Since my first day working in political Ottawa, there have been many moments when I’ve been reminded of where I am, what I was doing and what that meant. I’m Métis and very proud of that fact. But as such, I’m always reminded of what it means to have had the chances I’ve had working in Parliament, getting to be involved in policy making and just my very presence there. Today that is especially the case, as an historic moment took place for Métis peoples that has been more than a century in the making:
I won’t lie everyone, as I watched this ceremony this morning, I was unable to stop smiling. This was a moment and a day that I never thought I’d ever see, no matter how much I hoped it would. Seeing my nation sign a self-government agreement with the Government of Canada, recognizing us as a government and people with the ability to govern ourselves was so very powerful for me given the history.
When I worked on Parliament Hill, there were many times when I thought how my Métis ancestors would feel about their progeny rising to that point, being accepted in the very place that Louis Riel himself was never able to seat after being elected. I thought of that fact about Riel on the day a few years ago when the Government of Canada raised the Métis Flag on Parliament Hill for the first time. On that day, I went to my office early, put on my sash and joined with fellow Métis from different parts of the homeland to take it all in. It was a moment that was inconceivable over a hundred years ago, especially when my ancestors were chased from their homes after the fall of the provisional government in Red River and they fled for safety in Treaty 3 territory, rebuilding their lives in a new home.
It was a moment that was equally inconceivable the day before the Supreme Court ruled in our favour in the Daniels decision, a court battle that paved the way for this signing today. I remember the day of that decision so well; I was ecstatic and proud of my people. I put on my sash, took the Métis flag that I always hung proud in my Parliamentary office and went for a bit of a joyous victory lap around Parliament Hill. Today I have that same happy feeling, and I have hope for a better future.
On days like these I’m reminded of a quote from Louis Riel himself, when he was quoted in the Montreal Weekly Star saying “Deeds are not accomplished in a few days, or in a few hours. A century is only a spoke in the wheel of everlasting time.” My people have fought for over a century to simply be recognized, and that fight brought us to this place. For over a century the Federal and Provincial governments of Canada treated Métis like everyone’s burden and nobody’s responsibility. We were passed back and forth, never progressing and never being considered. The Daniels decision started changing that path and the signing of these self-governance agreements today confirm that we will not be going back to that old path. That is transformational, huge and deserves to be recognized as such.
Recently in many of my writings I’ve had some people comment to me that policy and platform is important and talking about getting elected and actually getting to governing are not important at all. I’ve been told that actually striving to become government is just seeking power and somehow a bad thing to be avoided at all costs, to preserve one’s ideological purity. That’s something I’ve always rejected, because to me if you are truly dedicated to your ideals, your policies and doing better, the best path to making them happen in the way you think they should is to actually get elected. Long story short, governments get to decide and make progress.
I point to today’s news as my best example as to why we must always strive to be in government as progressives. For a decade, during the time the Daniels Decision happened, we had a Conservative government that had no interest in discussing the rights of the Métis. In fact, it was quite the opposite as they continued to fight us in court over and over and over again, forcing us to go to the courts just to have the basics of our rights affirmed over and over again. What happened to change that? A change of government, that’s what. I have many issues with the Liberal Party and their government, but they made this a priority and they made it happen. We’ve seen real, tangible progress, more than we’ve seen in decades. I don’t doubt that a New Democrat government would do the same in some way, but the only way the NDP would ever get to do that is by actually becoming government. And the fact is that if a Conservative government were to be elected in the Fall, we could easily find ourselves back in the same morass that we were in for a decade regarding our rights. That is why if you are a party that’s truly trying to make a difference, you need to be striving for government every single time, regardless of how likely it is that you are to achieve it.
But that’s all another conversation for another day. Today I’m happy, I’m proud and I believe that my ancestors are smiling down from above on this scene. I’m happy that my daughter will be able to grow up with a better chance going forward. The work is not done and this agreement will start negotiations on more specifics, but this marks a huge milestone and a huge advance for Métis peoples. I’m thankful for our leaders, for people like Margaret Froh, Tony Belcourt and Gary Lipinski. I’m thankful for those who will follow in their footsteps too, who will continue the work. I am just all around thankful, because ten years ago when I came to work on Parliament Hill, I never thought I’d see this. Yet here it is, and that gives me hope for the future, not just a happy smile today.