A Year of Reconsideration, By Joe Desjarlais

If 2015 was a watershed year of “Truth and Reconciliation” for Canadians, the national event has wide ranging implications far beyond the door of residential schools. This conversation has arguably created a ripple effect going forward with 2016 as a “year of reconsideration” for the historic Metis – Canadian relationship.

In mid-December with the release of the final report on Truth and Reconciliation, Justice Sinclair acknowledged that Metis were left out of settlement and are still waiting for justice and fair treatment. Canada was faced with the reality that Metis are included in the orbit of both “Truth” and “Reconciliation” national conversations along with First nations and Inuit.

For the first time, Canadians are hearing about the need for a “covenant of reconciliation” which will allow governments and industry and members of the public to sign on. Canadians are hearing phrases like “nation-to-nation” relations, “mutual recognition” and respect for difference. The report discussed a new vision for Canada to “fully embrace Aboriginal peoples’ right to self determination within, and in partnership with, a viable Canadian sovereignty.”

In my view the report and recommendations is also a philosophical statement that points the way to a reconsideration of history as “coexistence” between Metis nations, First nations, Inuit and Canada. For many, this means to “consider” strong equal ongoing partnerships, with Métis land as the foundation for sovereignty and sufficiency. This also opens up the possibility of many sovereign Métis communities coming together as independent self-sustaining nations.

Canadian society, however, has yet to create the space and frameworks for Metis to ensure that accurate representations of Metis identity inform Canadian institutional policies and structures.

For instance, there have been ongoing concerns by Metis about ill-suited National Energy Board regulatory processes: as in the lack of financial capacity for community engagement; or ensuring in economic matters that Metis traditions, laws and historical connections to land shape processes and decisions.

On another front, in spite of public promises to implement the report recommendations, the British Columbia Ministry of Education selectively ignores TRC calls to action for education curriculum that is inclusive of treaty relations and historical and contemporary contributions of Metis peoples,

Unfortunately Metis political organizations in Canada have not been at the forefront of reconciliation. They have chosen to be accountable to “government” instead of their own communities. They have continued with oppositional identity politics and attempts to limit Metis identity to that of “individual rights-bearing Metis citizens” through their racially charged regulatory systems. This rights- based dependency model creates competition and communities are set up to be impoverished.

They have sought to establish exclusive relationships with Canada instead of being accountable to facilitate reconciliation and partnerships between Metis nations, First nations, Inuit, Canada and the international community. They are unable to comprehend the changes swirling around them and they currently foreclose possibility and opportunity for all Metis nations in Canada.

In spite of this entrenchment, ruptures in the standard narrative occur as Metis invite others to “reconsider history” in and through their respective work and contributions:

This year, Metis lawyer and historian Bruce McIvor has notably deepened reconciliation conversations in the field of aboriginal law. McIvor’s educational writing at First Peoples Law talks about the “relationship between knowledge, understanding and justice.” To McIvor, “the past is more than a memory. It can oppress. It can light the way.”

Metis consultant Keith Henry is the Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada. His work in supporting tourism has been instrumental in reclaiming images and supporting a movement toward accurate cross-cultural representations of First nations, Inuit and Metis identity on a world stage in tourism and economic development. It is my privilege to volunteer alongside Keith in his other capacity as President of the BC Metis Federation.

Metis artist Christi Belcourt is employing her talent as an artist to translate Metis ways of being on an international stage. As well, Belcourt and other indigenous artists are part of a collective, Onaman collective, describing art as “a way to transfer knowledge of traditional teachings and language.”

“Everything we do is rooted and grounded in ceremony and respect for the land, the animals and the traditions of our ancestors.”

These are only a few of the stories of translation. We are all part of a strong movement towards cultural, social, legal and political renewal in Canada. Indigenous peoples and Canadians from diverse walks of life are faced with the challenge to “reconsider” the vision for Confederation. How then may we translate competing interests into cooperative action? What is the foundation for sufficiency? How do we seek the well being of one another in right relationships?

Trinity Western University professor Matthew Etherington talks about listening as a “transformation of the heart.” First Nations author Wab Kinew views reconciliation as a “spiritual and emotional journey”.

May we pause in this new year, and commit to a reconsideration.

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