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Bre­anne Lavallee-Heck­ert, Chan­tale Garand, and Kian­na Durston are Métis peo­ple based in Win­nipeg. They are also mem­bers of Red Riv­er Echoes, a col­lec­tive of Métis peo­ple that is focused on grass­roots orga­niz­ing, land back, and the active recla­ma­tion of Métis sov­er­eign­ty in Win­nipeg. Scott Neigh inter­views them about their work.

The group got its start in the spring of 2021. The cat­a­lyst was David Char­trand, pres­i­dent of the Man­i­to­ba Métis Fed­er­a­tion – which is the Métis gov­ern­ment in Man­i­to­ba – plac­ing a full-page ad in the Win­nipeg Free Press in sup­port of the Win­nipeg Police Ser­vice. This was around the one-year anniver­sary of the Win­nipeg police shoot­ing and killing 16 year-old Anishi­naabe girl Eisha Hud­son. Lavallee-Heck­ert said many Métis peo­ple felt pure shock and anger” at the ad. The group came togeth­er to issue an open let­ter giv­ing voice to this anger and to broad­er objec­tions to the very pres­ence of colo­nial police on Métis lands.

This hap­pened in the con­text of longer-stand­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tions with the MMF and its cur­rent lead­er­ship. The MMF is, accord­ing to Garand, repli­cat­ing colo­nial gov­ern­ments,” there­by man­i­fest­ing an approach to gov­er­nance very dif­fer­ent than tra­di­tion­al Métis ways of doing things, and also doing harm to their First Nations rel­a­tives and to their rela­tions with them. Lavallee-Heck­ert added that the MMF is struc­tural­ly set up as a cor­po­ra­tion, and that’s not democ­ra­cy. … It takes Métis peo­ple out of our gov­ern­ment sys­tem, out of the way that we we own our­selves and the way that we decide for our­selves.” The lev­el of sup­port the open let­ter received made it an easy choice to make Red Riv­er Echoes into an ongo­ing group.

The collective’s actions have includ­ed, for instance, par­tic­i­pat­ing as a con­tin­gent in the July 1st walk in Win­nipeg in the wake of the dis­cov­ery of unmarked graves at res­i­den­tial school sites. When a First Nations man was vio­lent­ly arrest­ed dur­ing the walk, mem­bers of Red Riv­er Echoes and oth­er peo­ple suc­cess­ful­ly took action to de-arrest him. They sub­se­quent­ly arrived at the Man­i­to­ba leg­is­la­ture just as peo­ple were top­pling stat­ues of Queen Vic­to­ria and Queen Eliz­a­beth II. Garand described the leg­is­la­ture grounds in that moment as a euphor­ic space” to be in. Lavallee-Heck­ert elab­o­rat­ed, It was a moment of feel­ing, like, this is our land and we’re sov­er­eign here and we can pull down stat­ues of colo­nial fig­ure­heads. And that’s our right to do that.” The col­lec­tive knew imme­di­ate­ly that they want­ed to sup­port their rel­a­tives who had tak­en that action, and so they start­ed a fund to put towards bail and legal expens­es. (The Crown has not yet made a deci­sion about whether to lay charges.)

Next, they set their sights on the Win­nipeg neigh­bour­hood of Wol­s­ley. It is named after colo­nial mil­i­tary offi­cial Sir Gar­net Wol­s­ley, who led British troops that came to the Red Riv­er ter­ri­to­ry in 1870 to put down the Métis rebel­lion – a vio­lent colo­nial fig­ure who came to came to our lands with the intent to erad­i­cate us,” in Garand’s words. Ini­tial­ly, they blan­ket­ed the neigh­bour­hood with posters, call­ing for it to be renamed. Then they orga­nized a gath­er­ing that brought Métis peo­ple togeth­er in tra­di­tion­al ways to dis­cuss the issue.

An ongo­ing goal is to obtain what they describe as a land back bus,” for Métis and First Nations peo­ple in Win­nipeg to use in recon­nect­ing with their ter­ri­to­ries beyond the city. Their fundrais­ing for the bus will include sale of a t‑shirt cel­e­brat­ing all of the colo­nial stat­ues top­pled across Tur­tle Island in the last cou­ple of years. Even with­out hav­ing a bus yet, this past sum­mer they orga­nized a trip by Métis peo­ple to Batoche, the site of the mil­i­tary defeat of Métis and allied peo­ples by colo­nial forces in 1885, and have plans to do so again next year.

Oth­er plans include set­ting up a Patre­on to make it eas­i­er for peo­ple to finan­cial­ly sup­port the collective’s work. And in the new year, they will be host­ing a teach-in on police and prison abo­li­tion specif­i­cal­ly focused on its rel­e­vance to Métis peo­ple in the Red Riv­er territory.

The col­lec­tive sees their actions as part of enact­ing a vision of gov­er­nance and sov­er­eign­ty that they say is much more in line with tra­di­tion­al Métis prac­tices. In the spir­it of the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the Métis as the peo­ple who own them­selves,” it is a sort of decen­tral­ized, embod­ied sov­er­eign­ty that res­olute­ly rejects colo­nial ways of doing things and that is ground­ed in being in good rela­tion with each oth­er, with the land, with their First Nations kin, and with Black and racial­ized relatives.

Lavallee-Heck­ert said, Our ances­tors were the last peo­ple to lead an armed resis­tance against the Cana­di­an state. What a pow­er­ful lega­cy for us to live up to.”