Article published in The straight news by Stephen Hui
KEITH HENRY SAYS he’s fighting to keep Métis culture alive, but the Canadian government isn’t exactly helping.
We’re facing no support for culture,” Henry, the president of the B.C. Métis Federation, told the Georgia Straight. “Our language is almost gone. My grandparents spoke Michif dialect, which was one form of the Métis [language]. I don’t speak it. I can’t teach my kids. I can’t send my kids to any school for teaching. “My interest is to make sure our culture doesn’t die,” he added. “We are at that point of breaking—and we’ll just become a museum culture. I’m not prepared to let that happen.”
So, Henry was encouraged by last week’s landmark Federal Court ruling that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under the Constitution Act. He called the decision a “major achievement”.
Although Henry expects the Stephen Harper government to appeal, he predicted that in three to five years the Supreme Court will confirm the ruling that Métis people have the same rights as status Indians. “It’s such a decisive victory,” Henry said. “I’ve read the decision many times now. It’s going to change the country forever.”
Henry spoke to the Straight as he marched down West Broadway in Vancouver with hundreds of others on the Idle No More indigenous-sovereignty movement’s January 11 day of action. He said he was proud to “stand together” with First Nations people who are calling for the federal government to fulfill its treaty obligations and to stop its attacks on aboriginal rights. “It’s important that now more than ever we do this for our children and for the environment—stop this government making these arbitrary decisions, not honouring what’s in law,” Henry said. “People have to understand that’s what this about.”
He noted Canadians often ask why aboriginal people don’t “use the system” to effect change. “Most of us do try and use the system,” Henry said. “We write letters to MPs. We try and meet with the ministers. It’s to no avail. It never gets you anywhere. It’s just lip service and placating the community. I just feel that showing this support civilly and legally is really the only option communities feel they’ve got left.” Still, Henry maintained he has hope the future will see Canada “right the wrongs of the past”.
“We have to try and hope that it will get better,” Henry said. “Do I think it will happen today with this current government? Absolutely not. Do I hope it will get better? That’s all we have. We have to hope, and if we can’t hope it will, we have to take it through the courts and force it to get better.”
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