The voice of Métis youth heard in Parliament on National Aboriginal Day

senate1Members of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples
and Indigenous youth from across Canada who addressed the
Committee on June 21, 2016: Front row: Maatalii Okalik, Pangnirtung,
Nunavut; Senator Lillian Dyck, Saskatchewan; Shelby Angalik, Arviat,
Nunavut; Kelly Duquette, Atikokan. Middle row: Senator Murray Sinclair,
Manitoba; Justin “Jah’kota” Holness, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Senator
Lynn Beyak, Ontario; Katelyn LaCroix, Penetanguishene; Senator
Nancy Greene Raine, BC; Jenna Burke, Charlottetown, PEI Back
row: Mitch Case, Sault Ste. Marie; Senator Victor Oh, Ontario;
Alehtea Arnaquq-Baril, Iqualuit, Nunavut; Tenille McDougall,
Fort Macleod, Alberta; Willie Sellars, Williams Lake, BC; Senator
Dennis Patterson, Nunavut; Senator Scott Tannas, Alberta

On National Aboriginal Day on June 21 this year, three Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) youth participated in day-long activities on Parliament Hill prior to making presentations to the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.  MNO President Margaret Froh, after a busy morning launching National Aboriginal Day with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accompanied the youth to the Senate and had the opportunity to watch them each make their presentations to the Committee (click here for story.)
The three MNO youth were Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario (PCMNO) Youth Representative Mitch Case, PCMNO Postsecondary Representative Katelyn LaCroix and MNO Youth Council Region 1 Representative Kelly Duquette. They were part of a group of 14 Indigenous youth representing Métis, First Nations and Inuit youth from across Canada. The three MNO youth were the full Métis contingent at the meeting.
“The fact that three of our Ontario Métis youth participated in this important day and made presentations to the Senate Committee is a testament to the leadership our Ontario Métis youth consistently demonstrate,” commented President Froh.

senate2President Froh with the MNO youth who spoke to the Senate
Committee on Aboriginal peoples (left to right): President Froh, Kelly
Duquette, Katelyn LaCroix and Mitch Case.

Activities for the young people started the evening of June 20 with a meet and greet hosted by Senator Murray Sinclair, who had previously chaired the historic Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The next day started bright and early at 8:30 am with the youth being whisked through a series of meetings with the Senate Speaker and the government and opposition leaders in the Senate, as well as tours of the Parliament.  They also attended the National Aboriginal Day reception hosted by several Indigenous Members of Parliament. The highlight of the visit however were the presentations made by the youth to the Standing Committee.
The Standing Committee is a group of Senators who examine bills and carry out studies in areas that impact First Peoples. It is chaired by Senator Lillian Dyck, a member of the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, and deputy chaired by Senator Dennis Patterson from Nunavut. Click here for more information about the Committee. In their presentations the youth had been asked to speak about their own background and explain how their culture influenced their path in life. They were also asked to speak about the support they receive from their communities and their future plans. Click here to view a video of the complete remarks of all their Métis youth.
Representative Duquette, who recently completed her Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Ottawa told the Senators that she had not been aware of her Métis heritage until she was 12 years old. (Click here to learn more about Representative Duquette’s bright future) She said that after learning about her Métis heritage: “I wondered why my ancestors had kept their identity a secret for so long and why it was so crucial for our identity and our people. These questions became motivating forces for behind my involvement in the Métis community and they also influenced my field of studies.”
Representative Duquette explained further to the Senators that as she learned more about her Métis heritage: “I began to understand how my story fitted into the larger [Métis] narrative . . . I have used art as my platform and as a way of teaching others about my culture and experiences as a new generation Métis.”
Representative LaCroix related a similar experience to Representative Duquette in that she did not become cognisant of her Métis background until she was 16 years old. “I thank the Creator every day that I did find it,” she stated, “it has become a big part of who I am.”
Representative LaCroix explained that her involvement in a number of MNO youth programs have helped her connect with her Métis culture. At various times Representative LaCroix has been a MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program Facilitator; part of the MNO Infinite Reach Student Solidarity Network, and a Youth Representative on both her local community council and the MNO Youth Council.
Now as the PCMNO Postsecondary Representative she indicated her priorities included: “. . . increasing and diversifying the funding opportunities for Métis youth and obtaining more mental health support and wellness programs for students; especially during the transition phase.” She went on to explain: “Many of our [Métis] students have to move away from their home communities [to go obtain postsecondary education] and it is a bit of a culture shock. So, it is important to have supports there for transitions to university.”

Representative Case provided the Senators with a history of the Métis from Sault Ste. Marie’s involvement in the fur trade, the War of 1812 and the Battle of Seven Oaks. He also reminded the Senators of unfulfilled promises made to the Métis following the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior Treaties in 1850: “Promises were made to protect our river lots; promises were made a year later to come and sign another treaty with us – that’s 167 some years later – we’re still waiting and we’re ready whenever you are,” he offered.

Speaking about the historic Powley case that started in Sault Ste. Marie, Representative Case explained: “In my lifetime my community was called upon to fight once again for our rights and our place in the world. Throughout my childhood two men from our community [Steve and Roddy Powley] were on trial; our community was on trial; in fact our entire nation was on trial.”

Representative Case explained: “The beautiful thing about this story is not only did we win but that the truth prevailed. Not only did we prevail but the truth of history prevailed . . . [the Supreme Court and other Courts] agreed with us that we are an Indigenous nation in North America with rights that had to be respected.”

“I share these stories with you not as a history lesson of the Métis in Sault Ste. Marie but as a lesson of what makes me who I am and what gives me the strength, courage and determination to do the work that I do,” he said.
Representative Case indicated that going forward: “One of the biggest issues is land claims and recognition of our right to land; our culture is land based and without access to land, we can't embrace that.”

He also praised the other Indigenous youth that spoke to the Senators: “Every single person talked passionately about their community and they weren't afraid to put what they were facing on the line. We have answers, and we want people to know that.”
After watching the Métis youth present President Froh stated: “It was with great pride that I listened as our Métis youth represented the entire Métis Nation with passion and eloquence. They filled me with hope for our future.”

Posted June 23, 2016

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