Fulfilling Riel’s Dream
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Louis Riel Day Events Celebrated throughout Métis Homeland
Every year, Métis from across the Homeland, honour the anniversary of the unjust execution of Louis Riel on November 16, 1885, by holding Louis Riel Day events. Although Louis Riel Day commemorates one of the great tragedies of Canadian history, it is also a day to celebrate Métis culture and the continuing progress the Métis people are making in fulfilling Louis Riel’s dream of the Métis taking their rightful place within Confederation.
Queen’s Park Ceremony
Many Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) chartered community councils held flag raisings, feasts and cultural celebrations to recognize Louis Riel Day and as in the past, provincial ceremonies were held at Queen’s Park in Toronto. Provincial Ceremonies take place at Queen’s Park because the Northwest Rebellion monument and the Provincial Parliament Building are both located there. Ironically, the monument recognizes the Canadian soldiers who fought in the Northwest Resistance against the Métis but on Louis Riel Day it is draped with Métis symbols and a portrait of Louis Riel is reverentially placed upon it.
It was a beautiful fall day in Toronto for this year’s provincial ceremony. Over one hundred people attended from the Toronto area as well others from across the province, including some people who came from as far away as Thunder Bay. As in the past, events started with a flag raising ceremony. Jennifer Henry, the Postsecondary Representative on the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario (PCMNO), raised the flag with MNO President Gary Lipinski, the Honourable Dave Levac, Speaker of the Ontario Legislature and the Honourable Chris Bentley, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Minister of Energy looking on.
Following the flag ceremony, the participants formed a procession led by members of the No. 10 Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and accompanied by Métis fiddler Alicia Bloor. The No. 10 Legion Branch has been participating in Louis Riel Day ceremonies for twelve years and their dedication and service was commented on by several of the speakers during the ceremony that followed the procession. Although Alicia had broken her leg a few days prior to Louis Riel Day, she refused to be deterred from participating in the procession and her determination provided a shining example of the Métis spirit!
The procession made its way to the Northwest Rebellion monument where the official Riel Day ceremony was held. PCMNO Senator Joseph Poitras provided the opening prayer and thanked the creator for the many blessings received by the Métis and for bringing people of many different affiliations together to recognize Riel Day. MNO Chair France Picotte, emceed the ceremony and welcomed everyone. She set a positive tone for the ceremony stating: “On each Riel Day, I ask those assembled to think back to the last Riel Day and remember what they have done to advance the Métis Nation in the last year; and to also think forward about what they will do in the upcoming year for the Métis people.”
The Honourable Dave Levac, Speaker of the Ontario Parliament then spoke. Speaker Levac is an MNO citizen and is the first person of Métis ancestry to serve as the speaker of a provincial parliament or legislature in Canada. He related the story of how he discovered his Métis heritage and he explained now that he is aware of his background it means “. . . more to me than I ever knew it could.” He explained that as Speaker, his official portrait would eventually be painted to and displayed in the Parliament Building, and proudly stated that in his portrait he would be wearing his sash, “because I am Métis,” he proclaimed.
Speaker Levac was followed to the podium by MNO Vice-chair Sharon McBride. Vice-chair McBride said that she would have liked to meet Louis Riel so that she could tell him that “his people are not ashamed – we are a recognized Aboriginal people.” She also said she would like to tell him that “. . . you are loved and remembered” and “your spirit lives on through all of us.”
Chair Picotte introduced the next speaker, the Honourable Chris Bentley, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Minister of Energy, as a “good friend of the Métis.” It was noted that Minister Bentley enjoys an unrivaled record for attending MNO Annual General Assemblies and other MNO events and has played a role in some of our greatest achievements. Minister Bentley commented that the Métis have “shown leadership, endured great challenges and made sacrifices,” for the betterment of all Canadians. He also spoke about the success of the MNO-Ontario Framework Agreement, signed in 2008, that has contributed to building a strong positive relationship between the MNO and the Government of Ontario, which let to among other things, the establishment of the Métis Voyageur Development Fund. “The re-kindling of the Métis entrepreneurial spirit,” declared Minister Bentley “was an important result of our working together.”
Michael Prue, a New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) represented NDP leader Andrea Horwath at the Ceremony. MPP Prue has attended Louis Riel ceremonies loyally for twelve years and is also a member of the No. 10 Legion Branch. In his statements he focused on how dramatically attitudes towards Louis Riel have changed since he was first taught about Riel in high school. “Children are learning a different story,” he commented, “today he [Riel] is recognized as a true Father of Confederation.”
Métis youth were represented at the ceremony by PCMNO Postsecondary Representative Jennifer Henry. Representative Henry spoke about the value and importance of postsecondary education in insuring a strong future for the MNO. She also explained that we must “teach our youth the stories of our past,” and for this “we look to our elders.” Representative Henry spoke eloquently in tribute of one of the MNO great elders, Senator Earl Scofield, who had passed away earlier in the month. She declared: “His [Senator Scofield’ s] spirit lives on in the Métis Nation.”
As in most past years, the MNO was honoured with the presence of Jean Teillet at the Queen’s Park Ceremony. Ms. Teillet is the great grand-niece of Louis Riel and is the famous Métis rights lawyer who took the Powley Case to the Supreme Court of Canada. Chair Picotte commented when introducing Ms. Teillet that by defending Métis rights in the courts, “she has taken on the family business to make sure the Nation is vibrant and alive.” In her remarks, Ms. Teillet focused on the improvements the Métis have seen in the last decade. “We are not fighting that house anymore,” she said, referring to the Ontario Parliament only a short distance away. “Things have changed dramatically from the days when people took up arms; from the days full of disgrace,” she added, “we have worked hard and the yardstick has moved forward.” She concluded her remarks saying: “The fact that we are here [at this ceremony] over a 100 years later, is a testament to the power that his [Riel’s] image has created for us.”
The final speaker was MNO President Gary Lipinski. President Lipinski said that Riel sacrificed himself for his dream that the Métis take their rightful place in Confederation. Referring to his execution, President Lipinski said: “It was a travesty that should not have happened. Think of the Canada we could have built if his ideas would have been embraced. When Louis Riel was executed, all Canadians lost a great leader.” President Lipinski then highlighted how the MNO is working to fulfill Riel’s dream. “Providing Métis children and youth with the opportunity to be the best they can be,” he stated, “is a key priority.” He also described the MNO plans to build economic self-sufficiency so the MNO will no longer be dependent on government funding. “It is these types of goals that speak to the aspirations of the Métis people,” he said.
The ceremony ended with the laying of wreaths of remembrance on the Northwest Rebellion monument. The participants then moved inside the Provincial Parliament building for a delicious traditional Métis feast. After everyone enjoyed an excellent meal, President Lipinski made a special presentation. Two MNO veterans, Harvey and Norman Horlock had been unable to attend this year’s Annual General Assembly, where other MNO veterans were presented with Queen’s Jubilee Medals. While Norman was still unable to attend Riel Day in Toronto, Harvey was able to attend and received his medal from President Lipinski and accepted Norman’s medal on his behalf.
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