A recent media article by Steve Rennie gave all Canadians a glimpse into the attitude of the federal government as it concerns Métis people in their letter to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In August, Aboriginal Affairs officials wrote to the commission. Rennie quotes federal government assertions in the letter that the (human rights) complaint by the BC Métis Federation is “trivial, frivolous, vexatious, or made in bad faith.” After years of silence and avoidance, the government decides to spin populist refrains by writing the commission and stating that the “federation is trying to “annoy, embarrass, or harass“ the MNBC (another Métis organization) for “political purposes. “ The government, it appears, would rather publically portray Métis as fighting Métis. Instead of attempting to understand what Métis across this country have been attempting to articulate, the government would rather interpret Métis resistance against injustice in the narrowest possible cynical sense. Official government accounts and tactics of avoidance once again sow seeds of division, rivalry and fear amidst thousands of Métis across Canada and among other Canadians. The Federation has been putting ideas out in a public debate in good faith, with sustained arguments over the last few years. We recognize that a new narrative is taking shape, a narrative that makes room for Métis people, communities and nations in Canadian society. There are broader efforts underway to re-establish the shared foundational relationships and agreements that built this country. For instance, public art and language demonstrate a different pathway forward. We hear of a recent media story that a Métis fighter firing a cannon is now depicted in the new War of 1812 Monument that was officially unveiled on Parliament Hill. On another front, to the government’s credit, they recently funded the BC Métis Federation and partner communities for language studies. To Métis, this type of funding is not simply a multicultural funding option, but is recognition that Métis languages and cultures have much to contribute to shaping BC and Canada.
Rather than denying reality, other Canadian institutions have in my view started to acknowledge a Métis presence in the public fabric. For instance, local jurisdictions have now begun the process of public acknowledgement of Métis contributions. The town of Gibsons has proclaimed Métis cultural awareness week from November 10-16. The City of Richmond has approved a proclamation identifying November 16th as Métis Day in the City. The City of North Vancouver proclaimed November 10-16 as Métis Cultural Week. Step back and we see that a narrative of treaty relations is slowly coming back into greater focus in Métis communities, among First Nations, and in Canadian society. In fact, Canada’s legitimacy derives from these mutual relationships. As John Ralston Saul states so eloquently in his new book the Comeback, Canada is built not only on the legal structure of the treaties, but equally on the cultural, ethical, human assumptions and commitments those treaties contain. Ralston Saul further opines that every Canadian citizen inherits the full benefits and the full responsibilities- the obligations of these treaties.
Canadians learned last week that university researchers as well as prominent Métis lawyers and consultants will be engaging in a five year study of Métis Treaties with the Crown including contemporary treaties and agreements. It is apparent to me by this development that ideas like rights and title and nation- to- nation relationships are becoming a significant issue in Canadian society as Métis across this country seek to live together, resolve issues and seek justice. Shared ideas like the Honor of the Crown and Gus-wen-tah are coming into focus.
The Federation for its part has made initial contact with the research team and will be exploring further possibilities. Hopefully, Métis understandings that informed these agreements will point to a more respectful and responsible model of Métis – Canadian relations going forward that informs institutions and processes.
The Federation invites further engagement and hopes for an honest upcoming conversation with the Province of BC. As well, the Federation continues to invite the current Federal government to sit down and talk with all Métis, visit their communities, listen carefully to their concerns and aspirations, and, on behalf of every Canadian, forge a shared pathway forward that establishes and maintains good faith.
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