Transcript: Celebrating Louis Riel Day: Métis Realities
[The CSPS logo appears on screen.]
[Tasha Cloutier appears in a video chat panel. She speaks silently for a few moments.]
Tasha Cloutier, Canadian Heritage: I was muted. Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's event, Celebrating Louis Riel Day: Métis Realities. We appreciate you making the time to join us today for this event. For those of you who may not know me, my name is Tasha Cloutier. I was born Tasha Paul and I am a Wolastoqey woman from the Woodstock First Nation in New Brunswick. I am also the Director of Strategic Management and Regional Affairs at Canadian Heritage and a part-time faculty member here with the school. It is my pleasure to moderate today's session, standing in for my lovely colleague Shauna. Before we begin, I would like to take the time to acknowledge that I'm calling in today from the unseated territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people. As someone who has lived here for many years, I have been very fortunate to be hosted on this land, and many, many Algonquin people have blessed me with their knowledge, love and grace all this time.
I recognize that we are all calling in and work in different places across the country, so you may work in a territory that's different. I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on that and why it's important to you. Before we begin, I'd like to share some administrative details to help support your experience at this event. To optimize your viewing experience, we recommend that you disconnect from your VPN and use a personal device to watch the session if you can. Please note, we will have simultaneous interpretation available for this event as well as cart services, which is closed captioning. Please refer to the reminder email that the school sent to you to access these features. Today, we'll be taking questions through the collaborative video interface. Please go to the top right hand corner of your screen and click the participate button and enter your question along with your email. We may not get to all of the questions, but we will answer as many as we can. Now I would like to introduce Marie-Louise Perron, Knowledge Keeper, St. Paul University, who will provide traditional opening remarks to open our event. Over to you. Marie-Louise.
[Three more panelists join.]
Marie-Louise Perron, Knowledge Keeper, Saint Paul University: [Indigenous language (Mitchif)]
Hello everyone. I just want to say hello. And describe my family tree, my relatives, the families. You recognized some names. All Francophone names. Today is a beautiful day. The Creator has given us an absolutely beautiful, sunny day. No matter what happened yesterday, no matter what will happen today, today is a brand new day. For us, to do with as we please. And in the hopes that we will choose to do something in order to do good in the world. Given the current situation here in Ottawa, I believe it is time for us to remind ourselves that we are all related. And when I say we are all related—we are related with all creatures on earth. All creatures of all natures. Whether it is us, two-legged creatures, four-legged creatures, animals, those with roots in the ground, those with wings, those like fish who live in the water. And all creatures, visible and invisible. So we will talk about Métis realities. In this regard, let me remind you that, given the reason we are gathered here today. We give thanks to the Creator. For the sun that has been given to warm us and to provide us with light. For our grandmother, the moon, that governs the water. Water of the earth, water in the bodies of women and of everyone. We give thanks to the Creator.
We give thanks, as I said, for all animals. Because they have committed before the Creator to take care of us. So that we have food, clothing, shelter, medicines. They committed before the Creator to sacrifice themselves, up to that moment, to help us survive and grow. So I give thanks to the Creator and to all those who are with us today. Our ancestors, who have passed. They are here. We carry them in our hearts and in our DNA. So they are here with us. We ask them to let us speak our truth, just and good. And for all these reasons, I give thanks to everyone. And I say: thank you. Miigwetch, miigwetch, miigwetch, thank you, miigwetch.
Tasha Cloutier: Thank you very much, Marie-Louise. That was beautiful. Allow me now to welcome the three panelists for today who will share a specific perspective on Métis Realities, the Honourable Tony Belcourt, Métis Leader and advocate who will share his lived experiences and cover perspectives as an elder. Then Marie-Louise Perron, Knowledge Keeper, St. Paul university, who will cover the perspective for women, and finally Gabriel Fayant, co-CEO and co-founder of the Assembly of Seven Generations, who will cover the perspectives of the youth.
But before turning the floor over to Elder Belcourt, allow me to tell you a bit about his background. I will do the same for each panelist before it's their turn to speak. Born in the historic Métis community of Lac Sainte Anne Alberta, Tony Belcourt's career spans over 50 years of experience and significant achievement in Indigenous affairs, the corporate government, and not-for-profit sectors. As founding president of the Native Council of Canada, he was instrumental in creating a national for Canada's Métis and non-status Indians. His efforts were an important contributing factor in the Métis being recognized in the Constitution Act of 1982 as one of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Tony is a well-respected negotiator, and as founding president of the Métis nation of Ontario, he helped to achieve recognition of existing Métis constitutional rights in the 2003 Supreme court decision, R. v. Powley. He was a member of the various board of governors and participated in new numerous international conferences, including the negotiations for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now widely regarded as a Métis elder, he received multiple awards such as the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for public service in 2006 and was appointed as an officer of the Order of Canada in 2013. Mr. Belcourt, over to you.
Tony Belcourt, Métis leader and Advocate: Thank you, Tasha and thank you, Marie-Louise, for your wonderful opening. I don't know that I'm giving a perspective as an elder. I'm giving my perspective and what's it like to be Métis in Canada today? I can tell you it's a heck of a lot different than it used to be when I was growing up and Marie-Louise would know. Gabrielle, you would know too, you would have certainly come up at that time or not my time, but a little later. When I first came to Ottawa in 1971 to head up the Native Council of Canada, my biggest challenge was to—I created awareness about the Métis people, because I think, particularly in Ontario, the notion was that Riel was long gone, and so were the Métis. I became a member of the National Press Club, and I remember being up there and always people asking me about the Métis people and, gosh, didn't know you were still alive, that sort of thing and offending questions, like what's a Métis?
It was pretty discouraging. But throughout that, the first 10-year growth of the Native Council of Canada, we had been able to successfully deal with the federal government and the whole range of issues to get recognized as one of the groups that should receive the federal funding that was being set aside for participatory democracy, it was called at the time. 10 years later, one of my successors Harry Daniels was president, and he insisted that the word Métis be added to the new Patriot Constitution. To section 35, which states that the existing Aboriginal tree rights and the Aboriginal peoples are hereby recognized and affirmed. Harry insisted that there be a sub-clause specifying that the words the Aboriginal peoples are the Indians, Inuit and native peoples. He knew full well that because of how we had been dealt with before by the federal government, if that wasn't in the constitution, they would always say, that constitutional section only applies to the Indians, the Inuit, because we have an Indian Act and because of the Supreme Court decision in 1936, we have to deal with the Inuit. You'll still continue to fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces, go see them for whatever you need.
We were very successful, and there's an interesting story about how that came about. Later on in 1993, one of our people in Ontario was charged with illegal hunting of moose and he decided he was going to fight it. The new group that we started at the time, Métis Nation of Ontario decided we were going to get behind Steve Powley and his son Roddy. Ten years later in 2003, we had unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that Métis rights were never extinguished.
They were never extinguished by treaty, with the exception of the treaty that was negotiated in Manitoba in 1870. Because the Métis rights had not been extinguished, they were still existing rights. That was an amazing breakthrough for us because that meant the federal government could no longer say your rights may have existed at one time, which is one of the arguments they made in the court, but they've disappeared or you never had them in the first place, or they've been extinguished somehow. They don't exist. Well, the Supreme Court made it very clear. In fact, at every level of court we had won a resounding decision to that effect. Since then, it's been slow to happen, but Métis people are not as harassed as much as they were before about you exercising their constitutional right to hunt fish for food.
The federal government in the last number of years, few years, has entered into recognition and self-government agreements with the provincial Métis organizations from Ontario to Alberta. Because of the Supreme Court decision in the Manitoba land claims case, there are now negotiations going on there with the Métis people that were part of what happened at Red River in 1870. Riel's history and contribution to Canada unfortunately is not well known or understood. It's not taught in schools which is tragic, as far as I'm concerned, because this is such an incredible part of the history. The turn of events that took place at that time shaped Canada.
In 1869, Canada had made a deal with the Hudson's Bay Company to buy the land that somehow had been given in England to the Hudson's Bay Company. That transfer was to take place on January 1st, 1870, but that fall, Sir John A. McDonald was so anxious to make way for the settlers who wanted to come from Ontario. He sent out surveyors and the people there were alarmed because they lived there and followed the traditional river lot system of land occupation. Everybody had access to water for their pastures and so on. When these surveyors were coming and doing a grid thing, they didn't understand what was going on, and our people for the most part did not speak English, but Riel did because he had gone to law school in Montreal, graduated as a lawyer and he stood on the surveyor's chain and he said, "you go no further."
That caused an uproar in Ottawa, no doubt. Sir John A. was incensed, but the British parliament said because of the Royal Proclamation in 1763, you are required to negotiate with the Métis because that proclamation stated that none of the British subjects could enter the territory of Indigenous peoples in their colonies without the consent and agreement with the Indigenous peoples involved. There had been no such negotiation with any of the Indigenous peoples on prairies, Métis or First Nations. All of that territory of northern, actually was northern Quebec and northern Ontario, were affected as well because that was called Rupert's Land. All of the territory, all of the waterways draining into the Hudson's Bay and James Bay were called Rupert's Land. That territory was not part of Canada in any way. In northern Ontario, that territory ended at the French river, south of Sudbury. There had to be a negotiation. Riel and his people established the provisional government in the fall, and they set out terms for negotiation with the government.
They had laid down what they considered to be the terms, and part of it included that the lands that the people occupied in Red River were going to be recognized as Métis lands. In addition, there was going to be another 1.4 million acres of land within that little territory at the time, as we're talking about Red River, basically just south of Lake Winnipeg and down to the Canadian border from the Ontario border over to around Brandon, that was it. Within that territory, an additional 1.4 million acres of lands was to be set aside for what was called "the children of the half-breeds." That's why there was a court case, because it was a huge swindle, and the people never got their lands. A lot of the lands the people occupied, the people were run rough shot when the settlers finally came.
As a part of those negotiations, also the people there who were majority French speaking, in addition to Indigenous languages, of course, including the Métis language... They wanted to ensure that the rights of the English minority were going to be respected. They insisted that, first of all, there'd be a province, there'd be a legislature that there'd be jurisdiction over judicial matters at provincial levels, that it'd be a province and have senators and members of parliament and so on. But also, that all of the legal matters in Manitoba were to be in both official languages, the courts, the legislature, and so on. Manitoba, to its great chagrin, what about 20 years ago, Marie-Louise, I think? Something like that. Found out that they had not been living up to their constitutional obligations, all the laws of legislation, so it had to be translated into French or into English, no, into French because everything was going on in English, they just completely disputed or disagreed or ignored, rather, the responsibilities.
Riel and many people left. Riel had to leave because it was a bounty on his head, $5,000, which we equated to many, a few hundred thousand dollars about 20 years ago in Canadian money. That was all paid out. He fled to the United States. He eventually became a US citizen and was a teacher out in Manitoba. When the people in Saskatchewan were being inundated again with settlers and their lands were being impeached upon by settlers who didn't care about the fact that they were there, they went to get Riel and bring him back to lead. We know now that, the history now says, that he was hanged for high treason, which is a case no other Canadian has ever been charged. A charge no other Canadian ever was charged with, and he was a US citizen, so that whole question about whether or not he could even be charged was in dispute, but it didn't matter.
They didn't hold the trial in Winnipeg or a place where there was a judge and a jury. They held it out in Manitoba with a magistrate, or-- Saskatchewan with a magistrate and its people instead of a jury. Riel was hanged, but it was an incredible legacy that he left for the Métis people. Another thing was for the First Nations, because one of the terms of intrigue was that Riel and the provisional government, the people at Red River, considered this to be a Métis treaty. They considered this their treaty and they specified that once the agreement had been entered into with Canada, then they would be obliged to enter into treaties with all of the First Nations. And as a result, all of that territory Rupert's Land then became negotiated, not all of it but most of it, into what we call now the Numbered Treaties from one to 11. There's other areas, as well now, that were not covered and people are still involved in treaty negotiations in the Northwest Territories and in British Columbia, and in Ontario too with the Anishinaabeg people.
So that's just, I guess, a little bit of a history lesson, to say that being Métis in Canada today for me, is profoundly different than when I was growing up. But on the other hand, I feel sorry for younger Métis people who don't have this knowledge being taught. There's still a lot of discrimination everywhere, and it's only recently that people have started to feel free to be proud and to express their pride in being Métis. So, I want to thank you very much for inviting me to participate today, it's always a pleasure for me to take part in panels like this, especially with these two wonderful people, Gabrielle and Marie-Louise. And thank you very much, Tasha.
Tasha Cloutier: Oh, thank you very much, Tony. That was excellent. I want to remind those of you who are watching that you can ask questions at any point during the event by using the raise your hand function. It'll prompt you to enter your email address in the collaborative video interface, and the questions will be sent in. So, I'd like to introduce our second panelist now, before turning to Madam Marie-Louise Perron. Please note that her presentation today will be in French, and in some cases, participants may wish to switch to the simultaneous interpreted English channel, simply click settings on the top right-hand corner and select English. Now allow me to tell you a bit about Marie-Louise's background.
Marie-Louise Perron was born on her grandfather's land in Saskatchewan. She is a descendant of Red River Métis and early French newcomers. She holds education and fine arts degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and a master's degree in ethnology from Laval University in Quebec. Through different careers, from high school teacher, to visual artist, author, archivist, and public servant, she has maintained the storytelling tradition of her people. Now retired, Marie-Louise pursues historical and genealogical research, offers workshops on tracing Indigenous ancestry, studies traditional violin, and participates in many styles of storytelling. She was a member of the Ottawa organizing committee for the award-winning Walking With Our Sister's memorial installation in 2015.
Marie-Louise has been active for many years in Indigenous community issues, including in roles as counsellor and later chair of the Ottawa Region Métis Council and as a member of the Indigenous Advisory Circle for the Bank of Canada, to name a few. Currently one of St. Paul's University's knowledge keepers, she shares with students in the entire university community her experience and knowledge of Indigenous issues, cultures, worldviews, and traditions that she has learned from ancestors and mentors. Madame Perron, it's your turn.
Marie-Louise Perron: Thank you very much, Tasha. Thanks as well to Tony Belcourt. The story he told is my story, it is my family's story. The ... Everything that happened, everything he said, happened to my ancestors. But I was already an adult when I learned that we are Métis. Because I didn't know. I grew up not knowing anything about my Métis culture. Today, I wear the sash of my ancestors. It is a sash, a real one. It dates back to Riel's time. And in the museum in Saint-Boniface, there is a glass case with a sash that looks exactly like this one. So when I wear this sash, I always think of Riel. And I think about his story. He was hanged.
They tried to tell him. Tried to tell the people that he was crazy. And that he was not allowed, as a defence. His lawyers tried ... to judge him, to have him judged as innocent because he was crazy. And when Riel heard about this, he refused his lawyers' services. And he decided to defend himself. Because he believed so firmly in justice. He believed that, if he talked about what, what had happened to him, reasonable people would agree with him. That a Métis had suffered an injustice and that everyone would understand. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. But I just want to say a few words about Riel's so-called insanity. Because it is true that he experienced periods of mental illness. This is true.
He even spent time in an asylum in Quebec City. When I was living in Quebec City—I will get to this later—the asylum where Riel had been interned was only a few blocks from me, from where I was living. But all of this, all of it, I didn't know. I didn't even know. It was, it was stunning. How can one hide something so enormous? From multiple generations, from multiple generations. Because when I found out, I thought, how could this be? How could one have done this? To have been deemed a traitor, a mentally ill person? How is it that my great grandfather, how and why did my great grandfather associate himself with Riel in 1869-70 in the fight, in Canada's Red River Resistance? How could we have forgotten this? Was it an omission? Or was it secrecy? Did my family adopt secrecy as a means to assimilate with the surrounding population, first in French and then in English? Or was it just to survive? How did they experience this secrecy? The French we spoke was not like the French my, my mother's family spoke, for example, which is not Métis. People would tell us, "you speak funny" when they weren't saying "you don't speak right." But I didn't know that our language was Mitchif French. Just to tell you an anecdote: I started Mitchif lessons a few weeks ago, just a few weeks ago. Mitchif language lessons. And this is how I was able to greet you in Mitchif, for the first time. With a Canada-wide audience. Canada-wide.
So I am an absolute beginner in the relearning of my own language. But it is something that technology today—which poses so many problems elsewhere in society—but which also has a positive side because it allows me to relearn my language. Who I am in my language. At my age, at my age. So... so how did we experience this secrecy? Some topics were off limits. People censored themselves. People did not refer to their, to the cultural things that could have identified them as Indigenous. All of this continued until 1980.
I was in Quebec City doing my master's thesis in ethnology, and my subject was traditional songs, traditional French songs. I wanted to know about traditional French songs. I wanted to know how they had travelled from France, by means of my French ancestors, to Quebec and then across Canada. And then I discovered the Voyageurs, who carried all these songs across the country. Not only to Saskatchewan, but everywhere, everywhere across the country. And the curious thing is that songs are also what led me to my real home, to my Métis ancestors. As I told you, all of this changed in 1980. That is because, in 1980, my father died. And, coincidentally, I was in Saskatchewan doing field work for my thesis on these songs.
So, with all the hassle, the funeral and all that, I put aside my work, the interviews for my thesis. I also put aside the thought that I should resume work now. But now was the time to visit and to have conversations. Conversations with my relatives. And in these conversations with my relatives, the code of silence was lifted. Completely. People started to talk. And when I interviewed them for my thesis, they told stories, sang songs, folk tales, legends. Sometimes from French sources, but other times from completely Indigenous sources. How did the fox become red? Why are partridges bought today? Why is the vulture's head devoid of feathers? All these are Indigenous animal tales.
I also did not know the story that Tony just told. I didn't know it. Until a cousin of my father told me that our great grandfather, her grandfather, had participated in the Red River events. Participated alongside Riel. Alongside Riel. And she told me that she should know because he left a written account of what had happened. And she went to another room—she lived in a retirement home at the time—she went to another room and came back with a written account. What my great grandfather called "memoir of the events of 1869-70." In which he had participated. Who was there? What happened? When? Who did what? Naming names and perspectives of the events that were not the perspective [indiscernible] that I had learned about in school. And this, this ignorance persisted even while I was at university, because the official story of what happened in Manitoba was the story of rebels who had tried to break the country—not only once, but twice.
After 1869-70, my great grandfather stayed in Manitoba with his 12 children. He experienced the terror that followed after 1885. And after 1869-70, when people were insulted on the streets, some were beaten and some were killed. And in 1885, he crossed over, as they said at the time, to the United States, with his 12 children. And then I thought, oh my, this means that I belong to the rebels, the terrorists whose leader was hanged. This crazy man who tried to break the country, not just once, but twice. And this put my grandfather in that camp, he was associated with those people. When I learned that my great grandfather had participated in the events of 1869-70, and when I read his perspective, that he had joined people who resisted the actions of a government that had no legitimacy in that part of the country, the rebel in me said: "This is who I am. I am. I am a part of that world. I am part of those rebels." Because I was always fighting to keep my French, at the time. I remember the very day when I decided that my French belonged to me and that no one would take it away from me. And I kept it and it has always served me well. When I was in an English-speaking part of the country, I had work because I spoke French. When I was in a French-speaking part of the country, I had work because I spoke English. It has always served me well. Once the conversations with family members, the stories, the tales, all that—I started considering my own childhood memories to see if there were any cues. If there had been cues, we could have been Métis. And then I found words that were not French words. The accent in our French was not the French accent from Quebec. And when I found the records—because I inherited my family's records—they immediately told me who I was.
And so I immediately told my brothers and sisters, "Hey, guys. We are Métis. We have an extraordinary story that was, that was a part of Canada's history. Our Peoples, our Métis People created part of Canada's history." And my brothers and sisters said, "We don't talk about that." "What?" "We don't talk about that." So, that's why the silence continued. So I had them during [indiscernible]. Because I had inherited family records, including letters they had written, that they had written as children to their grandparents and family members. I was talking about a part of Canada's history. And the story of our family. And finally, in 2005, I participated in a video project in which I recounted my great grandfather's story. And I asked my brothers and sisters: "I plan to do this project. What do you think?" And everyone said, go for it. Except for one, who said nothing. So I thought, six out of seven, I'm doing it. I'm going for it. And that's what I did. When the video was released, the one who hadn't answered me wrote me a letter to tell me, "You went ahead and opened your big mouth. Now people will come by and burn my house."
In 2005, she was still. There were people, Métis, who were still afraid that the members of their community would burn their houses because they were Métis. That was in 2005. And then, as Tony recounted, we ... ah ... stubborn as we Métis can be, we kept [indiscernible] of our history, of our role in Canada. And today we tell our story, proudly, because we know that even ... if afflicted by mental illness from time to time, Riel was able to accomplish extraordinary things. Absolutely extraordinary.
Today we recognize that mental illness does not define a person. It is an illness. But what can we ... what can we accomplish? But what can we accomplish? This man helped to build Canada. And a Canada that was supposed to recognize Métis' role in the foundation of Canada. As for Riel, he is a hero to Métis. He is a hero to me. And that is why I am here today to talk to you about him. To talk about who he was for me, who he was for my family. And to talk about all our relations too. And to remind people that we are all related. We are like two sides of the same coin. Impossible to split us in two because we are family. We are all related through relationships. With the earth. And with one another. Let's start acting like people who are related. Believing in ourselves, believing in history. Believing in our relations. And helping ... and helping one another. Because the earth needs this today. And we need it as well. Sometimes even today I meet people who say, "Oh, your father chose for you. Now go climb into bed with those he chose." But there are other Métis and First Nations who tell me, [indiscernible] is wrong. Let's walk together on this wonderful earth to which we all belong. This is what gives me courage. And I take the path that opens up to me. Thank you for listening.
Tasha Cloutier: Thank you very much, Mary Louise. That was amazing. The next panellist that will be speaking will be Gabrielle Fayant. So, give me a moment to introduce her to you. Gabrielle is an off-settlement, Métis woman whose family is from Fishing Lake Métis Settlement in Alberta. Gabrielle is an award-winning woman for her work in community, youth empowerment, and Indigenous rights awareness. She's worked with several Indigenous and non-profit organizations and is currently a helper and co-founder of the Assembly of Seven Generations, A7G. A7G is an Indigenous-owned and youth-led non-profit organization focused on cultural support and empowerment programmes and policies for Indigenous youth while being led by traditional knowledge and elder guidance. Gabrielle is passionate about cultural resurgence and justice for all Indigenous peoples. Over to you, Gabrielle.
Gabrielle Victoria Fayant, Assembly of Seven Generations: Cool. So [Indigenous language]. So hi, everyone. My name is Gabrielle Victoria Fayant. Most people know me as Gabby, and I was really brainstorming how I was going to present this and talk about my reality as a Métis person. So, I'm not sure where I'm going to start off, but here we go. So just to give you a little bit of background, my family comes from Fishing Lake Métis Settlement. My dad and my aunties, lots of my cousins and uncles still live in Fishing Lake to this day. Fayent is a pretty popular name in Fishing Lake, also related to the Prontos, Tates, and all kinds of folks with those lineage. My family originally started out in Ontario and Quebec in the late 1700s. And we moved. We kept on moving right up until the 1900s. We kept going west and further west and west.
We fought in the Red River Resistance. We were care keepers for the horses. We've been taking care of the horses for several generations now. And Gabriel Dumont actually wrote our family a letter to ask us to take care of the horses during the Resistance. We then also lived in Batoche, one of the well-known Métis strongholds. If you visit Batoche, my family's name is all over. And I often go there once a year to put down my tobacco to offer prayers to my ancestors and just acknowledging all the struggles they went through so that I could be here today. Later, we were also part of the Road Allowance People. We lived in severe poverty, but despite living in severe poverty, my kokums and my chapans, they still rock their best furs and their best beadwork and their caribou tufting, and they always presented themselves so beautifully. You would never be able to tell that these folks were living in severe poverty and off of just hunting and trapping rodents and squirrels and ground hogs and things like that.
So, I come from a long line of matriarchs that are very, very proud, very, very proud people. So later in the 1930s in Alberta, there was a call for Métis families to come and live on the Métis settlements. At this time, they were actually called half-breed reserves. And so, we were still called half-breeds at that time. And so, there was a call for families to come and live in these settlements that were being created. There was actually 12 at the time, but from the 1930s until now, some went through extreme hardships. And there's actually eight Métis settlements today. Fishing Lake is the one where my family called home.
There was already Métis families living there. And so, when my family got the call, we said, "Yeah. We'll go live there," because my family at that time had been living in just diaspora, just having a really hard time. And we went there, and the folks that were already living there, they said, "You can come live here, but you have to put in work. We're not going to give you anything. We're not going to give you any handouts. You're going to have to build your own homes. You're going to have to also give back to community." And so, giving back to community is something that is instilled in me and my family to this day. And so, we've been in Fishing Lake since the 1930s, and that's where my kokum, who's my namesake, my kokum, Victoria Fayant... She was really known as the Rock of Fishing Lake until she passed away.
And she said, "No problem. We'll put in the work." And she was an entrepreneur in all kinds of ways. She had some cows and some chickens. And so, she'd feed the community with milk and eggs. And she was a seamstress. She was a beader. She was also a midwife. And so, in her time, she probably raised about 30 children, and she brought many children into this world as well, many Métis babies. And on the flip side, she was also an undertaker. So, as people passed on to the next world, she took care of them as well. And so, I, in no way, live up to my kokum in those type of ways, but I am really known in Ottawa as someone who does all kinds of things. And really, I try to live up to those values and give back to community.
I don't have any babies myself. I don't have any children myself, but I end up being called a second mom or an auntie to many youth in the Ottawa community. So, myself in particular, I don't want to speak for all Métis youth because that's a huge population of many different experiences, so specifically, I'm off-settlement. So, my family still lives in Fishing Lake, but I didn't grow up in Fishing Lake, but the community and my family obviously still claim me. I'm really, really proud to come from the Métis settlements. It's a really beautiful history, really rich culture and beautiful people. And so, there's a privilege with being an off-settlement person.
As things got harder and harder to live on the settlements, many families left the settlements. Many families left to go live in towns or cities where it would've been easier in some ways. There's still a lot of racism and discrimination that exist, which always makes it hard to be an Indigenous person. But there was some ease in moving to the cities, and some Métis passed as white. Some Métis had that privilege of being white-looking or white-presenting. But for the families that stayed on the Métis settlements, they really held the land. They took care of the land, and they had to struggle so much to make sure that there's land for me to go back to eventually. And so, I really, really have so much love for all those folks that stayed in the settlements and protected the land. Those are the land defenders, and they're my land defenders for my generation and the future generations.
So, living off settlement and being a Métis person with that history and that family connection, it was not easy. It was not easy being a Métis person. That's my reality. It was so challenging. I grew up in severe poverty as well. So, those cycles of systemic racism never ended. They just carried on. And I lived in the north end of Edmonton until I was about 13. And then we eventually came to Ottawa. And in Ottawa, I still experienced many of the same realities, living in severe poverty to the point where my mom used to panhandle. We had tabs at the corner store because we didn't have enough money to buy a box of Kraft Dinner. That's how rough it was. There was also a lot of intergenerational trauma, intergenerational trauma that came from generations of just experiencing horrible situations. Just the trauma alone from having to run from the RCMP that considered us to be terrorists, that's trauma that was never really healed. And then that trauma carried on into residential schools and day schools and convents, and then the Sixties Scoop, which also affected the Métis settlements very, very severely.
I was living with a lot of trauma. And so, trauma then turns into mental health issues. It turns into depression and PTSD, anxiety, suicidal ideations. It turns into alcohol and drug abuse. And that's what I was living with. That's what I was struggling with as a teenager in Ottawa. I didn't really understand why. I just thought that this is how my family is. This is what our family's like. I didn't realize our history. And like Tony mentioned, no one ever taught me about Louis Riel. I just was living with this lived experience as a Métis person. I dropped out of high school. All the statistics you can think about, that was me, and that's what I was living through. There were several times where I would've been missing or could have been murdered as a Métis woman. The crisis of MMIW is very, very close to me. I have a half sister that was murdered, and I have an auntie that was murdered. I also grew up with a lot of Indigenous folks. In Ottawa, there's a lot of First Nation and Inuit folks as well. And I've had friends that have gone missing.
And so, it's really challenging being a Métis person. Even to this day, I still feel scared to go out by myself. But I also want to acknowledge that, in certain situations, I can pass as white. And that gives me a privilege. That gives me a privilege in the society today. But growing up, I really was never accepted by white peers. I was always told I was a little bit different. I was too poor. I had a weird accent. And people were always wondering where it came from. And I was like, "My family's been living here for thousands of years."
So yeah, it was really interesting time. I think later on in life, probably when I was about 23 or so, I began to learn about residential school. I actually did an internship at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. And I remember reading this really thick book about the realities of Métis people. And in that book, they talked about the settlements, and they talked about the impacts of intergenerational trauma. And I was like, "Wow, they're talking about me." And I finally went back to my aunties and some of my uncles, and I asked them about it. At first, they didn't really want to talk about it. They said, "Oh, that's just how it was." But that shouldn't have been how it was. The treatment that Métis folks went through over the last 200 years is inexcusable. It's unacceptable, and it shouldn't be normalized.
And so, finally, years after bringing up those conversations, a lot of more folks in my family are being more open, and they're talking about their experiences. And they're finally healing and saying that, "No, that's not right." And there is a lot of trauma that we have to get through. And so, now, more and more of my family is moving back to Fishing Lake, and it's really nice to go home to Fishing Lake and see my godmother that lives there and my cousins and my aunties. And I go back, and we hear those songs. And there's still jigging. Fishing Lake is known as a community with some really good jiggers. But on the flip side, Fishing Lake is also a community that lost a lot of our hunters.
So that's the really cool thing about the settlements, is that the way we explain the eight communities and the eight settlements is that it's kind of a federation of different communities. And each community has its own strengths and even cultures in a way and even different languages because some of the Northern communities have a Dene influence. So, we're not all the same. And I really get frustrated with that idea that all Métis people are the same. As you even listen to me and Tony and Mary-Louise, we're very different. We all have different experiences. And I think that while we have a lot in common and our shared history is what connects us, we have to acknowledge that we're also different in some ways and that our family stories deserve to be heard, all of our family stories.
So, I don't even know if that's what I planned on saying, but that's what came out. Yeah, I really have a lot of pride in being Metis. Just from the settlements though, in the last census, there was over 500,000 folks that self-identified as being Metis, but the Métis settlements are actually less than 5,000 people. So, within the larger conversation of Métis identity and culture, I find that the settlements often get ignored. A lot of the folks from the settlements, we don't have a really high university graduation rate. A lot of folks that left the settlements and grew up around privilege, they often have that university. But there's a bit of a gap that happens or a bit of a tension that happens because folks that have lived on the settlement and protected that land, they might not talk as professional or with that academic language, but they still have so much knowledge and understanding of the land. And then what happens is folks that have gone through university and that formal training have a different way of speaking almost. And so, there's a bit of a tension that happens.
And I just wanted to acknowledge that just because someone doesn't know their history as a Métis person or has a really strong Métis accent or any of those kind of things, doesn't mean that they deserve to be treated less than. And going through formal education and university gives you so much privilege. And so, I just want to encourage folks to listen to those voices that don't get listened to enough because there's so much knowledge there. So, I guess I'll leave it at that and just say [Indigenous language]. Thanks for listening, and thanks for having me.
Tasha Cloutier: Wow. Thank you very much, Gabrielle, Tony, Mary Louise. All of your words really resonated with me. And Gabrielle, we don't always get to plan our responses to things. As you know, you think you're going to say one thing, and something totally different comes out. But it's always the right thing. So now, I mean, we're getting the questions. They're coming in the background. And I would like to start, go straight into our Q and A period, to remind you all that you can submit your questions. So, let's see. I remind you, you use your button to submit questions. It's in the upper right hand corner of your screen. And you enter your question along with your e-mail address and we'll get to as many questions as we can. The first question, I think this one would be a great one for Tony, but Marie-Louise and Gabrielle absolutely have an opportunity to weigh in.
Question one is, could you share the history about why Métis rights were considered to be under the provinces and not recognized at the federal level?
Tony Belcourt: Yes. In a nutshell, it goes back to the division of powers between the Federal Government and the provinces in the old British North America Act, Section 91 and 92. 91 dealt with the federal powers to legislate and 91(24), is "Indians and Lands reserved for Indians". Provinces under 92 have more legislation for things more close to home like hospitals and highways and so on. Canada has National Defence, Finance, all of these other things, Federal-Provincial Relations and transfer money collection of taxation's. So, 91(24), "Indians and Lands reserved for Indians." So, until 1936 or before that the federal government took the position... They started to define who the Indians are.
First Nations people were not part of any of this discussion. So, the federal government then decided, you'll define who an Indian is and had to live on a... Well, not necessarily, but you had to be registered by "The Chief of Membership" for Indian Affairs at the time. If a woman at the time married an "Indian", then she gained status or she lost it, if she married... some woman married someone who was not registered as an Indian. So, there's that kind of all sorts of divisions that had grown up. The Quebec government took the federal government to court in the early 1930's to say that the federal government has responsibility for the Inuit as well. They called them the Eskimos. And the case was the Supreme court of Canada was called Re: Eskimos and they determined that these are Indigenous people.
The federal government has responsibility for them too, but there was never a case that had gone forward saying that the federal government had any jurisdictional responsibility to legislate for the Métis people, that was never done. We came about that in getting that designation through the Constitution Act and then the Supreme Court case in Powley. So, the Federal Government clearly has legislative authority and responsibility to legislate where Métis people are. And that's why now there are negotiations going on within the Métis nation for self government negotiations and for the provision of programmes and services, similar to those that are now provided to First Nations and Inuit.
Tasha Cloutier: Thanks, Tony. Gabrielle and Marie-Louise, is there anything you'd like to add to that?
Gabrielle Victoria Fayant: Yeah, I can add just a little bit more information about the Métis settlements in particular. The Métis settlements betterment act is actually with the Alberta government. There's a co-administration with the Alberta government to this day. That's just how, the fathers of Federation lobbied the provincial government for the land. There's always been a struggle with the Métis settlements because we have that agreement, and I don't know if you could call an agreement because we have that act with the provincial government. The Federal Government ignored the Métis settlements for decades. That's why there's such severe poverty and such horrible infrastructure problems on the settlement is because of that complete disregard. There was always that argument, "You're actually a provincial responsibility," just like governments do with so many things.
There's always like this hot potato, no one really wants to be responsible right, because it means money. But the Daniels decision, it was like huge victory for all Métis and even the Métis settlements because it re-affirmed that we were Indigenous people with a federal fiduciary. That the federal government had a fiduciary duty to which we've always been saying, but it was finally affirmed in the Daniels decision. And we bring up that real proclamation all the time because all Métis are a part of that real proclamation. So, just like a little bit more distinct thing about the settlements in particular.
Tony Belcourt: Thanks for bringing up the Daniels decision. I forgot to do that. Good for you, Gabrielle.
Tasha Cloutier: Awesome. Apparently within the main chat, there's a lot of people saying, "Merci, thank you, miigwetch" for sharing your stories. So, there's a lot of gratitude out there and love. I'll share that first. Next, we have a question that I think is really important to this conversation. And I think you just put your hand up, if you want to start. What resources would you recommend to learn more about Métis history and to learn about current Métis issues and priorities? What are your recommendations?
Tony Belcourt: There's a couple of excellent sources. One of them, I think the best is the Gabriel Dumont Institute. They have a huge resource of papers and libraries and so on, to go to and the Louis Riel Institute in Manitoba is another good source. But a great place is also the little Library and Archives Canada.
Tasha Cloutier: Thanks, Tony. Marie-Louise.
Marie-Louise Perron: People who know me know that I worked for a long time at Library and Archives Canada. People who know me know that I worked for a long time at Library and Archives Canada. And one of the roles that I had there was... I was in charge of the Genealogy and Military Personnel records section and also in charge of creating research tools that made it easier for people to find information about First Nations community and Innuit people. We created workbooks that explain to people because finding records about Indigenous people at Library and Archives Canada is extremely difficult. Simply, well, simply not... caught in a complicated way because of the way that the Department of Indian Affairs evolved over time. The kinds of restrictions that were imposed on records, in some cases, there were records that were hundreds of years old where restrictions were still being imposed.
And therefore, being in the public service sector where I was, regardless of the different roles that I played at Library and Archives Canada over many years, it was still to help people, to actually get into those records and also to make the entire place a welcoming place for researchers. I don't know how many Indigenous people I have who told me that they walked in the door, and they were so intimidated just by walking in the door and seeing the security guards there, that they turned around and walked out again.
And this is everybody's stuff, it's their stuff, it's our stuff. So, therefore my role was to make it less intimidating and make it more approachable. And to also get the information out into the communities about how- what the library archives workings were. Teaching people about how to do genealogy and where they might find information about their ancestors. And of course, Indigenous ancestry because of the convolutions of the Indian Act, and Tony was mentioning a couple there about women who "married out", as in they didn't marry in the First Nations men or Métis men. And therefore, they were kicked out of their homes on the reserve. They lost everything. They lost all of the rights. And then the government initiated and convoluted regulations about, "What about the kids of these people? What about the grandchildren of these people?" Well, there are some that fall into this category and some that fall into that category within the same families. It created huge divisions within families. It was just horrible. I mean... and it's not finished yet.
We still haven't got to the point where the results and the intergenerational trauma of those regulations continue today, especially to women. I mean, women have had to who fight for everything that they have achieved. And from the beginning, we were in those canoes. And if we had to paddle, we paddled. If there were children born on the trail, they were born on the trail. They picked up their kids and they continued whatever their role was, whether it was in the canoes, whether it was on the trail, whether it was looking after the people on the hunt, whether... regardless of what it was. So, think twice before you cross Métis women.
Tasha Cloutier: Thank you very much, Marie-Louise. Oh, sorry Gabrielle, was going to ask if you anything to add.
Gabrielle Victoria Fayant: Yeah. Just to add really quickly. The first place I would start for the general public is to just visit the Métis settlements general council website. There's a lot, as I mentioned, Métis settlements are small population and the larger Métis population and there's a different lived experience. So, a lot of the larger research, it just overwhelms the smaller voices. I'd really recommend going to the Métis settlement general council website for more specific stuff on Métis settlements. I also would recommend building relationships with people. The Métis settlements are so tight-knit that there's a lot of like protection over our stories and who we are. And you have to build relationships with folks. Folks aren't going to tell you what's going on until they can trust you.
And then lastly, I would just add onto Marie-Louise's point. There's a lot of like men in Métis history, like Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont, even the Métis settlements, the fathers of Federation. So, look get that, but also know that for every one of these men, that's considered a "Hero". There's 10 Métis women that supported that man. We're whipping his butt and just getting him into shape. Métis women are just deadly. I don't know about you, but my aunties, they're the ones who run the show. They're the ones keeping track of people where they're at.
That's the other part important part about being Métis, is that when you're Métis, it's not just a bloodline or lineage, but it's literally people holding you accountable. So, you can't say anything you want or make up things because your family and your aunties in particular, they're going to hold you accountable. There's a responsibility in identifying as Métis. So yeah, I'll just leave it at that.
Marie-Louise Perron: I want to come back to the aunties because it was the aunties who were the guardians of the culture. It was the aunties who taught me who I was, the aunties and the great aunties. And now in my role because I have no children, it's my role as an auntie to teach them, to my nephews and nieces. And I still teach my brothers and sisters as well. Those who want to listen to me. Go aunties!
Tasha Cloutier: Oh my Lanta, I feel like I'm going to cry. Aunties (pronouncing ON-tees) where I come from, great aunties. I lost one of my aunties in November to COVID-19. So, believe me that I know that loss and I don't have any siblings. I get to be auntie to people I choose. I love that too. So, thank you for that. The quality of your presentations and the two Q&A's we were able to squeak out before we had to move on is absolutely excellent. Thank you so much.
Now there were some other questions that weren't able to get answered and we'll try to find a way to address them, but for now I just want to say thank you, [Indigenous language] miigwetch, merci, thank you for everything that you've done and given to us today as a group. And I would like to turn the floor over to Tony to deliver our closing remarks. Thank you!
Tony Belcourt: Thank you, Natasha and Marie-Louise and Gabrielle. I want to thank the organizers for arranging this. I'm glad it's being taped. And I hope that we are going to be able to see all the questions later on and we can then try to respond to people that have written in. The thing that I'd like to say is that we have different ways, as Gabrielle was mentioning, we have very different ways within our communities and even individuals. Many of our people follow either Catholic or Aboriginal in some places, but many of our people also follow spiritual traditions that have been passed down by their grandmothers and their aunties. When I look at my history, I don't say that I'm a descendant of the men who went out there. I'm a descendant of the women, who took the visiting men coming in. And that's, I extremely proud of all of that.
When we have gatherings, traditionally, we want to say to everyone that we are wishing them all a safe journey to go to their homes. Well, this is Zoom. So, we can't say that kind of thing, but we can wish that everyone will hopefully have come away from this, with a better understanding of who the Métis people are. That it will help to develop better relations between our peoples and that we're going to be able to also look into things more and more about the traditional ways of our people in terms of dealing with healing and the way that we want to acknowledge our ancestors, and to thank them for everything they have done and brought to us.
And that applies to everyone, that you think about your ancestors, where you're from, who they are. Be grateful to all of that. And we also- many of us pray to our ancestors when we want to bring the spirits of them together on important occasions, we do that and saying...also when they pass that we want them to go safely on their journey. We want them to transition and go safely, continue on their journey, into the new spirit world. So, I want to wish everybody a safe journey. Merci!
Tasha Cloutier: Thank you so much, Tony. That was beautiful. I just want to, again, thank you all for being here on behalf of the school again, to extend my thanks to the Honourable Tony Belcourt, Madame Marie-Louise Perron, and Gabrielle Fayant, and all of you across the country for participating in today's discussion. It was beautiful. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.
Your feedback is also very important to the school. So, I encourage you to complete the electronic questionnaire that will come to you in the next few days. The school is always busy, forever busy, and has several other virtual events to offer. I encourage you to check our website regularly and keep up-to-date with the latest news. Register for upcoming opportunities. And many of which are focusing on Indigenous matters and themes. For example, there's some virtual events coming up in the next few months. There will be one on the United Nations declaration on rights of Indigenous people, The decade of Indigenous languages, which has been decreed by UNESCO and the duty to consult and accommodate, everyone's favourite. Once again, thank you all and have a great day. Bye.
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