Métis Stories Come Alive at the AGA in Parry Sound
View all the 2011 AGA photos here
“The Creator has helped us live our stories. Stories are our protectors. They are the connective tissue between culture and nature, life and death. Stories sew the Métis together, like the weaving in a sash, in the telling our stories around the camp fires, the soul quickens and comes alive.” --- Senator Verna Porter in her opening prayer for the 2011 MNO Annual General Assembly
As they do every year, the Métis of Ontario gathered together on one glorious August weekend to share the stories at the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Annual General Assembly (AGA). This year’s AGA was in Parry Sound, a lovely community that sits on the beautiful Georgian Bay, an area that has been an important centre of Métis life and culture for over 300 years. Parry Sound, was part of the great water routes of the fur trade and the historic northwest and provided the perfect back drop for sharing the stories for the Ontario Métis, many of which still remain untold.
Most of the AGA events took place at the Bobby Orr Community Centre in Parry Sound, which is an impressive and practically brand new sports and meeting facility adjacent to the Seguin River that cuts through the town and leads to the Georgian Bay. Months of work and planning by MNO staff and the AGA host, the Moon River Métis Council, began taking shape on August 16th when MNO staff began arriving in Parry Sound. Prior to the formal opening on August 20th many citizens arrived to take part in pre-AGA sessions and meetings on August 18th and 19th, so, MNO staff and Moon River Council volunteers were kept jumping preparing for the AGA and facilitating the pre-AGA functions.
By the evening of Friday, August 19th, most of the over 400 MNO citizens and guests attending the AGA were in Parry Sound with many accepting MNO President Gary Lipinski’s invitation to join him and the other members of the Provisional Council of the MNO (PCMNO) at the nearby KOA campground for a delicious corn roast and campfire. Once people began to gather it did not take long for the fiddles, banjos, guitars and harmonicas to come out and air was soon full of the sounds of lively music, singing and dancing as well as the delectable aroma of freshly roasted corn. A special thank you goes out to all those who shared their talents at the corn roast including Senator Ruth Wagner, Senator Bob McKay, Senator Verna Porter, Ken Simard, Rick Meilleur, Glen Lipinski, Loma Rowlinson and Janine Landry.
Although the singing went long into the night, it did nothing to deter MNO citizens from attending the AGA Opening Ceremonies early the next morning. Hundreds were on hand to cheer and wave Métis flags as two Voyageur canoes paddled by the MNO leadership and distinguished guests made their way down the Seguin River. The arrival of the Voyageur canoes is a great tradition at AGAs and harkened back to the historic roots of the Métis in the fur trade. The canoes landed at a small dock where they were greeted by a colour party of Métis veterans and many citizens dressed in traditional Métis clothing supplied by Scott Carpenter, who has one of the most extensive collections of Métis artefacts in Canada. Playing a traditional Métis fiddle, Senator Ruth Wagner accompanied by Senator Verna Porter on guitar, then led a procession of Métis Veterans, Senators, PCMNO and guests from the dock to the Bobby Orr Community Centre where formal ceremonies began.
In his rousing State of the Nation address during the Opening Ceremonies, President Lipinski explained why telling Métis stories is so important. “It is up to us to tell our stories,” he declared. “It is up to all of us, in our various leadership roles, whether it with women, youth, council presidents, veterans, senators or whoever; collectively we must educate the public because for the most part people still don’t understand us,” he explained. “We have not yet had our stories told well enough,” he went on to say, “we are not in enough history books and so our perspectives and visions have not been put forward enough – and that is our responsibility. It’s up to us to make sure that gets done – that our stories are told.”
Moon River Métis Council President Larry Duval touched on similar themes when he spoke at the Opening Ceremonies. “It is time for us to come together as a nation and share our Aboriginal traditional knowledge with the larger community,” he stated. “Much will be taught, learned and experienced this weekend,” he added, “traditions that have been going for generations, traditions that could have been lost, but with the pride we all share will be remembered.”
Ensuring that Métis traditions are remembered and continue into the future requires that Métis stories are passed down from elders to young people. Due to this fact, President Lipinski made a special point of noting there was a very large youth contingent at the AGA. He told the youth: “It is extremely important that you are here to hear the words, to hear the issues, to hear what was important to your ancestors, so you pick up these stories and they will become part of your own fabric for the day when it is your time and you are ready to pick up the torch.”
Appropriately, bringing youth and elders together to share knowledge was an important aspect of the pre-AGA sessions. On August 18, the youth met with the Captains of the Hunt and with the help of the Lands, Resources and Consultations Branch worked on developing traditional knowledge videos that will be produced by the Branch for release later in the year. On August 19, in a session facilitated by the Education and Training Branch, the youth met with the Senators to learn from their experiences, wisdom and knowledge. These types of sessions are yet another example of the endless dedication of the Senators to the Métis cause. As President Lipinski said: “You [the Senators] have been a mainstay within the MNO. Your endurance, your strength, your tenacity all go above and beyond. You are the first to arrive and you are always the ones here last; you participate fully and keep us moving forward.”
It was noted with sadness throughout the AGA that some of the Senators and founding members of the MNO had passed on in the last year. President Lipinski reminded the Assembly that the work of these individuals in founding the MNO has been strongly preserved in the Statement of Prime Purpose. “What an amazing foundational document,” he explained, “as any leader struggles to know what direction they should be going; we need only read the Statement of Prime Purpose. It spells it out very clearly.” The Statement of Prime Purpose is in itself a way in which the wisdom of our elders has been preserved and continues to provide guidance into the future. Considering this, it was very fitting that during the Presidents meeting prior to the AGA that each Community Council President was presented with a mounted Statement of Prime Purpose suitable for display in their Council offices or similar facilities.
Many dignitaries also addressed the Assembly during the Opening Ceremonies including Ontario Attorney General and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, the Honourable Chris Bentley. Minister Bentley has been a regular participant in AGAs for several years now, and as is the tradition, joined President Lipinski in the Voyaguer canoe prior to the Opening Ceremonies. “I was absolutely delighted to once again join President Lipinski in paddling the canoe this morning,” he told the Assembly, “President Lipinski was paddling slightly faster than me, so, we were in danger of breaking up but he held it together because we have a good framework agreement and a foundation to work on.” Minister Bentley compared the MNO-Ontario Framework Agreement to a good sturdy canoe and commented enthusiastically about the many achievements the MNO and Ontario government have achieved by working together through the Agreement. Among the most recent achievements the Minister highlighted was the creation of the Métis Voyaguer Development Fund (MVDF) to which the Ontario government has committed 30 million dollars over 10 years. Minister Bentley indicated that the MVDF will build on the Métis people’s traditions as explorers, voyageurs and entrepreneurs and strengthen not only the Métis but the whole province. “The strength of Ontario is very much tied to the strength of the Métis people within Ontario,” stated the Minister. Emphasizing that point, the Minister closed his speech by presenting President Lipinski with a framed copy of the MVDF agreement between the MNO and the province.
Part of Minister Bentley’s presentation included remarks from Premier Dalton McGuinty. Although unable to attend in person, the Premier recorded a video message that was played at the Assembly. “Thank you for exploring new opportunities, for giving your children and grandchildren the support they need to build on your success,” he stated. “All of this is a good start but there is much more that we can do together; to keep moving forward; honouring the traditions of the past and working to build a brighter future for all of us.”
The theme of working together figured prominently in the speeches of all of the dignitaries that spoke at the Opening Ceremonies including Member of Parliament, Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Members of the Provincial Parliament, Norm Miller and France Gélinas, Clem Chartier, President of the Métis National Council (MNC); David Chartrand, President of the Manitoba Métis Federation, Keith Saulnier, Town Councillor for Parry Sound, Rick Birmingham, a Vice-President with Union Gas and a video message from the Honourable Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board.
In his remarks, MNC President Chartier paid special attention to Métis veterans. He indicated that the MNC had declared 2011-2020 the decade of the Métis and that 2011 is the year to specifically recognize Métis veterans. In support of that theme, President Lipinski stated: “It goes without saying that all of us in this room, all Canadians, and all Ontarians, and many beyond our borders, owe a debt of gratitude to you [the veterans], for all you have done, for all the services you have provided and all the sacrifices you have given.” Later in the AGA the MNO Veterans Council presented Eagle Feathers to Métis veterans, Senator Dr. Alis Kennedy and Peter Grisdale. As a World War II veteran, President Chartier also presented Mr. Grisdale with the Order of the Métis Nation. The MNC is presenting all Métis veterans of World War II with this Order, which is the highest honour the MNC can bestow.
The hundreds of hours of hard work that went into the AGA were not forgotten by any of the Opening Ceremony speakers, who thanked the MNO staff and Moon River Métis Council volunteers for their dedicated efforts. Throughout the entire AGA, MNO citizens frequently thanked the staff and the volunteers for their service to the Métis Nation.
Once the formalities of the Opening Ceremony were complete, the Assembly got down to its business. Facilitated ably by MNO Chair France Picotte and MNO Vice-chair Sharon McBride, the Assembly dealt with an array of important issues over the next two and a half days. This included a detailed Financial Report from the MNO Auditor and the MNO Director of Finance Judie McKenney. What they reported was that because the MNO leadership had made tough decisions since 2008 that the measures the MNO had taken to stabilize and improve its financial situation are paying off. “In this past year,” stated President Lipinski, “we have been able to wipe off a million dollars in debt.” The Financial Report was followed by a power point slide show entitled “Helping Our People, Our Families, Our Communities,” which highlighted Branch activities and achievements in the last year.Click here to view the slide show. The business day on August 20 finished with MNO Chief Operating Officer Doug Wilson providing a report on the Métis Voyaguer Development Fund. Click here for a full update on the MVDF.
On August 21, the Assembly heard from Métis lawyers Jean Teillet and Jason Madden, who provided an extensive review of what is going on across Canada in terms of Métis rights court cases and the implications of these cases to Métis rights in Ontario. They also explained the work the MNO is currently involved in to advance the Métis rights agenda in Ontario including Mattawa/Nipissing Historic Research, continuing negotiations on the Harvesting Agreement with the Ontario government, an intervention at the Supreme Court in the Manitoba Métis land rights case and the working group with the Ontario government on Métis rights. Mr. Madden delivered a powerful message to the Assembly about the importance of Métis Rights litigation. “Services are good, there is no question about that,” he said, “but at any time the government can stop funding services. Rights on the other hand are forever. They can’t be taken away.”
Later in the day, Mr. Madden also provided an overview of the Consultations on Métis Identification and the Registry that had taken place in 2010-11. He reviewed the “What We Heard” report that had been compiled from the views expressed during the consultations and highlighted the improvements made to the Registry in last year including the additional tools on the MNO website, the new Researching your Métis Ancestors in Ontario: Standards and Sources book and the new FAQ Guide to help citizenship applicants.
While there was plenty of work to do at the AGA, it would not be a Métis gathering if there was also not plenty of time for socializing and celebrating Métis culture. During the evening of August 20, nearly 500 MNO citizens and guests boarded the Island Queen, and sailed out into the Georgian Bay. The ship travelled through the same islands that were once navigated by Voyaguer canoes and provided many scenes of breathtaking beauty. Entertainment was provided by Senators Verna Porter and Ruth Wagner whose fiddling and guitar playing got everyone on the boat clapping and sometimes even jigging! Loma Rowlinson also serenaded the passengers with her dynamic vocals. The highlight of the cruise for most, however, was the presentation of the Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Volunteer of the Year Award to Senator Gordon Calder of Fort Francis. Click here for more information on the Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Volunteer of the Year Award.
Sunday, August 21, proved to be the biggest day for celebrating Métis culture. During the afternoon the Healing and Wellness Branch with other MNO staff and volunteers offered a series of Métis Cultural and Education Workshops as well as a Mock Casino from the Aboriginal Responsible Gambling Program. Workshop topics were beading, net making and fish cleaning, Nettie doll making, bannock making, finger weaving and embroidery, fiddle making, medicinal plants, medicine wheel teaching, Michif language, nuts and berries, diabetes awareness, sprouts and mental health. There was something for everyone and everyone had a great time.
Between these sessions as well as throughout the first two days of the AGA, citizens could also visit the amazing MNO Trade Show Village. Under the capable leadership of Education and Training’s Guylaine Morin-Clerevoux, the ice surface of the Bobby Orr Community Centre was transformed by over 30 different displayers and vendors representing a wide variety of services and businesses. The largest display was from Scott Carpenter who brought a large portion (although not all) of his collection of Métis artefacts. This included tents, furs, household effects and traditional clothing.
Sunday night concluded with an incredible Fish Fry supper staged by AGA hosts the Moon River Métis Council. The Moon River Council’s fish fries are legendary so even after increasing the number of tickets they could sell, it has been sold out for weeks! The incredible volunteers of the Moon River Council fed 400 people in less than an hour and then took the time to honour, one of their citizens, Peter Grisdale. According to Louise Goulding, the Chair of the Moon River Council, who organized the tribute, Mr. Grisdale, like many Métis people grew up being denied his Métis heritage. “When he asked his father questions like; why is our skin so dark,” she said, “he was told that he spent too much time in the sun. He knew in his heart he was Métis but was never able to openly be proud of who he was or where he came from.”
In his 85th year, Mr. Grisdale learned of a meeting of the Moon River Métis Council and even though he had just undergone a second leg amputation, with the help of the Council he was able to attend a meeting and apply for his citizenship card. He was been a citizen since then and is now 91, Moon River’s eldest citizen.
“We honour you tonight,” said Ms. Goulding, “for proudly serving your country in World War II as a Royal Engineer. We honour you for your life and all of your accomplishments. Pete loved to hunt and fish; was a formidable trapper; a guide and a boat builder. He is an amazing gunsmith; even making his own gun stalks. He loves woodworking and does unbelievable leather work. He is even quite the artist. Six years ago Peter became a published author as well, having written is autobiography at age 85.” President added his congratulations to Mr. Grisdale commenting that he proves that it is never too late to re-claim your Métis heritage.
Following this tribute, MNO citizens retired to the ice surface again where the Moon River Council had set up a stage and had a night of dancing and entertainment planned. Everyone kicked up their heals to the music of Louis Lefaive and Family and the Good Old Boys. A group of Métis youth got especially into the spirit of the occasion and learned a couple of traditional Métis dances that they performed for the crowd.
Despite the late night, MNO citizens appeared in full force early in the morning of August 22 for the last day of AGA business. A number of resolutions were brought forward and discussed including several from the youth representatives in attendance. The four major resolutions that were passed by the Assembly concerned: taking a strong stance in negotiations with the Ministry of Natural Resources; starting the process to change citizenship requirements to allow children adopted by Métis families to become citizens; assisting and facilitating Métis economic development; and rejecting the Ontario government’s Children First report because it does not include the Métis perspective.
After a productive and highly enjoyable AGA, MNO citizens went home confident that their stories, Métis stories, will continue to be told. As Senator Verna Porter said in her opening prayer, “This is the greatest gift we can bestow on our youth, our grandchildren and generations to come. We are given the opportunity once a year, here at the AGA, to share our story, to meet and greet and to leave with more than we came with!”
Major sponsors for this year’s MNO AGA included: the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, Union Gas, Hydro One, Bruce Power, AECOM, Jones Consulting, the Royal Bank and MKI Travel.
Click here to see all our sponsors
See ALL news articles