Resistance, Resilience and Remembrance: Louis Riel Day at Queen’s Park

Louis Riel Day Photo
MNO President Margaret Froh speaking during the 
Provincial Louis Riel Day ceremony at Queen's Park in 
Toronto. To the immediate right of President Froh are (left-
right) Minister David Zimmer, PCMNO Senators Joseph
Poitras, Verna Porter-Brunelle and Renee Gravelle. Click
here for larger photo.
The themes of resistance, resilience and remembrance figured prominently at the Louis Riel Day provincial ceremony at Queen’s Park in Toronto on November 16, 2017.

Louis Riel Day is widely recognized as a day to pay respect to the legacy of Louis Riel and celebrate Métis culture and heritage. As in the past, Métis communities across Ontario are holding Louis Riel Day events and the provincial ceremony took place in Toronto at Queen’s Park. For the first time, in accordance with a resolution passed at the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Annual General Assembly (AGA) in August, the provincial ceremony did not take place at the Northwest Rebellion monument at Queen’s Park but rather at the flag pole near the Legislative Buildings.

Louis Riel was the great Métis leader executed by the Canadian government for leading the Northwest Resistance in defense of Métis rights and the Métis way-of-life. Every year Louis Riel Day is held to remember what Riel sacrificed and renew the commitment to complete his work.  In Ontario, the Métis struggled to protect their rights, communities and families. The MNO celebrates Louis Riel Day to recognize the many contributions of the Métis to Canada and to highlight the challenges that Métis continue to face. 

The ceremony started with raising the Métis flag at the Legislative Building and a procession of all in attendance led by Métis musicians and Liam and Alicia Blore and a Legion Honour Guard. MNO Chair France Picotte served as Master of Ceremonies and the opening prayer was given by Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario (PCMNO) Senator Renee Gravelle. Following speeches and greetings from MNO leaders and invited dignitaries a wreath was placed by MNO veterans and a moment of silence was observed.

Among the dignitaries who spoke was the Honourable Dave Levac, Speaker of the Ontario Legislature and the Honourable David Zimmer, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. Levac spoke of his pride in being the first Métis speaker of the Ontario Legislature and said there are three words that perfectly capture his feelings on Louis Riel Day: “I am Métis.” In his remarks, Minister Zimmer also spoke of the growing pride that Métis feel and encouraged Métis to continue building a better future for themselves and all Ontario people.

In addition to Speaker Levac and Minister Zimmer, Progressive Conservative (PC) Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Huron-Bruce Lisa Thompson and New Democratic Party (NDP) MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin Michael Mantha brought greetings on behalf of PC Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.  The participation of these MPPs in the ceremony along with the presence of a number of other MPPs at the event demonstrated the positive relationship the MNO has built with Ontario through the signing of the MNO-Ontario Framework Agreement, which was renewed in 2014; and by the all-party support for the passage of the MNO Secretariat Act in 2015.

This year MNO Region 2 MNO Youth Council Representative Paul Robitaille  spoke about the fact that while relationships with Canadian governments are improving we know from history that everything will not be easy and Métis youth will need to play a role in strengthening the Métis Nation.

Another Riel Day tradition is the address by Jean Teillet. Ms. Teillet is a renowned Métis lawyer who was lead counsel for Steve and Roddy Powely during the landmark R v. Powley case. She is also the great-grandniece of Louis Riel and her direct family connection to Louis Riel always makes her remarks especially poignant.  This year Ms. Teillet told the story of “Old Nick” a Métis who had proposed to ambush the soldiers coming to fight the Métis. She explained that Louis Riel had opposed the ambush on humanitarian grounds and it provides a great example of Métis taking the high moral ground.

In her remarks near the close of the ceremony, MNO President Froh recognized that the hard work of advancing Métis rights, self-government and reconciliation is being carried out by MNO citizens in Métis communities across Ontario. She thanked and recognized the PCMNO for its dedication and leadership as well as everyone participating and attending the ceremony.

In her conclusion she drew on the themes of resistance, resilience and remembrance that had been touched on by the other speakers. She explained: “In spite of everything that has been done, in spite of every denial, and those denials unfortunately are still happening today, of who we are as Métis people, as the Métis Nation, we are still here and we are still moving forward and in fact we have made some great advances.” In addition to past accomplishments, President Froh also highlighted the current discussions to sign a framework agreement with Canada and Ontario. She said: “We are to be going forward negotiating self- government for the Métis Nation in Ontario. There are many great things that we have achieved – there are many more great things in front of us.”

“This is really what we are here to do today,” she added in closing her formal remarks, “to remember Louis Riel, to remember Steve Powley, to remember all those Métis leaders who have gone before us and the legacy they have left for us.” Then when speaking about the importance of Métis youth, she added: “While we remember – we are also always looking forward.” 

Posted: November 20, 2017

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