M(étis)anitoba 150

Questioning the exclusion of the Métis in Manitoba 150 celebrations

The first two months of the new decade have seen a slew of initiatives branded with the Manitoba 150 logo.

The 300,000 LED lights strung around the legislative grounds, as well as the Forest Tent that hosted dozens of artists at this year’s Festival du Voyageur are just the beginning, according to Manitoba 150’s host committee co-chair, Monique LaCoste. Community projects, educational opportunities, and numerous summer festivities are planned in hopes of connecting Manitobans in celebration of the province’s 150th birthday.

However, some have questioned whether or not there has been adequate inclusion of Manitoba’s Métis population in the programming. In celebrating Manitoba’s 150th, it must be acknowledged that the Métis played a crucial role shaping the province’s history and will continue to shape its future.

Earlier this month, CBC Manitoba released an article detailing concerns over the Métis being excluded from the Manitoba 150 campaign. While LaCoste claims the organization reached out to president David Chartrand of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), the MMF is hosting their own Métis 150 campaign to commemorate the role of the Métis in Manitoba’s histories.

While Manitoba only officially became Canada’s fifth province in 1870, the Métis called the land home long before it came to be known as Manitoba.

“There is an assumption out there that Manitoba started in July of 1870 when the province was created,” Dr. Fred Shore, a professor of Métis history at the University of Manitoba, says. “It has been around as a living, breathing thing since 1750.”

According to the MMF constitution, a Métis person is someone “who self-identifies as Métis, is of historic Métis Nation ancestry, is distinct from other Aboriginal Peoples and is accepted by the Métis Nation.” The traditional homeland of the Métis people encompasses Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, parts of British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the northern United States.

Despite being separate from the Métis 150 campaign, LaCoste says that Manitoba 150 still aims to highlight the importance of Métis culture and history in celebrating Manitoba’s 150th. This includes a partnership with the St. Boniface Museum to give Manitobans free admission throughout 2020 to learn about Manitoba’s history and the legacy of Louis Riel.

“We want to give people opportunities to have conversations about difficult parts of our history,” LaCoste says. “We know our history has been a bumpy ride.”

In any case, the role played by the Métis in shaping Manitoba extends far beyond and prior to the province’s founding. Values such as diversity, as Dr. Shore notes, are emphasized by the Métis in 1870 long before many of their provincial counterparts.

“If you’re going to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Manitoba, I might think that the first group you’d want to talk to would be the people who founded it. And you would probably have them play a major role in it, because, without them, Manitoba would not be what it is today,” Dr. Shore says.

Published in Volume 74, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 5, 2020)

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