aga-story-insideMembers of the MNO Canoe Expedition with MNO Acting President Picotte as well as Ministers Bennett and Zimmer and MP Nault at the beginning of the MNO Annual General Assembly In Kenora. (Left to right on the ground) Dr. Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Noles Dennhart, Robert Nault, Member of Parliament for Kenora, Chris McLeod, Samantha Cuddy, Alex Young, Matthew Bombardier, MNO Acting President France Picotte, David Zimmer, provincial Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Samantha Lavallee, Melissa St. Amant, Justin Moore, Will McLean, Andre Nault. (Left to right, in the tree) Riley Smith, Jesse Yacoubov, Zack Kruzins, Tomas Lucas, Mike Richardson and Courtney Vaughan. Click here for larger picture.

The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Annual General Assembly concluded in Kenora on August 21 with a strong sense of progress on Métis rights and self-government as well as a growing pride in the renewal of Métis culture and heritage.

View a photo album of scenes from the 2017 MNO AGA on Facebook

During the annual State of the Nation address, MNO Acting President France Picotte told the over 400 MNO citizens and guests in attendance that the number of MNO citizens continues to grow with the total now exceeding 21,000 Ontario residents. She also announced the completion of the Root Ancestors Project that will assist even more of the 84,000 self-identified Métis people in Ontario find their Métis heritage and become citizens.

The MNO also experienced impressive program growth in the most recent fiscal year. The new Métis Family Wellbeing program has allowed the MNO to open seven new offices bringing its total number of offices to 32. This new program will address intergenerational trauma, reduce violence and address the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in the child welfare and justice systems. Acting President Picotte also reported the MNO provided education and training support to 849 clients and post-secondary education bursaries to 200 students in 42 institutions. The MNO provided healing and wellness services to over 2000 clients through over 20,000 activities and events. The MNO also grew in the area of duty to consult and accommodate. The MNO processed over 5000 proponent and government notices, engaged over 100 industry proponents and managed over 80 agreements including five Impact and Benefit Agreements. “As you can see,” said Acting President Picotte, “we are thriving and there are more activities than ever before. This progress is because of all of you [the AGA delegates] it is the accumulation of two decades of working – it is because of strong Métis leaders working together.”

The area of Métis rights and self-government was a major focus of the AGA. Métis rights lawyer Jason Madden indicated that after many years of slow progress in this area, key wins at the Supreme Court such as Daniels v. Canada and the cooperation of both the federal and provincial government, is now generating real momentum behind Métis rights and self-government. Madden stated an announcement would be forthcoming soon about an agreement between Ontario and the MNO recognizing seven Métis historic communities in Ontario. The support of both the provincial and federal governments for reconciliation was evidenced by the presence of Dr. Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Indigenous Affairs, David Zimmer, provincial Minister of Indigenous Relations and Robert Nault, Member of Parliament for Kenora during the AGA.

Equally important to discussion on operations, rights and self-government was the cultural and heritage aspects of the AGA, which was why for many the most exciting element of the AGA was the arrival of the MNO Canoe Expedition on the first night of the AGA. The Canoe Expedition was an amazing 2200 kilometre trek between Ottawa and Kenora that started on May 23. The young voyageurs who took on this challenging journey travelled the historic fur trade routes of their Métis ancestors and made presentations on Métis culture to over 15 communities along the way.

While the Canoe Expedition members were definitely the heroes of the AGA, it was also apparent that it was not necessary to paddle across the province to show pride in Métis culture. A large number wore clothing decorated with colourful flower beadwork. The flower beadwork tradition is historically a key element of Métis culture and has seen a strong revival in the last several years; in particular among Métis young people. Métis young people such as Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario Youth Representative Mitch Case have become skilled in creating beadwork that has been used to decorate many different kinds of clothing. Just before the AGA, over 60 young people had travelled to Kenora to participate in the MNO’s first youth conference prior to attending the AGA. The pride and excitement so many young people have for their Métis heritage and culture was readily apparent throughout the AGA.

Each evening of the AGA featured Métis performers as well as traditional and other delicious foods. Entertainment highlights included Sierra Noble, the Winnipeg Jiggers and during the open mic night, many MNO citizens enthusiastically took to the stage to share their talents. The AGA also featured a cultural activities afternoon featuring Métis games and cultural activities led by the MNO Summer Cultural Students and Canoe Expedition members as well as the world-famous Métis Voyageur games. Other entertainment also included a cruise of the incredibly beautiful Lake of the Woods and a Dinner and Dance at the top of the elegant Clarion Inn Lakeside overlooking the Lake of the Woods.

AGAs are never possible without hours of hard work from the regional community councils and the Provisional Council of Métis Nation of Ontario (PCMNO) Regional Councillor. The Region 1 Community Councils: the MNO Kenora, Sunset Country, Atikokan and Area and Northwest Métis Councils all contributed time and resources to make this AGA successful and PCMNO Region 1 Councilor Theresa Stenlund was involved in all the planning and work from the very beginning. They made sure that everyone at the AGA was well taken care of!

Councilor Stenlund the regional community councils are excellent examples of the kind of volunteer work that is epitomized by so many MNO citizens. At every AGA, the Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Volunteer of the Year Award is presented to one outstanding volunteer. This year it went to Greg Garratt who is well-known across the MNO for his work as Secretary-Treasurer for the MNO Veterans Council and Captain of the Hunt for Region 7. Greg was stunned by the award and while humbly accepting it took the time to recognize the work done by all of the MNO’s many volunteers.

By the time the AGA wrapped up on noon on Monday, the citizen were both exhausted but even more inspired to continue the work of building the Métis Nation. They can be pride of the growth and progress in all areas of the MNO’s operations and look optimistically to a brighter future that they are already in the process of building.

Look for pictures from the AGA to be posted on the MNO Facebook page in coming days.

Posted: August 21, 2017