The Year of the Métis by Gary Lipinski

On April 19th, 2010, I was able to participate in what was one of the proudest days I have had since my involvement with MNO first began back in 1994. In the past sixteen years of living history many of us have witnessed first hand a steady progression in the resurgence of Métis Pride, Identity and Métis Nationalism. Within the MNO we have stood together, collectively and asserted ourselves as Proud Métis, proud of who we are, proud of our ancestors, proud of our contributions both past and present, and we have asserted ourselves as a full fledged rights bearing people…one of the three distinct Aboriginal Peoples recognized in section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.

During these past years, there have been “special moments” that stand out, moments where events have happened that one immediately knows that something important has happened, and that Métis realities are now somehow different, better, and that our future will be a little brighter.

Such historic events for MNO include of course the ten year struggle and battle all MNO citizens fought along with Steve and Rodney Powley in the first ever Métis test case to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. We fought together, collectively for full recognition of Métis Harvesting rights, and in 2003 the Métis were victorious, a special and significant day that we will all remember, one that forever changed how Métis Rights would be recognized. That day will always stand in our memory.

Another significant day was a year later in July of 2004, when after long and difficult negotiations we concluded a harvesting agreement with the MNR to recognize Métis Harvesting rights and MNO’s harvesting policy. This remains even today, the only Provincial Harvesting agreement with any Métis Governing body. Although more work needs to be done, it should remain a significant day of accomplishment, one that finally allowed Métis Harvesters to harvest with Pride, without fear of reprisal.

More recently, on November 17th, 2008, the Ontario government took an amazing leap forward in signing a Framework Agreement with the Métis Nation of Ontario. This Framework, for the first time recognized Métis in Ontario in an official way and committed us to work collaboratively on a number of commitments, including recognition of our past contributions. It also laid a foundation for positive relations with the Ontario Government and a path towards reconciliation.

April 19th, 2010 we took a giant step forward on the road to reconciliation as the declaration of 2010 as the “Year of the Métis” by the Ontario Legislature was announced. It was truly a historic and humbling experience that I want to share with all MNO citizens. In the gallery of the Ontario Legislature, I, along with other members of the MNO Executive, witnessed members of every political party in the province give their unanimous consent to a resolution declaring 2010 the “Year of the Métis”.

Specifically, the resolution stated:

“The Ontario Legislature commemorates 2010 as the Year of the Métis.

The Ontario Legislature recognizes and honours the distinct culture, identity and heritage of the Métis people in the Province as well as the historic and ongoing contributions of the Métis in Ontario”

With this resolution, the Ontario Government joined with the Parliament of Canada and the Saskatchewan Legislature who had already declared 2010 as the “Year of the Métis”.

However, this resolution in the Ontario Legislature had additional historical significance of just how far our Nation has come.

This additional historical significance came from the fact that the resolution was passed in the same Ontario Legislature that put a bounty on Louis Riel’s head in 1872 and sent troops out to fight against the Métis Nation’s demand for recognition and respect for Métis lands throughout the Northwest.

Now, over a hundred years later, Members of Provincial Parliament for all political parties rose to acknowledge and pay their respects to Ontario Métis and the Métis Nation. It was truly a watershed moment in our history as Ontario Métis.

As the representative for all MNO citizens at the event, words cannot express all the different emotions I felt on behalf of our Nation that day.

I felt sorrow for all of the Métis that died in the Battle of Batoche and other Métis uprisings throughout our history – those who were standing up for Métis rights and lands.

I felt anger about all of our ancestors who were forced to hide their culture, deny their identity and who were often referred to as “Halfbreeds” in a derogatory manner.

I was reminded of all the hurtful statements our Elders and MNO citizens and many of us growing up have been subjected to over the generations as Métis.

I felt vindication that the Province that used to deny the very existence of the Métis – now recognizes our historic communities and our rights as a distinct Aboriginal people.

“But, most of all, I felt optimism….that the best and brightest days of the Métis Nation are still ahead of us!”

I felt pride on behalf of all our citizens and communities who have worked so hard to build the MNO and bring us to this day.

I felt joy in knowing that over the next year we would be able to proudly raise the Métis Nation flag and celebrate this historic recognition with all of our citizens in hamlets, towns and cities throughout the province.

But, most of all, I felt optimism… that the best and brightest days of the Métis Nation are still ahead of us!

Optimistic that we are finally taking our rightful place as a distinct Aboriginal people in Ontario and Canada, and that the rich Métis History in Ontario will begin to be told and cherished!

Optimistic about the relationship we have been building with the Ontario Government!

Optimistic that through events and symbolic gesture like this, our children, grandchildren and future generations will be able to take great pride in declaring they are Métis!

Of course, I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I believe this resolution changes everything. Prejudices run deep. Challenges lie ahead of us. And we still have much work to do to build a stronger Métis Nation.

However, days like April 19th are few and far between. I hope each of you takes the time to think about what the “Year of the Métis” means to you, your family and your community. Take pride in knowing we are surely making progress and the Métis Nation is on the move!

I encourage all of your to take the time to read the Hansard from the Ontario Legislature on April 19th.

I also encourage all of you to partake in one of the many cultural and community events that will be held throughout the province this year to celebrate Métis culture and the “Year of the Métis”.

Take Pride in Who You Are and The Nation You Belong To!

In closing, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the efforts and hard work of former MNO President Tony Belcourt, past and present members of the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario, Senators, Veterans, Women, Youth, Captains of the Hunt, Métis leadership at the Community Council level and all of the Volunteers and Citizens who have given freely of their time, dedication and heart to building the Métis Nation over the last 17 years.

Your tireless and heartfelt efforts over the years made April 19th possible. I was honoured to witness the passing of the resolution on behalf of all MNO citizens, knowing that the resolution and the “Year of the Métis” belongs to all of us collectively.

I look forward to continuing to work – together – and to share and celebrate our collective accomplishment throughout Ontario in 2010 and beyond!

For information contact Joanne Meyer, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs or by call 888-466-6684.

Left to right: MNO Director of Lands, Resources and Consultations Melanie Paradis; MNO Vice-Chair Sharon McBride; MNO Director of Economic Development Bill Wilkinson; President Gary Lipinski; Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Hon. Chris Bentley; MNO Secretary-Treasurer Tim Pile; and MNO Director of Intergovernmental Relations Joanne Meyer.