McCallum takes positive view of 2020
- NC Raine | December 27, 2020
In a year that might be described as turbulent, Metis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) President Glen McCallum is decidedly focused on the positive.
The last year saw calls for McCallum's resignation after accusations that disregarding COVID-19 protocols led to his eventual contraction of the virus. And, the last year saw major disputes with the Metis National Council over leadership and membership validity leading to the Metis Nations of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario forming their own tri-council.
But for McCallum, in a year marked by a pandemic affecting so many Metis citizens in the province, 2020 was a display of his government's resourcefulness.
“The Metis response (to COVID-19) went very well,” said McCallum. “The numbers (were) not as high (in early 2020) as they are now, but we did very well. We were able to develop good relationships with the First Nations out at Meadow Lake Tribal Council as well as the federal government, who responded very positively towards our working partnerships.”
Those relationships were the biggest successes during COVID, said McCallum, in which, together with the provincial and federal governments, they were able to support people in small communities during a crucial time. The MN-S provided more than $1 million in May to northern communities to address food security, PPE, and other essential materials during the pandemic.
Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, recently praised the efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the north, citing among other efforts, the MN-S' support for healthcare workers and at-risk citizens.
“I don't want to paint it as a good picture but we tried to do the best job we can at delivering and supporting people across Saskatchewan,” McCallum said.
When asked about the more challenging aspects of the pandemic, including lessons learned from his own very public experience contracting the virus, McCallum said, “there wasn't a biggest problem.”
“It might sound as if I'm trying just to sound good... There was nothing in my mind in regards to being a big issue,” said McCallum.
“It's not a lesson but a wakening call, so to speak, in how we can move together as a province.”
Among the most significant non-COVID occurrences of the last year, McCallum cited the Metis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement signed with the Government of Canada that affirm the rights to self government, as well as citing the MOU signed with the University of Saskatchewan to improve education and remove barriers for Metis people (Both were signed in 2019.) McCallum said the partnership with the University will lead to research projects surrounding Metis people, such as diabetes in Metis communities.
“As much as I can, I always try to bring in other players, be it universities, industry, provincial government, or federal government,” he said.
“We'll continue to work with the University... When people talk about Reconciliation, that's what it means. How we can get together, how we can plan together, taking into account being inclusive to Indigenous people, be it First Nations, Metis, or Inuit.”
McCallum also referenced the 461 Metis students funded for post-secondary education last year, as well as the Metis citizenship registry, which is now processing 3,000 citizenship applications and has registered 13,244 members in the last three and a half years.
One of many celebrations that had to be altered this year was the 50th anniversary of Back to Batoche, which was held virtually in July. The event still included dances, education, and music, with participants uploading videos online rather than the usual celebration at the historic Batoche grounds.
“It was disappointing... but we have to balance this with the best interests of the people. I don't get angry. I just do things that are necessary, fair, and good for our citizens,” McCallum said.
Looking to 2021, McCallum has the spring MN-S election on his mind. He said there will be challenges in holding the election during a pandemic, but has learned from the provincial and municipal elections held in Saskatchewan this year.
“We've never walked away from a ballot-box election, which is fair so everyone can participate,” he said.
“I watched the provincial and municipal elections, they went really well. I don't think any COVID cases resulted from the elections here, so we're watching that and reviewing that (system).”
Other priorities for the upcoming year include resuming negotiations with the federal government for self-government, and negotiations with the provincial government on harvesting rights. The MN-S launched a lawsuit against the province this year, claiming they are not doing enough to consult about issues like trapping and fishing.
With the pandemic still very much at hand, McCallum said his top priority for the next year is ensuring everyone in the province is safe and cared for.
“I look forward to the next year, hopefully we can slow down COVID-19. I'm hearing good things about medicines being developed,” he said.
“I just want everyone to know we're in this together and I hope we can work together. And to our Elders, Veterans, and everyone out there, on the behalf of the Metis Nation and their citizens, we hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas.”