Dignitaries and members of the PCMNO attending the ceremony.
From left: PC Aboriginal Affairs Critic Norm Miller, Senator Verna
Porter-Brunelle, Vice-Chair Sharon McBride, Secretary-Treasurer Tim
Pile, Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle,
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Zimmer, President Gary Lipinski,
Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Executive Senator Reta
Gordon, Chair France Picotte.Every year, Métis from across the Homeland remember 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 of the Métis towards taking their rightful place within Confederation.
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 Legislative Building areThe Honourable Dave Levac, Speaker, presents a Louis Riel Day
certificate of recognition to President Lipinski. both located there.
Ironically, the Legislature is where a price was put on Louis Riel’s head and the monument recognizes the Canadian soldiers who fought in the Northwest Resistance against the Métis. During the Louis Riel Day ceremony, however, they are the focal points for honouring Riel and the monument is reverentially draped with Métis symbols including a portrait of Louis Riel.
Weather for this year’s provincial ceremony was unseasonably warm and many expressed thanks to the creator for sparing participants the cold that often marks November 16. Over 100 people were inPresident Lipinski raises the Métis flag while the Lieutenant-Governor
looks on. attendance from the Toronto area as well others from across the province, including some individuals who came from as far away as Thunder Bay, Fort Frances and Kenora.
As in the past, events started with a flag raising ceremony in front of the Legislature. This year for the first time ever, the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell attended the ceremony and with MNO President Gary Lipinski, raised the Métis Nation flag while a crowd of MNO citizens, dignitaries and guests looked on and cheered enthusiastically.
Following the flag raising ceremony, the participants
The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant-Governor of
Ontario. formed a procession led by members of the No. 10 Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and accompanied by Métis fiddler Alicia Blore. The No. 10 Legion Branch has been participating in Louis Riel Day ceremonies for 15 years and their dedication and service was, as always, greatly appreciated.
The procession made its way to the “Northwest Rebellion” monument where speakers addressed everyone assembled. MNO Chair France Picotte emceed the ceremony and set a positive tone by welcoming everyone and acknowledging the many guests and dignitaries. In addition to her honour, other guests included: the Honourable Dave Levac, the Speaker of the Ontario Legislature; the HonourableThe Honourable David Zimmer, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, was one
of several dignitaries attending the ceremony. David Zimmer, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs; the Honourable Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development and Mines; the Honourable Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services; the Honourable Bill Mauro, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; and several Members of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) including Norm Miller, the PC Aboriginal Affairs Critic and France Gélinas, the NDP Aboriginal Affairs Critic; as well as Arthur Potts and Grandville Anderson. President Lipinski commented that it boded well for the future that the assembled group represented all of Canada’s political parties.
Among the speakers at the ceremony were her honour, Speaker Levac, Minister Zimmer, PresidentJean Teillet, a Métis lawyer and great-grand-niece of Louis Riel,
addressed the crowd during the Louis Riel Day ceremony. Lipinski, Chair Picotte, MPPs Miller and Gélinas as well as PCMNO Senator Verna Brunelle-Porter, Executive Senator Reta Gordon, MNO Vice-Chair Sharon McBride, Jean Teillet, the great gran-niece of Louis Riel and MNO citizen Joanna Burt, who represented Métis youth.
The theme that emerged in the remarks from most of the speakers concerned the process of reconciliation that has been emerging recently, which is really simply embracing ideas and values that Louis Riel had always espoused and was trying to achieve. Minister Zimmer, for example, stated: “Today we acknowledge Louis Riel’s contributions to building Canada and recognize and respect the history, culture and identity of MétisPresident Lipinski spoke encouraging words about the future of the
Métis Nation of Ontario. people. It is also an important opportunity to build on the process of reconciliation between Canada and the Métis Nation, and to celebrate the achievements of Métis people.”
MPP Miller commented that Louis Riel was “a tireless advocate for equality,” who played an important role in the history as Canada, while MPP Gélinas stated that Riel brought forward values “we more or less take for granted now.” Speaker Levac pointed out that Riel had initiated the first human rights code in North America because “…he worked to protect the rights of everyone – he was someone who had a vision for all people.” Lieutenant-Governor Dowdeswell explained that Riel helped lay down the framework for minority rights and as a result was a champion of not only MétisMNO veterans lay wreaths at the Northwest Rebellion monument.
From left: Senator Dr. Alis Kennedy, MNO Veterans’ Council
President Joseph Paquette and Chair of the MNO Toronto and York
Region Métis Council Todd Ross. rights but of diversity in general.
In her address, Jean Teillet also discussed reconciliation and related it to her most recent project, which is to write a popular history of the Métis Nation. She described how members of her family had saved hundreds of unpublished letters from Louis Riel as well as other letters written by Métis to newspapers and government officials asserting their culture and rights. She encouraged those in attendance to follow this example and pick up pens and write to make their voices heard. “Today,” she said, “we don’t pick up guns; we pick up pens.”
This year’s presentation from a representative of Métis youth was made by Joanna Burt. Joanne has become well-known across the MNO as a facilitator with thePCMNO Executive Senator Reta Gordon embraces an old friend at
the ceremony. MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program, her wonderful singing voice and ambition to become an opera singer. She shared some of the personal struggles of her life and how the example of Louis Riel steeled her to keep going despite many challenges. “Remember Louis Riel’s determination and remember you have a thousand ancestors backing you. Knowing this makes your dreams worth fighting for,” she said.
As is tradition, President Lipinski was the final speaker. He explained that although Riel was a true visionary who represented many things to many people he was also a family man who made the ultimate sacrifice for what he believed. He pointed out that if Canada had embraced Riel’s vision that the nation would have reached its current place where it is finally beginning to embrace reconciliation much sooner. “Canada could have been on a different trajectory,” he pointed out, “and would have been ahead of its time.”
The No. 10 Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has participated in
Louis Riel Day ceremonies for 15 years.
President Lipinski also spoke optimistically about the future indicating that we “…are moving more swiftly towards reconciliation.” The MNO’s long-standing positive relationship with the government of Ontario is the foundation for that optimism but the recent federal election has also put in place a government that has made significant commitments to the Métis. President Lipinski pointed to the recently released mandate letters from Prime Minister Trudeau to his Ministers as another example of the strength of the new government’s commitment to the Métis. Working together we will achieve so much; we will achieve reconciliation,” he concluded.
Other highlights from the ceremony included a wonderful opening prayer from Senator Brunelle-Porter and Senator Gordon’s moving description of the death and burial of Riel. Vice-Chair McBride also reflected on the experiences of Métis families, including her own, who were forced underground by the events of 1885 and Speaker Levac presented President Lipinski with a day officially recognizing Louis Riel Day across Ontario.
The ceremony ended with the laying of wreaths of remembrance on the Northwest Rebellion monument. The wreaths were laid by executive members of the MNO Veterans’ Council: President Joseph Paquette and Senator Dr. Alis Kennedy and by the Chair of the MNO Toronto York Region Métis Council Todd Ross.
In her closing remarks, MNO Chair Picotte encouraged participants to not put their Métis identity in a jar for a year and leave it on a shelf. Instead she said: “Go out and be the best Métis you can be and…have fun.”
With the ceremony complete for another year, the participants then moved to the Sheraton Centre Hotel where they enjoyed a Métis feast. MNO citizens and friends of the MNO enjoyed the delicious food at the feast and revelled in the comradeship of their Métis brothers and sisters making it the perfect end to another successful provincial Louis Riel Day ceremony.