The federal government has officially agreed to return a series of artifacts connected to Métis leader Louis Riel, which are currently housed in the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, to the Métis people.
At the Manitoba Métis Federation annual general assembly in Winnipeg on Saturday, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brosseau and MMF president David Chartrand signed a memorandum of understanding for the return of the artifacts.
The items at the Regina museum include a crucifix belonging to the executed Métis leader, his poetry and a hunting knife.
The return of the artifacts is something University of Saskatchewan law student Jesse Donovan has been advocating for over the past year. In January, he circulated an online petition and spoke with federal officials about the artifacts.
When Donovan found out about the return of the artifacts, he said "it came as a great surprise.
"I expected Canada to drag its feet for several more years," he told CBC. "It's been a tremendous injustice that Canada has held on to these stolen items for so many decades.
"Having them back in the hands of the Métis is a tremendous step for us as a people. It's, I believe, the first of many steps to come for our broader movement toward self-determination."
As first, the federal government insisted it owned the items, but in March agreed to hand over control after Donovan threatened legal action.
"The RCMP is committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples," Brasseau said on Saturday. "Louis Riel, through his lifelong struggle to protect the social, cultural and political status of his fellow Métis, played a significant role in the history of Canadian Confederation."
Riel was hanged for treason at age 41 in 1885 and remains a controversial figure in Canadian history, but is widely acknowledged now as a founder of Manitoba.
"The repatriation of these artifacts is important to the Métis people, and I am happy we have an agreement that will keep these historic items accessible to the public," Brasseau said.
Donovan, whose Métis family roots are partly in the Meadow Lake, Sask., area, has worked on legal research for Métis organizations in Ontario and elsewhere.
"These are very important artifacts to the Métis people because they represent our culture, history and the resistance movement led by Louis Riel," Donovan said.
As announced at the assembly, the artifacts will be housed at a new Métis museum in Winnipeg. Donovan plans to pay them a visit as soon as possible.
"The first chance I get I'll go to Winnipeg and I'll take a look at them," he said. "I'll jump at that chance."