In the month since the Manitoba Metis Federation hosted its first livestream of president David Chartrand announcing $1 million in COVID-19 aid for his people, the organization has ramped up its communication efforts from the usual event and activity updates.
The vast majority of communications for the population of 120,000 Métis is now COVID-19-related, said Southwest Region representative Will Goodon.
He recalls when everything changed. He was travelling with Chartrand, set to meet with first ministers in Ottawa. Suddenly, the prime minister’s wife was sick and the prime minister himself was self-isolating.
"Communication has always been a huge priority for the Métis government, and that comes right from the president," said Goodon.
"Now we’re in a place where I think communications are even more important than regular everyday goings-on. When you have something like a pandemic and there’s emotions and there’s fear, the knowledge that your leadership is doing everything that they can do I think really helps people. Obviously, there’s still fear and there’s still emotions, but I think it helps people to have a sense of comfort that somebody is fighting hard on their behalf," Goodon said.
To that end, Chartrand and the federation cabinet asked senior director of energy, infrastructure and resource management Marci Riel to head up communications during the pandemic.
Whether on its website or social media platforms, Métis are kept up to date with curated, verified news, with live daily updates from Chartrand or cabinet ministers, who also offer information on a variety of newly developed programs. A team was even hired to put together the videos for best quality.
"President Chartrand and the (federation) cabinet recognized the need for keeping our citizens up to date with information that was not just generally Canadian information or Manitoban information, but also information specific to the Métis Nation and even more specific than that to the citizens of the Manitoba Métis community," Riel said.
"The (federation) has really taken the lead in trying to fill gaps with programs and services for the citizens to ensure that that they’re able to weather the storm in the same way that other Manitobans and other Canadians are."
The services offered by the federation encompass all aspects of life, whether it’s financial aid, food security, or cultural activities.
Yesterday’s video announcement by the federation’s education minister, Joan Ledoux, and Louis Riel Institute executive director Sharon Parenteau outlined a new educational resource. Every Tuesday morning, parents and children can tune in and enhance their at-home educational activities with Métis-specific content.
"We’re going to have an activity and a craft, a Métis story, a Mechif word of the day that we’re then going to use in a song. Families across Manitoba have the opportunity to register, to have their children participate. Frankly, it’s an opportunity to build the Mechif language within the nation," Riel said.
The federation also hosts a twice-weekly livestreamed concerts with Métis performers filmed at the makeshift studio at the federation’s offices.
"President Chartrand had identified a concern that our elders and some of our citizens are perhaps not as connected to family and friends as they would otherwise be," Riel said.
"This is an opportunity through the livestream to make sure that that they’re still getting that Métis experience that they might otherwise have with a family gathering or an event or a meeting of some sort through the regular MMF process."
Riel said there has been an uptick in traffic on the federation’s website and social media platforms, with sometimes as much as six times the traffic of what was once the norm.
"I think partly because people are getting into a cycle of looking for the daily update, finding out what the (federation) is doing and doing next, but also because our citizens are looking for an opportunity to find information on what the (federation) is offering and where they can access it," she said.
Riel said the federation cabinet meets each Tuesday by teleconference to work through the business of the week, just as every other level of government is currently doing.
She said the federation isn’t really doing anything out of the ordinary, but rather building on what Métis have done for generations.
"But using technology in a way that we perhaps haven’t done before."
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.
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