Pe­ti­tion asks RCMP to re­turn Metis items

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREA HILL

A Univer­sity of Saskatchewan law stu­dent is call­ing on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to repa­tri­ate Metis items be­ing held at the RCMP Her­itage Cen­tre in Regina.

Jesse Dono­van launched an on­line pe­ti­tion ear­lier this month ask­ing the RCMP to re­turn ar­ti­facts — in­clud­ing a cru­ci­fix and knife that be­longed to Metis re­sis­tance leader Louis Riel, cloth­ing and a book of po­etry — to the Metis peo­ple.

The Metis stu­dent said it’s “in­sult­ing ” and not in the spirit of reconciliation for the gov­ern­ment to hold these items.

“These items are not just house­hold items, but they’re items of im­mense cul­tural and spir­i­tual sig­nif­i­cance that are cen­tral to both the Metis re­sis­tance move­ment and to our cul­ture,” Dono­van said, adding that the RCMP’s own­er­ship of these ar­ti­facts has trou­bled Metis peo­ple for years, even if they haven’t raised the is­sue pub­licly.

“A lot of peo­ple are feel­ing ap­a­thetic and they’re feel­ing like there’s noth­ing that can be done to solve this is­sue.”

Dono­van doesn’t know where the right­ful home of the ar­ti­facts should be, but said that if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment prom­ises to re­turn them to the Metis, there will be con­sul­ta­tions with the Metis com­mu­nity and Riel’s de­scen­dants about where they should be dis­played.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesper­son for fed­eral Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale, said in an emailed state­ment that Riel do­nated his cru­ci­fix and knife to what was then the North-West Mounted Po­lice and that the RCMP’s his­tor­i­cal col­lec­tions unit has doc­u­men­ta­tion on file show­ing its own­er­ship of the Metis ar­ti­facts in its pos­ses­sion.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is look­ing into doc­u­ment­ing its Metis items and is aware that the Metis Na­tional Coun­cil is ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of open­ing a mu­seum in Win­nipeg. Bardsley said the RCMP his­tor­i­cal unit, if ap­proached, would loan Metis ar­ti­facts for an ex­hibit there.

“Reconciliation with the Metis is a pri­or­ity for the Gov­ern­ment of Canada. Our gov­ern­ment is fully com­mit­ted to work­ing to­gether with the Metis and to mov­ing for­ward to­gether based on a recog­ni­tion of rights, co-op­er­a­tion and part­ner­ship,” Bardsley said.

But Dono­van said the gov­ern­ment’s plans don’t go far enough.

“Any plan that in­volves own­er­ship of the items by the RCMP is un­ac­cept­able,” he said.

“A plan re­gard­ing a (Metis Na­tional Coun­cil) mu­seum in Win­nipeg is too the­o­ret­i­cal to be of any use. Reconciliation de­mands im­me­di­ate ac­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dono­van, his­tor­i­cal records show Riel hand­ing his cross over to an of­fi­cer with the North-West Mounted Po­lice be­fore his ex­e­cu­tion in 1885 and the stu­dent said he has a hard time be­liev­ing this was a do­na­tion. He said he would like to see RCMP to pub­lish its own­er­ship records of its Metis items.

LIAM RICHARDS

Jesse Dono­van, a Metis Univer­sity of Saskatchewan law stu­dent, stands for a pho­to­graph in his apart­ment on Fri­day. Dono­van is pe­ti­tion­ing the RCMP to repa­tri­ate Metis ar­ti­facts seized dur­ing Louis Riel´s re­sis­tance.

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