The True Canadians is an attempt to fill that gap. The book chronicles the efforts to convince the rest of Canada to recognize Métis as equal partners in Confederation. It’s a collaboration between two former journalists with disparate perspectives: Ottawa novelist and editor David Wylynko brings an objective eye to Patricia Russell’s personal understanding of the Métis experience.
In its print format, this is a coffee-table book that turns lengthy and dry historical records into short and accessible tales and images of centuries of marginalization. The constitutional negotiating table sometimes had room for Canada’s First Nations and Inuit, but not always those who are arguably the most authentically Canadian representatives. After all, the first Métis were not migrants from elsewhere, but were forged exclusively and uniquely in the forests and prairies of British North America.
Wylynko and Russell manage to make that case without diminishing the historical contributions of colonial and Indigenous founders. They apply a laser-like focus to the unflagging demand of generations Métis leaders for Ottawa and the provinces to pay more than lip service to their rights, as granted by the Canadian Constitution.
A full reading of The True Canadians should go a long way toward mitigating the oversights of previous historians. While few students need to be reminded of the contributions of Louis Riel (and maybe Gabriel Dumont), the names Harry Daniels, Jim Sinclair, and Steven Powley mean nothing to most non-Métis, and even many Métis themselves.
Métis women also receive more than a passing mention. There’s Bertha Clark-Jones, a Cree-Métis advocate for Indigenous women and children and who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, and Laura McLaughlin, who is largely responsible for the sensibility that defines today’s Métis fashion, among many others, including the current leader of Alberta’s Métis.
Meanwhile, more familiar players – John A. Macdonald, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, and even Pope Francis – receive unflinchingly honest but respectful reappraisals. Setbacks like the collapse of the Meech Lake negotiations in 1987 are not cause for complaint but seen as motivation to inspire future gain.
At the very least, this book is an important first step toward undoing the collective ignorance of a core element of Canadian history. Based on its ambitious subtitle, The True Canadians aspires to be only the first addition to a new genre of literature, one that ensures the Métis are “forgotten nevermore.”
James Hrynyshyn is a graduate of the journalism program at Carleton University; he works as a professional writer and editor.
Featured in the May 2023 OSCAR.
See the online events calendar for an associated event happeing May 12, 2023 at Black Squirrel Books.