Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bell of Batoche keeper remains under wraps

Métis deny paying for artifact

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Claire Belanger-Parker and Guy Savoie speak at a news conference to announce the return of the Bell of Batoche this summer on July 20.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Claire Belanger-Parker and Guy Savoie speak at a news conference to announce the return of the Bell of Batoche this summer on July 20. Photo Store

After more than two decades of silence, a news conference promising details about the Bell of Batoche revealed more secrecy surrounding the historic piece of Métis culture.

There were some confirmations made in Friday's joint announcement from the Union Nationale Métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba (UNMSJM) and the Back to Batoche Days organizers -- specifically how the famous bell will finally be unveiled and presented to Albert Thevenot, the Bishop of the Diocese of Prince Albert, during an afternoon parish mass in Batoche, Sask., on July 20 -- but officials now connected to the story chose to let the bigger plot points remain in the shadows.

For now, at least.

"The keeper of the bell chooses to remain anonymous," said Guy Savoie, an elder with UNMSJM who claims to have seen the bell a half-dozen times. "In our discussions with him, it was decided that if he was to return the bell he would do so on his terms at Batoche. He requested that he remain anonymous. We have given our word that we will respect his wishes."

According to the UNMSJM, the person who has the bell will be revealed when he presents it to the bishop next month. Details on how the bell landed up in a garage or in a basement may come out later.

Where is the bell currently? This anonymous person doesn't live in Winnipeg but rest-assured, Savoie said, the bell is in Manitoba and is stored safely. As for why it wasn't at the news conference, Savoie pointed to the cultural significance of having the first public viewing at the place it originated from, becoming quite emotional at the thought of how Métis people will react when it's back at Batoche.

Savoie then stressed the keeper of the bell isn't interested in a financial reward. That statement only drew more questions, as it flies in the face of what Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said earlier this week, when he told media outlets a money shortfall was a major factor in his attempts to secure the prized bell. At one point, Chartrand said a price of $17,000 was reached, but fell apart when the seller asked for more money.

Savoie laughed at rumours his organization paid $40,000 for the bell, scoffed at suggestions it's a replica and painted a different picture of negotiations.

"We don't have that kind of money, nor would we have offered that kind of money," he said. "When we first undertook the negotiations we indicated there were two choices: the choice of accepting money and becoming a thief or of honourably returning the bell and becoming a hero to the Metis.

"We did not pay one red cent."

The UNMSJM issued this statement from the keeper of the bell: "The time has come to bring hope to our Métis people, I want the Métis people to touch and ring this bell and let its sound reverberate into their strong spirit, to give them strength and courage to keep on fighting in what they believe in."

Savoie said the 12-kilogram artifact will be returned to the UNMSJM following the mass with the intention of using it as an educational tool.

A crack in the bell was repaired. The repair was important to Bishop Thevenot, Savoie said.

"He saw the crack in the bell as a message of the schism that occurred between the M©tis people and the church after the (1885 battle in Batoche)," Savoie said. "He sees this as a reconciliation between the Métis people and the church.

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 A8

History

Updated on Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 2:12 PM CDT: Fixed accent

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