July 6, 2021 was a significant moment in the history of Métis Nation. I wish every one of you could have been there for this important event, but COVID-19 restrictions made that impossible. Even though we could not be together, I want to share what it was like to stand at the gate of Upper Fort Garry and sign an agreement that says Canada recognizes our inherent right to self-government.
To help you picture the event, I am sharing a brief summary of the highlights of my remarks.
In my heart, these words and this message were for you: the proud, strong Citizens of the Métis Nation.
I’m very pleased to be here today, along with my Cabinet. It truly is an honour to be standing on the same ground, taking the same steps Louis David Riel walked with his Provisional Government. This is a good place to look at history and reflect on what he was able to accomplish.
Riel was a very religious man. He prayed vigorously and never carried a weapon throughout all the battles across our Homeland. He had his own military behind him, but all he carried was a cross. He also carried a dream and a vision. He wanted to ensure – not only for us, but for all minorities and the First Nations – that everyone had a place in Canada.
Even though we created this beautiful province and helped build this beautiful country, Canada’s government of the day would not recognize Louis Riel and his Provisional Government as the government of Manitoba.
In fact, they went against his government and argued for over a century, saying that it had no standing. But we know there were about 10,000 of us Métis people here in the Red River at the time. There were approximately 2,000 non-Métis citizens and a very, very small population of First Nations left in Manitoba. And yet, Canada and John A. Macdonald said we had no right to be a government in the prairies and no right to speak for the people who lived here.
Let me say this: there is nothing in this country that has ever been given to the Métis Nation without us fighting for it. Nothing. Everything we've achieved, we fought for.
Anyone who wants to challenge us better understand the Métis Nation of the Red River. We never give up. All you have to do is look at the last 151 years to know that we never give up.
We will never give up our rights or our place in Confederation. It is ours, we earned it. We bled for it and we died for it. This is a country we helped build and a province we built as a people, and we will defend it with everything we’ve got.
Today, when (federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations) Carolyn Bennett puts the ink on that piece of paper out in Toronto, and I put the ink on it here, that will tell you that after 151 years, we are now the only truly recognized province-wide Métis government in Canada.
This document, which is official today, stands very clearly and says the Crown recognizes the Manitoba Métis government is the government of all Red River Métis people. No matter where they live, in the west, in Germany, or the United States, they can always come home. We will always be there to protect our people – we will always have their back. And no one will be able to prevent that from happening.
We don’t have to change our Constitution. We don't have to change the definition of who we are that we accepted in 2002.
What this signing shows is that if you have your mind in the right place and your heart in the right place, you can achieve anything in this country we call Canada.
Throughout all of that, our Nation has always been proud of who we are. We stood strong to protect our identity. We took strong measures to protect our families and sadly, our families paid a dear price for fighting to keep their identity.
And I look today of what we were able to achieve, thanks to a Prime Minister I prayed would come. One day, they said they will be a Prime Minister who will understand, who will want to work with us to achieve the peace and restart the developments that were taken away from us.
None of this would have happened if Justin Trudeau was not the Prime Minister we prayed for and if he did not have the vision and strength inside of him to not be swayed.
Without this partnership with Canada and recognition of our inherent rights, we would never have been able to give more than 2,000 of our students $5,000 for their post-secondary education. We could have not helped Métis families make down payments on nearly 600 houses in Manitoba. We could not have helped 700 families get their houses fixed, so they can live another 10, 20, or 30 years in their homes.
If we look at the daycare centres we’re building across this province, we're going to be able to create hundreds and hundreds of jobs and offer early learning to our children, based on our values and our culture.
The times are changing, and today’s event is part of that change. When the treaty is complete, more change will happen. Don't let the word “treaty” confuse you. What is important to know is that this does not and will not make us First Nations. This is recognition of the Métis Nation by Canada in the modern era, with a modern-day treaty. And it is very clear that this is just the beginning. We will be talking about taxation, fiscal transfers, and law-making, all with the legal backing of our inherent right to self-government.
But we need to remember that our fight is not done. Riel was afraid that the Métis Nation would get swamped. He was afraid that people would forget who we are, our place in Manitoba and Canada, and our right to the land we were born to and built on. He was afraid people would forget that there is no place you can find the Métis Nation but the Red River and Western Canada.
Like Riel, I fear what the future will look like if others succeed in stealing our identity. That is what we’re fighting for right now and we’ll do everything in our power to prevent anyone from stealing that from us.
For now, let’s stand up and celebrate what we’ve been able to do today.
President David Chartrand.