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Metis say museum censoring culture by rejecting performer for opening ceremony

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba Metis Federation is accusing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights of censorship and is threatening to boycott the institution because it is excluding a decorated Metis musician from its grand opening.

President David Chartrand said the museum approached the federation and asked which Metis performers should be included in next month's ceremonies, which are to be televised live.

He said the Winnipeg museum rejected the federation's choice — 74-year-old musician Ray St. Germain — because they thought "a younger person might fit the flow of the event better."

"We took a very strong offence to that. Who are you to tell us how to promote our culture?" Chartrand said Tuesday.

"This is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Did they forget their mandate? They start to tell us how we're going to advance our identity or description of who we are to the world?"

The federation has voted to boycott Canada's newest museum, Chartrand said.

"We want to make sure we showcase the greatest talent we have," he said. "If that's what they stand for — to dictate or control the information — then we want nothing to do with them."

Even though it is not yet open, this isn't the first time the museum has come under fire.

A Manitoba First Nation has criticized the museum for using Winnipeg's water supply, which comes from the band's traditional territory. Others have objected because the museum will not use the word "genocide" to describe Canada's historic aboriginal policies.

A museum spokeswoman said organizers asked the Metis federation for suggestions, but had to ensure the opening ceremonies reflect all of Canada. Rhea Yates said the event has to be diverse and appropriate for a television broadcast.

"What we were doing with (the Metis federation) is sharing our overall vision for the program and seeking their input," Yates said.

"It is challenging to put together a program for a national event and have everybody applauding your choices at the end. But we think we're putting together a very powerful program and it will be something a lot of people are looking forward to."

Discussions between the federation and the museum were ongoing and weren't meant to be in the public eye, Yates added. The museum is "sincerely regretful" there is now an impression it doesn't want to work with St. Germain, she said.

"We, as a museum, have the highest respect for him as a performer and as a person. We've reached out to him to make sure he knows that as well."

The musician in the middle of it all said he was contacted by the museum but told them to talk to the Metis federation. St. Germain, a recipient of the Order of Manitoba who once played on the same bill as country legend Johnny Cash, said he was a bit "flabbergasted" by the museum's decision.

If he had been included in the ceremony, he was planning to sing "I'm Mighty Proud I'm Metis," he said.

"I was taken aback about what was said, about wanting someone younger," said St. Germain, who ran for the federal Liberals in the 2006 election. "It took me quite by surprise."

It's up to the federation and the museum to sort it out, he suggested.

"I'm in the middle," he said. "I'm just disappointed in the call. There must have been a reason but I haven't been given one."

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