Statement made on 12 June 2008 by Clem Chartier, President, Metis National Council
Clem Chartier, President, Metis National Council:
I wish to thank theSenate for inviting me here today as part of Canada
's noble attempt to beginreconciliation with the Metis nation.
Yesterday, in the House of Commons, I had the honour of responding to thePrime Minister's apology to survivors of the Indian residential schools system,and to all Aboriginal victims of Canada's past assimilationist policies.
I was truly moved by the courage and conviction of the Prime Minister as heconfronted a painful and sorrowful part of Canadian history.
I was also truly moved by the genuine sincerity and goodwill permeating the House,and the heartfelt words of my fellow Aboriginal leaders as they committed toworking with Canadatoward reconciliation.
At the same time, as a Metis and as a Metis leader, the leader of the Metisnation, I was compelled to express my conflicted feeling, my feelings that wereclashing. I was compelled to express this conflicted feeling to the PrimeMinister and to the country.
Thousands of Metis attended Indian residential schools, enduring forcedseparation from family, attacks on their culture and, in many instances,physical and sexual abuse. Those Metis survivors who attended residentialschools recognized by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement areeligible for compensation for physical and sexual abuse, and of course thecommon experience payment. However, the vast majority of Metis survivorsattended church-run, government-sanctioned boarding schools not — and I repeat— not included in the settlement agreement, and are receiving no compensation.
I am one of those survivors, having attended the Metis residential school inIle-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan. Several other survivorsaccompanied me yesterday to the House of Commons, and I believe they shared mymixed feelings.
Honourable senators, also excluded from the residential school agreement arethousands more Metis people who attended day schools run by religious orders.The same assimilationist practices and abuses prevalent in the Indianresidential schools were institutionalized in the day schools. These manythousands share our legacy of pain and, I say, need to share a legacy ofjustice. "Day schools," you ask, "why?" It is because ofthe abandonment of the Metis people and the Metis nation by the federalgovernment over 100 years ago.
The exclusion of the vast majority of Metis survivors from the residentialschool agreement is part of a general pattern of exclusion starting with therefusal of the federal government to accept constitutional responsibility todeal with the Metis nation under section 91.24 of the Constitution Act, 1867,which brought this country together and names Indians and the lands reservedfor the Indians. As you know, it is under that authority that the governmentpassed the Indian Act.
As a consequence of this stance, Metis war veterans were denied benefits aftermaking great sacrifices in defence of our country. To this day, Metis aredenied the educational and health care assistance provided to other Aboriginalpeoples by the federal government, and we are pleased for that assistance forother Aboriginal peoples. We take nothing away from that.
We have also been excluded from the Specific and Indian Claims Commissionprocesses available to other Aboriginal peoples. Our only recourse is to pursuethis matter through the courts, and the meagre litigation fund that we had forabout eight years was discontinued last year, so we do not even have that.
The loss of Metis lands throughout Western Canadaresulted in large part from a fraudulent scrip scheme. Regrettably, as I standhere today, I am reminded of a bill initiated in this very chamber that amendedthe Criminal Code to impose a time limitation of three years on the prosecutionof scrip offences, nullifying charges against a millionaire speculator who hadbeen charged in 1921 with obtaining Metis scrip through fraud.
I should also remind honourable senators that our limited resources topursue this have been cut off and, in large measure, are not available to us.Nevertheless, based on my discussions with the Prime Minister, I believeyesterday marked an important first step in Canada's reconciliation with theMetis nation.
My address on the floor of the House of Commons was symbolic of this newbeginning. The patriarch of our Metis nation, Louis Riel, was elected threetimes to the House of Commons but, with a price on his head, was unable to takehis proper seat.
The federal interlocutor for the Metis, the Honourable Chuck Strahl, as Isaid yesterday and still believe today, is a sincere man who has expressed hisdetermination to work with me in dealing with the long outstanding grievancesof Metis residential school survivors and war veterans. He has also expressedhis determination to work with me and the Metis nation leadership in findingsolutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow.
The Metis National Council looks forward to building on this foundation toensure that the citizens of the Metis nation can finally find our distinctplace in the Canadian family.
As I said yesterday, the Metis Nation of Western Canada wants in. The MétisNational Council hopes that the Senate of Canada and its Standing SenateCommittee on Aboriginal Peoples will continue its important and muchappreciated work in the pursuit of issues of concern to the Metis nation. Letthis historic occasion mark the beginning of that important work.
Let me extend my heartfelt best wishes to all those receiving the apologyyesterday; to the leadership of the First Nations and Inuit peoples, who workedso hard to make it happen; and to the Prime Minister and Minister Strahl fortheir sincerity and courage in taking the first steps toward reconciliationwith the Metis nation. Let the world see that Canadians are not afraid to shinea bright light on a dark and often forgotten history. Together, guided by thetorch of truth and justice, we will build strong nations and a united Canada.
I could not sleep at all last night. I really could not. To me, today is thefirst step toward the reconciliation that was spoken about yesterday. To beperfectly honest — you will say, "It's hard; he is a politician" —yesterday was the hardest day of my life. It took every ounce of strength in mybody to get through that day. When Phil said, "We have to speak tomorrowin the Senate," I thought, "Oh, no," but I thought, "Youran for leadership; you are there; you will be there." I am here, and Isay that it took every ounce of strength in my body yesterday to get throughit, and this is the first day, so I can start addressing these issues;yesterday was a great day. Today is a day to get down to work.
As I said in my written text, the majority of my people are not included inthis process. We simply want, for now, to get to where National Chief Fontainesaid his people got to yesterday. Our history and the issues that we face inour communities are not that well-known. Canada, through the scrip systemthat they thought would break the backbone of our nation and send us, I guess,into the bush forever, never to be seen again, did not succeed in that. Theydid not succeed in the assimilation policy. We are still a strong people, andwe are getting stronger all the time. We will continue fighting for our rights.
At some point, Canadawill have to take responsibility, in the same way that parents who abandontheir children must do. Just because they did not give those children childsupport for a number of years does not mean they are not responsible. At theend of the day, the responsibility is still there. It is not that we arechildren and not that we rely and say that Canada owes us all this, but thefederal Government of Canada is the government that is there for all people,for all Aboriginal Peoples, not only for some Aboriginal Peoples. We want toquit saying that the Metis nation — the Metis people — are the exceptionalpeople because that is all we hear.
I believe we just passed a new bill to speed up the Indian claims commissionregarding the specific claims. That is good. We support that fully. It appliesto Aboriginal Peoples — except for the Metis. We have compensation forAboriginal veterans — except for the Metis. We have an Indian residentialschools settlement agreement. Again, we do not begrudge that; we are happy forthe people that it covers, It is there — except for the Metis. I could go onand on with "except for the Metis." We want to stop being the "except-able"people; we want to be the "accepted" people. We want to get theresoon because our people are suffering.
One does not hear many statistics about the suicides in our community or thestories coming out of residential schools for the Metis, but many people couldcome here and tell their stories. We suffered — I suffered — physical andsexual abuse. We suffered horrendous conditions in those schools. We sufferedpsychological trauma in those schools. We suffered separation from family. Wesuffered from dysfunction. People like me can pass through life as ifeverything is normal. Peel away the surface, though, and you will see some verydamaged people.
We listen and say that there are problems against women. There are peoplelike me that can say, "Yes, there are." My mother was a product ofthe Indian residential schools. She was Metis but went to an Indian residentialschool for a while. Younger than me. She had serious problems; we had a brokenhome. My mother was one of those victims. She was brutally raped and beaten todeath. The people who did that got off. There are hundreds like me in ourcommunities, but we do not get these stories out. I think at some times we mustget these stories out.
Again, we are very pleased at the leadership of Chief Fontaine over the pastnumber of years to bring this out to the forefront to fight this great fight.The Metis nation stands beside our other Aboriginal nations and peoples and ispleased when they make progress.
We are there to support that progress that is made, but we need our justiceas well. I hope that the Prime Minister and Minister Strahl and all senatorscan help us get that justice.