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Bell's return heralds renewed Metis pride

Sask. ceremony to unveil artifact

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BATOCHE, Sask. -- People from across Canada are expected to visit a small Saskatchewan community this weekend to witness the return home of a significant piece of M©tis history after 128 years.

It's also hoped the unveiling of the church bell of Batoche will kick-start a resurgence in M©tis pride.

The bell is to be presented to the local bishop today as part of a reconciliation ceremony during the Back to Batoche Days festival.

"It's going to be a huge moment in M©tis and Canadian history," said John Lagimodiere, chairman of the Batoche Historic Site and a descendant of M©tis leader Louis Riel. "This symbol of the community has been gone and held for so long by various people, that maybe the time is right to bring it home and start over."

'It's going to be a huge moment in M©tis and Canadian history. This symbol of the community has been gone and held for so long by various people, that maybe the time is right to bring it home and start over'

-- John Lagimodiere, chairman of the Batoche Historic Site

The bell hung in the Saskatchewan community of the same name when the M©tis were defeated during the Northwest Rebellion in 1885. Federal troops took the bell to eastern Canada as a trophy.

It found a home in a fire hall bell tower in Millbrook, Ont., until that building burned to the ground. The bell cracked in the flames. It eventually made its way to the Millbrook Royal Canadian Legion hall, where it was displayed.

In 1991, the legion was broken into and the bell removed. It hasn't been viewed publicly since.

While some say the bell was essentially held hostage by those who took it and wanted to sell it to the highest bidder, others have hailed whoever took it as heroes for helping repatriate an important M©tis artifact.

The Union nationale metisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba negotiated for the bell's return -- on condition of anonymity for whoever had it -- and is to oversee its care following the ceremony in Batoche.

It is expected to be taken to schools as an educational tool and otherwise be on display at the St. Boniface Museum in Winnipeg.

"This is a time for people to start talking about the M©tis story more than we have in the past. As M©tis people, we've often been the third cousin in the aboriginal community," Lagimodiere said. "This will help elevate the conversation for a while and help talk about our Canadian history that's been so poorly taught in our schools."

Claire Belanger-Parker, event manager of Back to Batoche Days, said rumours of the bell's return have swirled for years. Now, she said, history is finally being made.

Many are expected to be on hand to witness the return. The festival has exceeded a record for campsite bookings set in 2010 when 22,000 people attended the event.

Robert Doucette said he will be among those watching the bell's return. The president of the M©tis Nation of Saskatchewan said the bell once symbolized the struggle between the M©tis and federal government. Now, he said, it is a symbol of reconciliation and pride. "It's a symbol of hope, faith and belief in ourselves," Doucette said. "Our struggles were not in vain."

-- The Canadian Press

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2013 A22

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