhabitants of the North-West, he in fact committed the crimes he was accused of. If we choose to go down the path of exoneration, we are also cleaning the hands of Canada, who knowingly stacked the deck against Riel in court.

Though the judicial murder of Riel is a stain in the national fabric of Canada, it is a stain that should remain. If we choose to move forward trying to clean all these colonial stains on our country's history, we are whitewashing our history, and that is not what reconciliation is about.

Should we then start to pardon or exonerate our first Prime Minister for the atrocities caused by his policies that led to the death of so many Indigenous peoples?

Reconciliation is supposed to be about accepting that wrongs were done and righting these wrongs through meaningful action, and not hollow, feel-good political victories. Instead, we should want Canadians to recognize Riel and the Métis Nation's contributions to building a more inclusive Canada before, during, and after Confederation. We don't honour Riel by exonerating him but by carrying out his vision for the Métis people of the West.

Instead of allowing the Canadian Government, the perpetrators of this judicial murder, to wash their hands of the matter, we should be focusing on telling Riel's story - the story of the Métis Nation - and addressing and resolving today's challenges faced by his people.

Last week we also observed National Indigenous Veterans Day on November 8 and Remembrance Day on November 11. I hope everyone took at least a moment of their day to honour all the Canadians who served and sacrificed so much for their compatriots. We are blessed to live in such a peaceful and free country, but this freedom would not be possible if it were not for the heroes who selflessly risked their lives in conflicts over the years.

I have had the honour of meeting with many Métis World War II Veterans over the past year before COVID. In 2019, after 20 years of tirelessly negotiating with Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau's government recognized the wrongs committed against our Métis Veterans when they returned home after the Second World War.

It was an honour to lead that file nationally for two decades and help our Métis Veterans and their families receive some sort of closure. I look forward to being able to sit down with all our Métis World War II Veterans and their families to hear their stories of heroism after the threat of COVID lessens.

As COVID cases in Manitoba continue to surge, we need to all do our part by staying home, wearing a mask if we must go out, and washing our hands regularly. Our Métis Citizens protected their families and community well during the first wave, and rest assured your Métis Government will have your back and is prepared for this second wave. Please, visit our website to see the major recent announcements of multimillion-dollar financial aids being distributed to businesses and students.

Meeqwetch,

 


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