LINDSEY ENNS/BRANDON SUN
Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand addresses the nearly 3,000 MMF delegates at the 45th annual assembly at the Keystone Centre on Saturday.
Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand was "disappointed" Premier Greg Selinger cancelled his speaking engagement at MMF’s 45th annual assembly Saturday at the Keystone Centre.
Deputy Premier Eric Robinson makes opening remarks during the 45th annual Manitoba Métis Federation assembly at the Keystone Centre on Saturday morning. (LINDSEY ENNS/BRANDON SUN)
"He promised he’d be here," Chartrand said Saturday morning, moments after finding out the premier was no longer attending the event. "When people hear the premier is coming they expect the premier to show up. If he cancels it better be, I think, a hell of a good reason or else it will be an insult to our people."
The two-day assembly began Saturday around 9:30 a.m. with an opening prayer by elder Norman Fleury. Selinger was scheduled to make opening remarks shortly after.
On Friday, Chartrand said Selinger’s office "made the commitment" he was attending, but by Saturday morning that was no longer the case.
"It’s unfortunate because in my view there was a commitment made to my office that he would be here. I’m in fact disappointed, in fact the people are disappointed," Chartrand said. "If they don’t have the time to come here, then I shouldn’t have the time to worry about them either, so that’s my message to them."
While addressing the nearly 3,000 MMF delegates from across Manitoba, Deputy Premier Eric Robinson cited "other commitments" for the reason behind Selinger’s absence.
Although Chartrand didn't want to speculate too much as to why Selinger had to cancel, he hoped it wasn’t due to another event.
"If it’s for some other event he had to attend instead of ours then that’s an insult," he said. "People were expecting the premier, a lot of people were sitting by the door he was supposed to be entering from, wanting to shake his hand and some people wanted to ask him a few questions."
Despite the sudden change in plans, Chartrand took advantage of MMF’s assembly to announce the rolling out of the first government funded prescription eye program for elders. Chartrand said he hopes the program will assist Métis pensioners in need of prescription eyeglasses.
"That’s a big announcement for us, I don’t think any aboriginal governments actually do that but we are," he said. "Pensioners in general in Canada, they’re struggling, and these are the people that pay taxes all their lives in this country and now we’re forgetting about them."
How much the government will invest in the initiative will depend on the demand, he said.
Chartrand also discussed MMF’s goal of continuing to build a trust fund to provide Métis youth with more security when it comes to their education.
"The question by the parents who are struggling to make ends meet is will their child go to university? That’s not the question they should be asking themselves, it should be which university," he said. "We want to make sure the funds are intact and they never have to worry."
As reported earlier in the Winnipeg Free Press, MMF is still working on settling what could be a multi-billion-dollar land claims dispute with the ultimate goal being to create a fund that will benefit Métis people, Manitobans and Canadians for generations to come.
The upcoming settlement negotiations were made possible by a landmark Supreme Court decision in March. The court ruled that the Canadian government failed to live up to promises it made to the Métis when it negotiated for Manitoba’s entry into Confederation in 1870.
"This has got to be remedied," Chartrand said. "I think the best formula to advance ourselves would be to actually appoint a mediator ... on behalf of Canada."
Robinson added that the Métis are continuing to make "some tremendous advances."
MMF is also patiently waiting for the outcome and decision on a foster parent’s appeal to have a Métis child return to their home.
The foster parents are filing a petition for guardianship of the child and MMF may exercise its own actions in support of Métis children to ensure they are placed with Métis families to preserve their cultural identities.
The province plans to involve MMF in talks regarding the many children who have been adopted and placed outside of their communities in the past, Robinson said.
"The Métis people and First Nations have lost a number of their children through the adoption system ... and as a result we’re going to be including many of the Métis people in a round table that our government will be hosting later this fall."
MMF is the official democratic and self-governing political representative for the Métis nation’s Manitoba community.
For the past five years, Brandon has hosted MMF’s annual assembly, which is the largest aboriginal general assembly held in Canada.
According to MMF, the assembly brings approximately 3,000 MMF delegates to Brandon for the two-day event and more than $500,000 in revenue to Brandon-based businesses. There are more than 10,000 Métis citizens in southwestern Manitoba.
Omnitrax Canada president Merv Tweed took advantage of Saturday’s Manitoba Métis Federation’s 45th annual assembly to discuss future partnership opportunities with MMF in regards to shipping oil through northern communities.
The crude oil would be brought to the port on the Hudson Bay Railway, which Omnitrax owns and operates.
But some groups have expressed their concerns about oil being shipped through the port because of the devastation an oil spill could have on the pristine northern environment and on Churchill’s vital tourism industry.
"I think we have to go to the communities that we represent in the north, give them an explanation, spend some time. I said very early on in this, if you’re misinformed it’s easy to make a bad decision or a bad statement and perhaps I think that’s what’s happened in this case," Tweed said.
Tweed said he believes this will also create more jobs in the north.
"The lifestyle that people have in the north, they want to preserve, but they also want some economic opportunity and I think we can offer both."
Vic Toews, former public safety minister, cabinet minister and MP for Provencher, was also in attendance to strengthen his working relationships with members of the Métis Economic Development Organization.
"I’m very happy being out of politics and I’m happily busy," he said, referring to himself as a consultant.
He also weighed in on David Chartrand’s accomplishments as MMF president.
"David has brought ... the Métis community together in a very real way," Toews said. "Prior to David, the Métis community throughout Manitoba was fairly scattered and disjointed and David has been able to bring it together as a very strong organization."
Numerous meetings were held during the two-day event at the Keystone Centre, which ended on Sunday.
According to MMF, a harvester’s session, focused on gathering information about the potential damage to traditional hunting and gathering lands in Manitoba being affected by current and future hydro projects, was well attended. An Infinity Women Secretariat meeting, focused on Métis women’s issues, also drew a large crowd.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 30, 2013