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Veterans

Métis monument makes headway Add to ...

A new memorial that pays tribute to generations of Métis soldiers who fought for this country is being planned on the site where Métis rebels once fell to Canadian forces.

A year ago this month, a garden was unveiled in Batoche, Sask., as a tribute to Métis veterans, an often-forgotten group that has fought for Canada in several wars. It was the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Batoche, the last confrontation of the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 that would see Louis Riel surrender.

On Saturday, Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost announced a $50,000 commitment toward a memorial that will pay tribute to at least 3,600 Métis veterans by name. The funding from Veterans Affairs will help erect eight granite slabs engraved with the names of Métis who served in the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and the Boer War.

"Batoche was a place where tragedy happened, but it now represents the unity of a nation, and what can happen when you give peace a chance," said Robert Doucette, president of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.

The monument was originally planned by the organizing committee for the Battle of Batoche's 125th anniversary, and fundraising is being handled by the Gabriel Dumont Institute for Native Studies - a Saskatchewan group named after the man who led the Métis forces in 1885.

The monument's final design will be determined by surviving Métis veterans. But despite the federal contribution, at least $150,000 is still needed in order to finalize the project.

Mr. Doucette told The Globe and Mail the next step will be to reach out to veterans' associations across Canada - "to look at how they can help build this monument to a long-forgotten effort by a group of people who deserve respect in all communities."

The funding was announced at the tail end of Back to Batoche Days, an annual Métis celebration that Mr. Doucette estimates brings as many as 40,000 people to the national historic site over the course of a week.

"It's amazing to see veterans from all across the country," said Claire Bélanger-Parker, organizing chair for the event. "The emotion runs so high for them, to be recognized and be honoured."

The Métis community has long struggled for recognition and compensation for its role in Canada's war efforts. "We've been working hard" to change that, said Métis National Council president Clément Chartier. The Batoche monument, he said, is to go "beyond advocacy, to try in our own way, to honour them in our own nation."

Batoche is about 50 kilometres southwest of Prince Albert, Sask. The Northwest Rebellion was a fight for rights led by Louis Riel that culminated in the Battle of Batoche.

Mr. Riel had declared Batoche the home of the "Provisional Government of Saskatchewan," of which he was president and Mr. Dumont was military commander. The village was captured by Major-General Frederick Middleton of the Canadian Militia, and Mr. Riel surrendered. At least 25 people died in the battle.

The only buildings from 1885 that still exist on the site are the church and rectory. Other buildings have been restored, however, and remnants still exist of rifle pits and the militia camp. As a national historic site, Batoche showcases what Metis life was like in the area from 1860 to 1900.

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