Metis National Council’s new leader has a date with the Pope, divisions to heal

Cassidy Caron never asked to lead the Metis National Council (RMN) during one of the most crucial periods in the organization’s history.

On the eve of the recent MNR election, the 29-year-old, born in Rossland, British Columbia, has family roots in the historic M̩tis communities of Batoche and St. Louis, Saskatchewan. Рwas brought to a hotel room in Saskatoon. MNC delegates told him they needed someone who could work for and with all M̩tis governments.

Caron decided to let his name appear as a candidate. The next day, she was thrown into the leadership position, replacing Cl̩ment Chartier Рthe first change in MNC leadership in 18 years. She also became the first woman elected to hold this post.

“It was very exciting, a little overwhelming, of course. It’s a big role,” Caron said. “It’s just time for this change.”

Caron now heads the MNC at a time when Métis interests play a central role in the federal government’s reconciliation agenda. She will also represent the Métis people at an audience with Pope Francis in Rome next month, as pressure mounts on the Vatican to apologize for the residential schools.

Caron takes the head of the organization in one of its most eventful periods. Tensions over who and who can speak for Métis have fractured the MNC. One of its central pillars, the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), left the national body earlier this year due to membership practices involving the Métis Nation of Ontario.

MMF chairman David Chartrand was acting national spokesperson for the MNC shortly before the split. Chartrand said he had no plans to join the MNC, but Caron said she would welcome the return of the MMF at any time.

Those still in the MNC say Caron is the right person to rebuild the organization.

“I think President Caron is someone who really approaches this work as a nation builder,” said Margaret Froh, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, who appointed Caron.

“She is a fresh young face who brings a tremendous amount of community cultural experience and grounding.”

Cassidy Caron was elected on September 30. She says she wants to unify her people. (Matt LeMay)

Prominent Métis lawyer Jean Teillet, who has advocated for Métis rights in Canada’s highest court, said Caron represents the next phase in the leadership of the Métis people.

“It’s definitely a changing of the guard,” said Teillet, Louis Riel’s great-great-niece, who led the Métis people into a position against the government of Canada during the Northwest Resistance. “A change of generations.”

With the election of Caron, two of the top three national Indigenous organizations are led by women. Earlier this summer, RoseAnne Archibald was elected the first female National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Former Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Mary Simon has also been appointed Governor General.

Advancing self-determination

Caron still hasn’t had his first phone call with the Prime Minister. She said when she does, she will encourage Justin Trudeau to take concrete steps towards reconciliation.

“I want to make sure that the Government of Canada is accountable to our citizens for making these positive changes,” she said.

Caron said the relationship between Canada and the MNC is strong.

Since the election of the Trudeau government in 2015, Caron said, the Métis nation has made tremendous strides towards recognition.

Jean Teillet, a prominent Métis lawyer and great-great-niece of Louis Riel, considers self-government to be the most important issue for the Métis. (Brian Morris / CBC)

Government officials in previous administrations rarely, if ever, mentioned the Métis Nation. Today, they are regularly referred to as a group of distinct indigenous peoples.

Recently, Ottawa signed self-government agreements with Métis governments to recognize their citizenship, leadership and government activities. These agreements give Métis governments the ability to make their own laws and write constitutions to govern their communities.

Caron will advocate for the implementation of the agreements, which could lead to land claim settlements and possibly federal health coverage Рfrom which the M̩tis are now excluded.

“We are often called the forgotten people,” Froh said.

“What this will mean for the Métis is even greater respect, recognition and support than we have now.”

Teillet, treaty negotiator and author of The Northwest is our mother: the story of the people of Louis Riel, the Métis nation, said self-government is the most important issue facing Métis people.

“Everything that has gone wrong in the past 150 or 200 years is because Canada has tried to impose its ideas on what Indigenous people need or how to fix us,” Teillet said.

“Ottawa’s new attitude is very different from that. They are proposing partnerships, they are proposing to strengthen self-government to fund self-government… That’s the right answer.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to Clément Chartier, former President of the Métis National Council, during the Crown and Métis National Council Summit on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

Caron said she also wanted to prioritize the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and move forward with the National Plan of Action for Women, Girls and Children. missing and murdered 2ELGBTQQIA + indigenous people.

Preparing to meet the Pope

Caron is not new to politics. She worked as Provincial Youth President and Minister Responsible for Youth with the Métis Nation of British Columbia from 2016 to 2020.

Caron is also not the first woman to lead the MNC. Audrey Poitras served as Interim National President from 2003 to 2004.

“She paved the way,” Caron said.

Poitras called Caron the voice for all Métis. She said Caron called the first meeting of the MNC board of governors in three years after her election and that the board was planning to meet in Ottawa this week.

“It’s about bringing people together,” Poitras said. “It’s about being responsible, it’s about the nation and all of us together.”

Caron is also part of an eight-person MNC delegation that meets weekly to prepare for a one-hour audience with Pope Francis on Saturday. December 18 at the Vatican.

Elder Norman Fleury, Michif-language advisor to the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, is part of an eight-person Métis delegation traveling with other Indigenous leaders to meet Pope Francis next month in the Vatican. (Don Somers / CBC)

Caron said she wanted to talk to the Pope about who the Métis are, what their communities looked like before colonization and how to restore balance in Métis society.

“Our communities before colonization, they were in balance,” Caron said.

“Everyone had a role, everyone had a responsibility and colonization took it away from us. We need healing, and we need initiatives to build and rebuild the community.”

Métis elder Norman Fleury, who is also part of the delegation to the Vatican, said healing begins when Métis people tell their stories in Michif, their language.

“It’s not about impressing the Pope,” Fleury said. “We are one people. One nation. One voice.”

It is not clear whether the Pope will apologize for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in operating the residential schools where abuse took place upon his arrival in Canada. Caron said she hopes this will happen even if delegates leave Rome without a firm commitment.

“For reconciliation to advance, especially with the Catholic Church, and to restore balance in our communities, it starts with this apology from the Pope,” Caron said.

“It’s all in the follow-up. If it’s a one-time visit [to the Vatican] and there’s no follow-up, so it won’t work. “

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