Petition asks RCMP to return Metis items
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.
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.