Charges of disrespect and age discrimination are looming over the Canadian Museum for Human Rights after a museum official suggested Manitoba music legend Ray St. Germain is too old to represent the Manitoba Metis Federation in the Sept. 19 opening ceremonies.
David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said the 23-member MMF provincial cabinet was appalled at the museum's action and last weekend voted unanimously to boycott the opening ceremonies in support of the 74-year-old St. Germain.
"We've been supportive of the Canadian human rights museum, I've met with (CEO) Stuart (Murray) on many occasions, and there was a commitment made to the Métis government that we would have a time to showcase our culture and participate in the process," Chartrand said.
"There's no one better to send the best message of who we are than Ray St. Germain. What really upset us, as a Métis government, is who are they to tell us how to express our culture, to show pride in our people and showcase it? Isn't this Canadian Museum for Human Rights supposed to be all about that? Speech, freedom of expression, culture and identity is being taken from us by an institution built on that fabric, alone."
He said the MMF recommended St. Germain, an award-winning recording artist, television-show host and current NCI radio host immediately after being asked by the CMHR weeks ago. The MMF received an email from the CMHR's head of stakeholder relations Dr. Clint Curle, stating "The committee was thinking a younger person might fit the flow of the event better..."
"Not only is the museum attempting to take away our right to choose who will represent our culture, they are discriminating against one of the most distinguished and decorated Métis artists of our time," Chartrand said. "My government will not tolerate such blatant disrespect and has unanimously agreed to stand behind Ray."
Museum spokeswoman Angela Cassie said the museum approached the MMF to recommend an artist for a structured segment relating to youth and no offence was intended to St. Germain or older artists.
"That might be the focal point of what they're bringing forward, but that's not indicative of the nature of the conversations that we were having or the museum's response to them," Cassie said. "We were clear that this was part of a youth segment that was towards the end of the program. It was leading into something where there would be a diversity of young people... we thought with the Métis doing so much in Manitoba with the revitalization of the culture, having a young person that demonstrates that leadership and then hands it over in a way as part of the program to other young people was part of the message that we're trying to convey."
St. Germain, a recipient of the Order of Manitoba and the Aboriginal Order of Canada among other national awards, said he felt surprised and disappointed after hearing from Chartrand about the slight earlier this week.
"This is the first time I've actually run into it (age discrimination). I had trouble sleeping, thinking about it," St. Germain said. "I was taken aback. It's human rights, hello?
"When the MMF asked me to perform, I was thrilled, my honour. They asked me to sing a song that I wrote that I sing on pretty much every show called I'm Mighty Proud I'm Métis, which explains Métis."
Cassie said the final decision of performers for the opening ceremonies has not yet been made.
"To me it's not a question of Mr. St. Germain being a representative of all Métis and we do have names from other (Métis) partners as well," she said. "We're going to continue those conversations with the Manitoba Metis Federation and l'Union Metisse Nationale (l'Union Nationale Métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba), the National Métis Council and hundreds of other community organizations. Part of those conversations is hearing feedback and input, which helps us meet our objectives."
St. Germain said a CMHR representative called him on Tuesday, but he referred the person to the MMF since the MMF had invited him to participate and not the CMHR.
"I really appreciate the support of David Chartrand and the Manitoba Metis Federation, I can't thank them enough. They know I'm a proud Métis," St. Germain said.