Thursday October 11, more than 50 Métis women from Ontario westward to British Columbia attended the eighth Annual General Meeting of Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak (LFMO)–Women of the Métis Nation. The assembly ran from October 12-14 and held discussions on priority issues affecting Métis women. It featured keynote addresses from Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) President Margaret Froh.
“We are the women of the Métis Nation,” stated President Froh. “We are the keepers of the knowledge, culture, and traditions within our Nation. It’s really important we take times like this to celebrate and honour that.
A number of MNO citizens attended the conference and several members of the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario (PCMNO) had roles in the event. PCMNO Chair France Picotte co-chaired the event while MNO Senator Verna Porter-Brunelle led the opening and closing prayers. MNO Vice-Chair and Spokesperson for the MNO Women’s Council Sharon Cadeau and PCMNO Youth Representative Mich Case led discussions and seminars.
Cadeau reported on specific updates to the MNO Women’s Council policy, including a more democratic process in electing the spokesperson. “This is a huge step forward, as the community will now choose the woman to speak on their behalf,” she stated.
Case was invited to present at the conference and led a seminar on Métis beading. He provided an overview of Métis beading styles and techniques. After his presentation, “learn-to-bead” starter kits, a project developed by the MNO Youth Council were gifted to attendees by LMFO President Melanie Omeniho.
President Froh also addressed delegates on Saturday, emphasizing the importance of breaking down barriers, building up relationships, and reflecting upon what it is we stand for. She encouraged citizens be active in their communities and speak out about injustices they’ve witnessed or experienced. “There are a lot of hard fought victories we can’t take for granted,” she explained. “We cannot be complacent,” she said.
MNO citizen Amanda Rheaume moderated a panel discussion on lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, and 2-spirit (LGBTQ2S) experiences. The panel reflected the community activism that President Froh addressed in her remarks and fostered a dialogue among attendees. The panel began with statements from MNO citizens Jennifer St. Germain and Gerald Lavallee, who expressed his gratitude for the support from the MNO when he felt most alone.
While much of the 2018 assembly highlighted the importance of kindness, compassion and empathy; equally represented were themes of the strength and resilience of Métis women.
From Friday morning’s “sashing our warriors” campaign against lateral violence, to Saturday evening’s reception honouring Métis Veterans, it is clear that the Métis women are far from passive beings. They are active leaders in their communities, ready and willing to fight for their families, for their nation, and for their rights.
President Froh acknowledged the vast amounts of difficult work yet to be done and the importance of women in leadership positions. “As women, we have protected virtues of democracy and fairness within our communities and within our nation for a very long time,” she said. “Each of you makes a difference in your communities.”
Minister Bennett also thanked the women and women veterans, which included MNO veterans Shelly Claus and June Smart.
“Tonight we honour the courage it takes to fight for peace,” she stated. “Women are often the unsung heroes and their stories left untold because of gender and Métis identity.”
As the keynote speakers acknowledged, events such as the Annual General Meeting are important as they create a space where Métis voices and perspectives can be heard.
“As Métis women, we never sit back and let others talk for us, it’s not our way. Our voices matter, and kindness matters, and love matters, and care and empathy matters,” said President Froh in her closing remarks. “And all that makes a tremendous difference.”