Metis Federation will hold own Manitoba 150 celebration after being excluded from official planning: president

The Manitoba Metis Federation will host its own events after being excluded from the planning committee for the celebration of the province's 150th anniversary, says MMF president David Chartrand.

Louis Riel nearly invisible in provincial celebration promotional material

Louis Riel's image appears nowhere on the Manitoba 150 celebration website. The Métis leader negotiated Manitoba's entry into confederation in 1870.

The Manitoba Metis Federation will host its own events after being excluded from the planning committee for the celebration of the province's 150th anniversary, says MMF president David Chartrand.  

Planning for the year-long commemoration of Manitoba's entry into Confederation — which was negotiated by Métis leader Louis Riel in 1870 — has been in the works for more than a year-and-a-half.

The anniversary was one of the reasons Brian Pallister cited for calling an early election in 2019, with the premier saying he wanted to avoid government advertising restrictions imposed during the run-up to a vote that might have affected promotion of Manitoba 150 events. 

Chartrand says his organization, which represents the Métis people of Manitoba, was not invited to help plan the celebrations. He blames Pallister.   

"The premier ... has a very negative view towards the Métis people in the sense of the Métis nation," said Chartrand. "That's why I say I want to apologize to Manitoba, because this shouldn't be affecting 150."

'There is no real shining light given to the Métis people or the Métis government' in Manitoba 150 celebrations, says Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

His comments mark the latest flashpoint in the tense relationship between the Metis Federation leader and the premier. 

Pallister cancelled two agreements between the province, Manitoba Hydro and the MMF totalling more than $87 million in 2018 after calling one of the payments "persuasion money."

The federation is now suing to have that decision reversed. A judge has yet to rule in that case.

Chartrand says the premier has a vendetta against the Métis for standing up to the government.

"And now he wants to punish all of us, and at the same time punish our history," said Chartrand. 

The premier's press secretary did not respond to a request for comment. 

Manitoba 150 committee independent: co-chair

Monique LaCoste, volunteer co-chair of Manitoba 150 Host Committee Inc., which received $5 million of its $7-million budget from the province, says her board is separate from the government. 

"We are an independent board, volunteer-led, and with the staff we came up with this vision. We knew 'United in Celebration' was the overall theme," LaCoste said, adding the board is in constant contact with Heritage Minister Cathy Cox's office. 

"We have conversations with the minister … in determining what our activities were going to be. But so much of what we're going to be announcing next week has come from communities."

She said the Manitoba 150 committee invited Chartrand to attend the launch event last March, nearly a year after the planning committee was struck, but received a response shortly after stating the Manitoba Metis Federation would be doing its own events.

"We respect that. We respect that people across the province will probably be motivated to do their own thing," said LaCoste.  

A Manitoba Metis Federation billboard outside the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport is part of the organization's plans to celebrate Manitoba's 150th anniversary independently from the province. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Chartrand says the Manitoba 150 committee did not invite the MMF to be a true participant in the event. 

"You would think the first phone call you would have made is to the president of the MMF saying, 'You know what, we want to work together with the Métis government. We want you to celebrate. We want you to sit in a committee.'"

LaCoste is a board member of the MMF's francophone local. She says she's made numerous pitches to Métis groups to participate.

Manitoba 150 is planning announcements about upcoming events in the coming week about the province's history. 

Où est Louis?

Louis Riel is virtually absent in the organization's promotional materials and the website set up to promote the year-long event. 

The Métis leader's role in the founding of Manitoba is explained in three sentences on a page dedicated to a photo of the Manitoba 150 organizing committee and the names of its members. The website has been up since October, according to the Internet Archive.

Riel has a complicated legacy. Convicted and hanged as a traitor to the country in 1885, he was officially recognized by the federal government as a founder of Manitoba in the 1990s. 

There is not a single photo of Riel on the main Manitoba 150 site, and the only historic photo on the committee's Instagram is of William MacTacvish, the governor of Rupert's Land in 1870. 

"There is no real shining light given to the Métis people or the Métis government," said Chartrand. 

He says the MMF plans to rectify this with its own celebrations, including a travelling production of the play The Life of Louis Riel and other cultural events. 

Chartrand said he's in talks with federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault for funding to add to the federation's existing budget. The department funded a three-day celebration of the Riel and Manitoba's 150th anniversary at Ottawa's Winterlude carnival last weekend.

An ice sculpture of Louis Riel was on display in downtown Ottawa last weekend as part of the National Capital Region's Winterlude celebration, which featured three days of music and events to celebrate the Métis Nation and Louis Riel’s leadership in negotiating Manitoba’s entry into Confederation. (Twitter/Manitoba Metis Federation)

The heritage minister's mandate letter from December 2019 listed funding and support for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Métis nation entering Confederation as a top priority.

"We have a very good working relationship with the Métis and with Mr. Chartrand. It is in my mandate letter and we are working very hard to ensure that we can help them celebrate, as it should be, their 150th anniversary," Guilbeault said outside the chamber of the House of Commons in Ottawa Friday. 

When asked if he will channel money to fund the celebration of the Métis role in the founding of Manitoba, he said he is working on it.  

"It is a specific element that the prime minister has asked me to do."

The department provided $700,000 to the Manitoba 150 Host Committee last month and $625,000 to several projects intended to commemorate anniversaries associated with the Métis nation last year. 

LaCoste says events are in the works to commemorate Riel and it is too soon to make a final call on whether Manitoba 150 put sufficient emphasis on the leader. 

"I know that there is a private member's bill before the government right now looking into perhaps recognizing Riel as the founding premier," said LaCoste, who says she is a descendant of one of the councillors of Riel's provisional government.

"Certainly in my heart, he is."

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