Métis and non-Métis alike can spend a few hours getting to know each other Monday afternoon, on Louis Riel Day.
The Manitoba Metis Federation’s Grand Valley Local teamed up with Brandon University again this year to deliver family fun from noon to 4 p.m. at Harvest Hall.
"If you’re Métis and you really don’t know what that means — and a lot of people don’t, especially the new ones who have just learned in the last few years that they did have ancestry — it’s a fantastic way to meet other Métis people and to learn more about your culture in regards to the history, the music, the dance, the food," said Leah LaPlante, vice-president of the MMF’s southwest region.
Locals at St. Eustache, St. Ambroise, Portage la Prairie and St. Lazare are also putting on celebrations, and LaPlante or one of two other leaders in the region will drop in on each one.
LaPlante said it’s an equally wonderful opportunity for all Manitobans to come out and contribute to a cultural divide that has been slowly closing. She said people’s similarities outweigh the differences.
"There’s a lot of information if you attend these celebrations. You can learn a lot about a people in two or three hours."
Some have learned the negative side of the Métis people, who were called "the road allowance people" for making ramshackle homes on strips of land set aside for roads, LaPlante said. They’d been pushed off their own settlements when the federal government’s Dominion Land Survey divided the prairie into homesteads for immigrants.
"They might learn that there’s more to the story than they might have heard at home," LaPlante added, adding that even schoolroom lessons have come up short.
It’s only in the last decade or so that school children were introduced to a more thorough history and they began learning that it’s thanks to Riel, the Métis leader, that Manitoba became the fifth province in 1870. His provisional government and its List of Rights led to Manitoba joining confederation.
The first official Louis Riel Day took place in February 2008 after a survey of Manitoba schools to name the statutory holiday. Twelve of 114 responding schools suggested Louis Riel should be honoured. The provincial government agreed, recognizing his leadership in the Red River Resistance of 1869-70.
"I think that sort of indicated to us that it was time to start talking about the real history of Manitoba. Louis Riel does not just belong to the Métis," LaPlante said. "He belongs to everybody."
Métis were generally a bit resistant when the statutory holiday was first named, as they usually gather on Nov. 16. That’s the day, in 1885, when Riel was hanged for high treason for his provisional government’s role in executing a federal government employee.
LaPlante said the naming of the holiday was a ray of sunshine for Métis political leaders.
"Manitobans are now getting enough of the correct reporting of history that they thought Louis Riel was rather a hero," she said.
Thinking back to Grade 5, LaPlante remembers the story in the curriculum, which amounted to two sentences.
"One of the sentences was ‘Louis Riel was a traitor.’ That’s what young people grew up learning," she said.
LaPlante also recalls when Turtle Mountain Métis Days launched in 1994, when she was the chair of the local. Non-Métis were invited to participate, which they did. As a result, the community grew stronger over the years, friendships were formed, and everyone worked together on municipal issues.
"That is the beauty of it," LaPlante said. "Getting to understand each other, and to enjoy friendships. That’s the best result. And just the fun."
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