The Metis, the Museum and the Mennonite

Today’s guest blog is written by Steve Plenert, peace program coordinator for MCC Manitoba.

The new Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) opened to considerable fanfare a few weeks ago in Winnipeg where I live. Dignitaries came, speeches were given, and ribbons were cut. For us local residents, our cityscape is forever altered by the imposing structure located at The Forks. Towering over the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, it shines as a hoped-for beacon of hope.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Photo credit

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Photo credit

I recently had the opportunity to view the CMHR exhibits (at least the few that are open already) as part of an MCC Indigenous Neighbours learning tour. The architecture of the museum is stunning – particularly if you are fond of alabaster, as I am. The exhibits are comprehensive, interactive and full of impact. I was glad to see that such a beautiful and thoughtful investment has been made to challenge people to learn and think about human rights in our world today.

But I said that this was part of a learning tour, so we made other stops on our one-day excursion. And here’s the thing: I actually found the visit to the Manitoba Metis Federation – the Louis Riel Institute in particular – much more interesting.

MMF flag

The flag of the Manitoba Metis Federation.

I learned many things about Metis people, including how they are “defined,” what their governance apparatus is, and how their community is served by the structures organized for the purpose. I learned about amazing Metis happenings from cultural events to educational opportunities. Most interesting of all, I heard Canadian history from the perspective of a thoughtful Metis person. I heard a community voice – full of pride and power – articulating challenge and vision and hope for the Metis people, for my own community, and for all of us who call Canada/Turtle Island our home.

And I have to say that I was moved more by the passionate voice and stories of our Metis host than the glowing architecture and sophisticated exhibits of the CMHR. The experience pointed out to me (once again) that relationship and listening truly matter. It reminded me that knowing people, and caring about what they care about, matter. A lot.This is the path to mutual transformation. I am convinced that movement towards goodness, tolerance and love happen when we engage people and care about them in their own space. I was invited into someone’s space and was hosted admirably. I left feeling inspired and transformed.

I hope many people have rich experiences at the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I suspect they will be more profoundly transformed if they visit Shirley at the Louis Riel Institute.

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