The beginning of September 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference on Prince Edward Island. Three years before confederation, delegates met to discuss the groundwork for what Canada should be. Now, three years before the 150th celebration of confederation, 100 delegates from across Canada met to discuss and think critically about Canada’s future.
Between August 31st and September 3rd delegates attended a series of Horizon Talks, working groups, peer talks, and community presentations.
Of the 100 delegates that traveled to PEI for the weekend was Métis and Franco-Manitoban, Justin Johnson.
Justin is a candidate in the Indigenous Governance Master of Arts program at The University of Winnipeg, the President at the Conseil jeunesse provincial (CJP), which is an organization that represents the French-speaking youth of Manitoba, and he is an administrator and Manitoba representative at the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française (FJCF), a national organization representing French-speaking youth across the country.
Justin is active in the Manitoban and Canada wide communities, but it is something closer to home that fuels his interest in history. Justin is the great-grandson of André Beauchemin, who was a member and minister of Louis Riel’s Red River provisional government.
"My application proposal to the New Canada Conference was based on my ongoing curiosity of my people and their history, the Red River Métis. Everyday, I learn more about the Métis, about my people, and at the same time, I discover what it is to be Métis, what values we stand for, what dreams we fought for," explains Justin.
"I submitted my application to the New Canada Conference, to ensure that, in 2014, the Métis were part of the dialogue, were part of history. I wanted to be the Métis delegate to share our story, to tell my great-grandfather’s story, to tell Louis Riel’s story. I wanted to make them proud."
At the conference Justin had the opportunity to deliver a Peer Talk presentation, where he discussed the Métis, and the perspective they brought forward during the beginnings of Confederation, and what they can teach us today as Canadians.
He prefaced his presentation with a brief history of Confederation from the perspective of the Métis : "Confederation for the Métis was not a peaceful process. In fact, the Métis resisted against John A. MacDonald’s — the Canadian government’s — approach to Confederation. They did not however resist to the idea of Confederation itself, as it is often thought."
"For John A. MacDonald, the Métis were a people other than what he had envisioned for Canada. They were in the way, not adhering to British ideals in the social, political, and cultural sense."
"The Canadian government’s approach at the time did not attempt to understand the Métis to build a relationship with them. The relationship was confrontational, designed to suppress and assimilate."
Justin closed his presentation with suggestions to alter past relationships with the Métis and a challenge to fellow delegates.
"To build lasting relationships based on respect, humility, and honesty, we must try to understand the other — each other — the way we each want to be understood. A daunting task in the name of our well-being, individually and collectively.
I challenged my fellow delegates to understand the other with respect, humility, and honesty. We are all better for it. That was Louis Riel’s dream. My people’s dream. My dream."
The conference was a great success and has encouraged reflecting on our Canadian past.
Justin wanted to reach out to those unable to attend the New Canada Conference. He said, "Those young Canadians who were not able to attend the New Canada Conference are as much a part of our vision for Canada’s future. We only began the conversation in Charlottetown for a vision of Canada’s future. Now it is up to youth from across the country to keep the conversation alive."