Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't spoil the museum's party

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It looks like it is just not going to be Ray St. Germain's party. St. Germain may be the best-known Métis musician in Manitoba, or Canada. He may be able to sprint with his "walker" -- as he vowed -- up any stage the Canadian Museum for Human Rights might prepare for their opening ceremonies Sept. 19. He's a fine singer and a rousing entertainer. But he is not young and he is not female. In short, he doesn't fit the bill.

That ticks off the Manitoba Metis Federation, which was forced to rescind its request that St. Germain represent the association, in one of the opening's musical interludes. That's unfortunate. But it is not the basis for a human rights protest.

The MMF says it will boycott the ceremonies, calling the decision to pass up St. Germain in favour of a more youthful performer an unwarranted interference in the group's right to decide how to showcase its culture.

The museum might have been clearer on what it was looking for in the segment of the show. It should have stipulated, upfront, it needed a younger performer for the last of three musical interludes, set to cap the official program and segue into a grand finale led by children all of which will be broadcast live by Rogers and APTN.

The ceremonies are being carefully stage managed for optimal presentation. This is a production designed to capture the eye of a country that is curious to see what's behind the doors of Antoine Predock's $350-million, glass and cement edifice on the banks of the Red River. There's been a lot of anger and outrage about this museum, with many hyphenated Canadians convinced their unique experience with inhumanity will be given short shrift.

Against the odds, the late Izzy Asper's family, undaunted fundraisers and museum faithful got it built. But hold off on that collective sigh of relief, Canada. There is no honeymoon for this ambitious project.

MMF president David Chartrand says the Métis association has entrusted the museum's executive and experts with the job of reflecting his people's struggle to be recognized as a nation within Canada. Now, though, on the very "homeland of Métis territory," his group has been jerked around by organizers who promised one thing, weeks ago, then asked the MMF to deliver another.

St. Germain had already been asked to play, and a young fiddler and jigger were arranged to accompany him. In a back-and-forth of email communications, the MMF was told the man who (Chartrand notes) proclaimed pride as a Métis long before it was fashionable wasn't appropriate.

Chartrand doesn't see this as simply an issue of creative direction trumping historical redress. To him, this is a denial of a human rights: "Speech, freedom of expression, culture and identity is being taken from us by an institution built on that fabric, alone."

No, it's not.

The story of the Métis dispossession and its struggle for recognition as a founding force in Canada is expected to have pride of place in the museum's theatres and galleries, enlarged by the prominent display of Métis art and writing. People are welcome, after the ribbon has been cut, to be impressed, deflated, inspired and appalled. Some, no matter how hard the curators work, will be smug in their predictions the museum could only fail to do justice to their truths.

That tension lies at the core of the compelling, impossible dream to unravel the stories of human rights abuses and atrocities, and reflect the resilience of those who triumphed despite it all.

St. Germain is a cultural icon and a credit to his country. But the MMF should let the CMHR stage handlers have their way. It's commitment to the vision should be judged on its content in the long term, not by an opening day party.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2014 A10

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