Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Métis Nation righting wrongs

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Louis Riel Day is a special family holiday for precious moments with our parents, spouses, siblings and children. It is also the day we as Manitobans honour the life and achievements of our Father of Manitoba and, for the Métis, recognize his leadership of the Métis Nation.

Among his many papers, I recall reading Louis Riel's handwritten letter suggesting Manitoba as a name for our great province. As one of Manitoba's leaders, I was both excited and humbled to hold this piece of history in my hand. I have no doubt that without Riel, there would be no Manitoba, or Canada, as we know it today.

It was during the historic Red River Resistance that Riel was first elected president of the provisional government. Subsequently, on March 9, 1870, he became president of the legislative assembly of Assiniboia, and in effect, the first premier of Manitoba.

Riel and Métis Nation representatives created the List of Rights that became the template for the negotiation of the 1870 Manitoba Act. The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed this historic fact that the Métis were Canada's negotiating partners in Confederation.

The Métis Nation is often referred to as Riel's People. They created the Manitoba we live in today, respecting language, religious, and land and other rights. The Métis vision of Manitoba's future is proud, strong, prosperous and democratic.

Our ancestors knew the challenges their children would face with the influx of settlers into the Red River Settlement. They wanted a secure future for their children where they could be Canadians with aboriginal and civil rights and security.

The Manitoba Act recorded solemn promises made to provide lands to our children. These and other promises were not kept. The Métis children and their families were swindled and their lands stolen by speculators. This was facilitated by government delays, unconstitutional legislation and orders in council.

This has been called the unfinished business of Confederation. As a partner in Confederation, and as an aboriginal people, we believe the honour of the Crown and its fiduciary responsibilities require this business be closed fairly and equitably.

We have spent more than 30 years in the courts struggling to right these wrongs done to our ancestors. Last year, we asked the Supreme Court of Canada to make a declaration on the unconstitutionality of the legislation, orders and other actions.

In this court case, we are demanding neither lands nor compensation monies. Owners of Winnipeg properties need not worry. We are not going to take away their land. On the contrary, we are expecting governments to work with us to address this shameful episode in Canadian history to create a renewed partnership between the Métis Nation and other Canadians.

We are looking for a confirmation and vindication of our position that our children and their families were wronged. We anticipate this judgment to come within weeks and that it will help bring justice to the Métis children.

Louis Riel referred to his people as the New Nation. The Métis were sometimes described as O-tepaye-msuak or the independent ones, or half-breeds. We called ourselves as Michif, Métif, Metis, Métisse, and the Métis Nation. No matter the name, we have always known who we were. We have a separate identity as a distinct and unique aboriginal people.

In the news recently, there was a Federal Court decision interpreting Sec. 91(24) of the Canadian Constitution saying the Métis are Indians. This does not mean Métis are Indians or First Nations people in the way we normally use the terms. Think of this as an all-encompassing term such as native, aborigine, aboriginal, or indigenous people.

I assure our Métis Nation, Manitobans, and Canadians that this does not mean Riel's people are under the Indian Act. We would oppose any action by government toward the Métis becoming subject to this unwanted, out-of-date and arbitrary legislation. If alive today, I am confident Louis Riel would oppose it also.

Manitoba's entry into Canada's Confederation is the legacy from Louis Riel and our ancestors. For generations, Confederation has been protected and strengthened at home and abroad with the spirit of freedom and democracy. This is a gift we must pass to our children and to future generations.

I thank the children of our province; Métis, First Nations and non-aboriginal alike who had the wisdom to recommend our Manitoba family day recognize the greatest of Manitobans -- Louis Riel. I offer my best wishes to all Manitobans and their families on the holiday Monday.

Meeqwetch, thank you, merci.

David Chartrand is president of the Manitoba Metis Association.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 A15

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