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Trailer: Introducing The True Canadians

For over two centuries, the Métis have fought for recognition as an Indigenous people and as a Nation. It’s a story worth telling, but until recently, it hasn’t been heard enough.

The title of this podcast and the book refers to the fact that the Métis truly are people born of this land — well before Canada became a country of its own.

Your host is David Wylynko, a media consultant, writer, former journalist, and co-author of The True Canadians. His co-author, Patricia Russell, is a Métis writer and a former CBC journalist. While they were touring the country to promote their book, they discovered that readers wanted to know more about the people, places, events, and milestones they’ve featured in the pages of The True Canadians. A podcast seemed to be the best way to share what they’ve learned.

“Some day is now”

Episode 1 features David’s talk with Andrea Sandmaier, President of the Otipemisiwak Métis Government of the Métis Nation within Alberta, and Audrey Poitras, who recently retired as president. The two discuss the Métis journey toward legal recognition of their right to self-government, including the landmark legislation now before Parliament, Bill C-53.

Among the stories told is one involving Angie Crerar, an elder from Grande Prairie, Alberta who addressed the federal Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs in Ottawa. She recalled how her own father hoped that, some day, this acknowledgment would come. “Some day is now,” says Sandmaier.

⁠Bill C-53: An Act respecting the recognition of certain Métis governments⁠

Setting up youth for success

From her small home community of Lac La Biche, Alberta, to the academic halls of the University of Calgary, to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Rebecca Lavallee has taken huge leaps forward in a very short timespan. In the second episode of The True Canadians, host David Wylynko talks with Rebecca about the importance of family and community in fostering Métis youth with confidence and pride. These attributes help cure young people of the crippling effects of “imposter syndrome,” and can steer them away from the negative impacts of burying one’s heritage.

This support helped Rebecca make the move to a big-city university, where she often found herself to be the lone Indigenous student of her classes. It also gave her the strength of character that led to her new position as the Provincial Youth Representative in the recently created Otipemisiwak Métis Government. In that capacity, Rebecca travelled to Ottawa and attended hearings held by the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee on Bill C-53, which recognizes Métis rights of self-government. For young Métis citizens like Rebecca, it’s just the beginning.


“Lucy and the Legal Lacuna”

In the third episode of The True Canadians, host David Wylynko talks with Métis lawyer Jason Madden, who practices Aboriginal law with a focus on Indigenous rights litigation and negotiations, including the negotiation and implementation of self-government agreements, modern day treaties, and reconciliation-based agreements. A graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and called to the bar in Ontario, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, Jason is a partner at the law firm Aird & Berlis LLP and Co-Leader of the firm’s Indigenous Practice Group.

Jason was born and raised in northern Ontario and his large Métis family—the Calders—are a part of the Northwest Ontario Métis community, which collectively adhered to Treaty No 3 in 1875 as the ‘Halfbreeds of Rainy Lake and River.’ Over the last 20 years, Jason has been legal counsel to Métis communities and governments in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, including acting as counsel in Métis harvesting rights case and appearing in all the cases dealing with Métis rights before the Supreme Court of Canada.

In this episode, Jason undertakes a wide-ranging discussion about inherent Métis rights and self-government, which have become particularly topical in the mainstream media in recent weeks due to major developments in federal legislation currently before Parliament about Métis self-government known as Bill C-53 and a major Supreme Court decision over an existing federal law about Indigenous child and family services, both of great importance to the Métis. Jason talks about how these pieces of legislation will help extract the Métis from the “legal lacuna” (legal gap) they have experienced for generations, and how they will lead to ending the pattern of governments making promises and overtures to the Métis only to pull away the proverbial football as Lucy so famously always did to Charlies Brown in the cartoon “Peanuts.”


“A Way into Canada”

In the fall of 2003, in what would become known as a “watershed” moment for the Métis, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that when Steve Powley and his son Roddy shot a bull moose 10 years earlier near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, they were exercising their Métis right to hunt, as protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. In the fourth episode of The True Canadians – the Podcast, Métis lawyer Jason Madden characterizes the decision of the top court in the land as a “sea change” that would set the Métis on a journey to many other legal successes.

The episode is the second of a special two-part segment that host David Wylynko recorded with Madden, who in part one examines Métis progress in negotiating self-government agreements with Canada in recent years. In part two, Jason traces Métis political history and the struggle for what he calls “a way into Canada” that culminated in Métis recognition in the Constitution Act of 1982. Madden explores the significance of the first ministers’ conferences convened in the 1980s by then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the Supreme Court Powley decision of 2003, and of other milestones in the ongoing Métis journey toward a true nation-to-nation relationship with Canada.


“Why can’t you just remember?”

The True Canadians, both the podcast and book, relies on Métis people to tell their own stories. But educating Canadians and advancing recognition and reconciliation won’t be complete until those stories are shared much more widely. Which is where Historica Canada can plays a big role. To find out how this national charitable organization, which uses rigorous research to explain “what it means to be Canadian,” approaches its responsibility to tell the story of the Métis, who better to ask than Anthony Wilson-Smith?

A former journalist whose column appeared for years in Maclean’s magazine, Wilson-Smith is the CEO and president of Historica Canada. In this episode, Wilson-Smith talks with host David Wylynko about how successive prime ministers interacted with the Métis, First Nations, and Inuit, and how Canada’s attitude has evolved from dismissive, to paternalistic, to an acceptance of the need for the real changes represented by Bill C-53, which recognizes Métis self-government. He describes the impact of the organization’s vast and growing library that is The Canadian Encyclopedia, and touches on the highly lauded Heritage Minutes that appear on television. Wilson-Smith stresses the importance of changing the request often made of Indigenous peoples to just forget about the past to one in which everyone else is asked to just remember it.


Bringing the fight to Ottawa

Having devoted a lifetime to Métis rights and activism, elder Tony Belcourt has seen it all. Raised in the historic Métis community at Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta, Belcourt quickly learned what Louis Riel realized 100 years earlier, that progress in Métis recognition meant going to one place: Ottawa. As the founding president of the Native Council of Canada, Belcourt took centre stage when the Métis banded together with non-Status Indians to plot a pathway to constitutional recognition in the early 1970s. A decade later, he supported efforts in Ottawa’s “hallowed halls” to convince then–Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to include the Métis by name in the Constitution Act of 1982. And in 1991 he was there to watch then–Prime Minister Brian Mulroney call for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which drew public attention to the demands of the Métis, First Nations, and Inuit.

Despite having earned his retirement after more than 50 years of political wins and setbacks, Belcourt has scarcely slowed down. After 14 years as the first president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, he took his cause abroad, representing the Métis National Council at the United Nations, where he participated in the negotiations that resulted in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Today, with legislation recognizing the Métis right to self-government nearing passage in Parliament (Bill C-53), Belcourt is once again urging Ottawa to do the right thing. In this episode, host David Wylynko talks with Belcourt about his memories and concerns, which include seeing Harry Daniels proclaim “I will mobilize my people” as he walked out on the 1982 Constitutional negotiations with then–Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien, his disappointment in the Pope’s visit to his hometown in 2022, and his wish to see the Métis become once again amicable with their age-old Indigenous cousins.

Métis National Council at crossroads as it marks 40-year anniversary (CBC News)


The New Métis Nation

Cassidy Caron, President of the Métis National Council, grew up with a passion for Métis culture, history, and politics in equal measures. Raised in an area of British Columbia with limited exposure to Métis communities, but with a deep family heritage in Batoche, Saskatchewan — famous for the Métis resistance led by Louis Riel in 1885 — Caron entered the political realm at a very early age. By the time she was 24, Caron was serving as the Minister of Youth for the Métis Nation of British Columbia. In 2021, when she was just 29, Caron took the huge step of running for the MNC presidency, fittingly journeying to her family’s roots of Saskatchewan for a General Assembly, where she became the first woman ever elected to that role. Audrey Poitras, now retired as the President of the Métis Nation of Alberta, had served as interim president from 2003 to 2004. 

In her wide-ranging discussion with host David Wylynko, Caron discusses her Métis heritage, her election, negotiating agreements on behalf of the Métis with political representatives of Canada at the highest levels, and major accomplishments in the short span of her tenure. One of the biggest challenges Caron is embracing currently is passage of federal legislation, Bill C-53, affirming Métis self-governing rights in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. The Bill delivers on commitments made in self-government recognition and implementation agreements that were co-developed and signed in 2023. These agreements formally recognize that Métis governments in these provinces possess an inherent right to self-government as recognized in the Constitution Act of 1982. They also discuss bridging lingering divisions among Métis, the legacy of Métis leaders from Riel to Jim Sinclair, and Caron’s thoughtful agenda for the future.


In Pursuit of Excellence

A generation ago, the typical Métis citizen who wanted to pursue higher learning or attend college or university had almost nowhere to turn for financial support, even though Métis leaders since Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont have embraced the power of education to lift their people. Even those who managed to graduate from high school often went no further because the cost of higher education was a barrier to the Métis people. Things have a come long way since then, thanks in no small part to the Rupertsland Institute Métis Centre of Excellence. To learn more about the importance of education, host David Wylynko speaks in this episode with the founder of the Rupertsland Institute.

Lorne Gladu understands the value of an education as much as anyone, having been raised in a “one-room shack” at the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement, and delaying his post-secondary education until he was 36 years old due to the lack of suitable funding. Today, Lorne is an Indspire laureate and the recipient of three honorary doctorates while he continues to serve the Métis Nation through the Rupertsland Institute and the Métis Education Foundation. These publicly funded entities provide millions of dollars in financial support to Métis students and help make it easier for Métis students to get through their post-secondary education, with many going as far as professional studies and PhD programs. Lorne notes that, due to colonial policies suppressing the Métis Nation, Métis citizens are one to two generations behind mainstream populations. But now, Métis citizens have the opportunity to pursue excellence in their education and career choices and can proudly give back to the community.


Forging Regenerative Tourism

Canada prides itself on its tourism destinations. We’re known the world over for such landmarks as the CN Tower, Green Gables Heritage Place, and Whistler, BC. But one of the country’s most prized tourism destination may now be Métis Crossing, located on the shores of the North Saskatchewan River a short drive northeast of Edmonton, Alberta within the historic Victoria Settlement. Condé Nast Traveler magazine named this unique cultural site one of the top 22 tourist attractions in the world.

In a 2021 article, the magazine heralded the location’s 40-room guest lodge, Indigenous-led stargazing program, and cross-country ski trails. Visitors can paddle a voyageur canoe up the river to Victoria Settlement and visit a wildlife park that is home to a new free-roaming herd of bison, as well as elk and Percheron horses.

On a breezy afternoon overlooking the river, host David Wylynko spoke with Juanita Marois, the CEO of Métis Crossing, about why the project is a source of so much pride for the Métis, and how it is coming to represent not only a place of reconciliation and sustainability, but what she calls the phenomenon of regenerative tourism.


⁠Metis Crossing⁠

⁠A 5-Day Road Trip Through Indigenous Alberta⁠, Conde Nast Traveler, Dec. 3, 2021

The True Canadians website

Intro and outro music by Métis musician Alex Kusturok

Opening quote from an address by Métis leader Jim Sinclair during the 1987 Canadian constitutional talks.

The Project of All Projects

Long before “economic development” became a popular catchphrase, the Métis had mastered the entrepreneurial spirit. Hundreds of years ago, the Métis were instrumental in establishing the fur trade and opening up vital transportation corridors across North America’s lands and waters. They nurtured what later became known the world over as Canada’s vibrant natural resource economy.

In this episode, host David Wylynko talks with Métis elder Paul Bercier about the connection between the Métis’ approach to prosperity and their strong belief in an inherent right to self-determination, self-government, and independence. Today, that resolve is driving the Métis to seek an ownership stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which Bercier describes as “the project of all projects.” 

The pipeline’s expansion line came online in early May. With the advent of a “green hydrogen” economy on the horizon, Bercier foresees the pipeline eventually becoming a key component of an environmentally sustainable energy strategy for the future, for both the Métis and Canada as a whole.


The Heartbeat of the Métis

Rarely does a Métis gathering occur that doesn’t involve fiddle music. From kitchen parties to large community gatherings to huge events like Métis Fest in Alberta or Back to Batoche Days in Saskatchewan, fiddling is never far from the festivities. Many fiddlers learn at a very young age, like the students at Prince Charles School in Edmonton, who are featured in the book The True Canadians

In this episode, host David Wylynko talks with two highly sought-after Métis fiddlers in Alberta. Alex Kusturok not only plays regularly at venues throughout Alberta and elsewhere but has just come off co-composing the first-ever Metis opera, Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North. And he just released his album Wedged in Tradition. Growing up listening to family members play the fiddle, Brianna Lizotte took up the instrument at a very young age and has cultivated a unique approach to her music that fuses jazz, bluegrass, country, and Métis traditions. Alex and Brianna are such highly regarded musicians that they were chosen to join Canada’s Métis delegation to the Vatican in 2022 and perform before Pope Francis, a remarkable experience they each describe in this episode.

Mentioned in this episode

Band of Métis Brothers

“If somebody that’s been trained four times how to use an AK-47 is a couple of hundred yards from you, and they are trying to shoot you, you get shot.” Not exactly what a young NATO peacekeeper wants to hear. But like countless Métis who have found themselves in the middle of wars over the centuries, retired Sgt. Chuck Isaacs has learned a few things as a member of the Canadian Forces.

Métis fought in the American Revolutionary War and the US Civil War. They did their duty in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and in every major war in between. By all accounts, Métis and other Indigenous Canadians are over-represented in Canada’s roll call of veterans. There’s even a separate Remembrance Day for them: November 8. But their record of service is rarely acknowledged by the broader public. As president of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta and the Métis Veterans Council of Alberta, Isaacs would like to change that. In this episode of The True Canadians, he explains what it would take to make that happen, and shares some of his experiences as one of those NATO peacekeepers who helped rebuild what used to be Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Mentioned in this episode