After more than a year of planning, the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) is taking the next step in revitalizing the Red River culture and way of life.
First, it was about music and getting over 3,500 children to play the violin and promote square dancing. Then it was about providing economic support to artisans in the form of grants and buying the high quality products to sell in the MMF store locally, nationally and internationally. Now it’s about the trappers.
“I have a passion for history and culture and just for our nation in general. It’s part of the evolution of our nation and we kind of got squeezed out of the market a long, long time ago,” said MMF President David Chartrand.
In the spring, the new Red River Métis Fur Company will buy muskrat and beaver pelts from Métis trappers and pay them above market price. As the year goes on, the furs of other animals in season will be purchased.
The Red River Métis Fur Company agreed to pay $1 million for the purchase of these furs.
The fur industry for Métis trappers has taken a hit over the years, Chartrand says. Animal rights advocates and environmental activists have campaigned against trapping. Fur farms proliferated. Farmers and ranchers killed coyotes and other predators to keep their properties clear.
“It impacted the way we trap and do things,” Chartrand said. “We want to give (trappers) not only the opportunity to practice something they love to do, their traditions, but at least give them a chance to earn some money. We will buy from them and then we will worry about selling them.
Local Métis artisans will be given priority for furs to create beaver mitts or muskrat hats and other products.
Working with artisans and trappers, emphasizes Chartrand, means creating micro-enterprises. He believes local economies will benefit more from small businesses than from any large corporation.
MMF is also exploring overseas markets for fur sales, with opportunities existing in countries such as Turkey, Russia and China.
To ensure environmental and species protection, a quota-based system will be implemented which will limit the number of animals of each species that Métis trappers can take. Chartrand says those numbers will be easy to track, noting that trappers will know when their lines are emptying in specific fields.
“We always want to make sure the trapper has something to trap and at the same time provide balance in the environment,” Chartrand said.
While MMF’s goal is to give Métis trappers the opportunity to renew their culture and win economically, if there aren’t enough furs, Chartrand says he will talk to local Aboriginal trappers. , set quotas and buy their furs.
Subsidies will also be put in place through the MMF to enable trappers to purchase traps.
Chartrand says the MMF is also looking to “reclaim traditional skin.” He says many artisans would rather work with moose, elk or deer hide than cowhide. However, the current price of these traditional skins is low.
The MMF is also considering the pearl market. Beads are becoming rare, Chartrand says, and are an important part of Métis culture. The Métis are known as the Flower Beadwork People. The MMF will consider either buying a “massive quantity of pearls” or developing a business that will make its own pearls.
“I’ve been talking about traditional economies for at least 20 years and looking for how to do it. I am so proud as a Métis government that we now have the economic resources to do our part. To make sure that we give hope to our trappers, hope for our culture and our way of life, that we don’t give it up. It’s part of who we are and it will continue for centuries,” Chartrand said.
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