Cassidy Caron knew there would be pivotal moments in her elected role as provincial youth chairperson for Métis Nation British Columbia (MétisBC).
She just didn’t imagine such an occasion would come so soon.
Yes, the young lady from Rossland met the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on April 13. More so, Caron was witness to Canadian history earlier that day when the Canada-Métis Nation Accord was signed during the first Métis Nation-Crown Summit in Ottawa.
“Last December the Prime Minister made a promise that federal ministries and the Métis Nation would work together to find solutions for the different challenges the Métis Nation faces,” Caron began in a phone call with the Trail Times. “Those unique social, cultural, economic and environmental issues that are faced by the Métis people in Canada.”
The accord outlines different ways the Government of Canada, the Métis National Council and its governing members will work together to set priorities and develop policy in areas of shared interests.
“This is absolutely historic,” said Caron. “When we talk about reconciliation, it’s kind of difficult because we’ve never really had that relationship with the government,” she explained. “So to reconcile really doesn’t make sense, because we are building this relationship with the government right now, and moving forward together. So it’s a huge step.”
This was Caron’s second trip to Ottawa in her MétisBC position. The accord was initially slated for signing in January, but was postponed due to the Jan. 29 mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre mosque in Quebec city.
“So at that time we moved forward in discussion, the Prime Minister wasn’t able to make it,” she said. “But the Minister of Indigenous and North Affairs (Carolyn Bennett) chaired the meeting and a few other key cabinet ministers were there, and we talked about the importance of the accord.”
Caron was invited to the table for her unique insight as provincial youth chair.
“We talked about the importance of Métis youth involvement and engagement in decisions that are being made,” she shared. “Because really, all these decisions are going to affect our youth in the future.”
She says now is an opportune time for Métis youth to involve themselves in the political process.
“(The accord) is definitely going to make some difference right now, but the biggest changes are going to happen in the future with our youth,” Caron added. “So it was really exciting to be there and to be able to provide my perspective.”
Upon her return trip to Ottawa last month, Caron recalled Trudeau talking about “trust” prior to signing the accord.
“I think the words he used was that the relationship will be based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership,” she said. “It was really great to be there and a good opportunity to be a Métis youth attending these meetings.”
For the first time in the country’s history, the Prime Minister is serving as minister of youth.
In opening remarks, Caron said he talked about a key element, the voice of the younger Métis generation.
“Actually, he doesn’t say they are our future, he says they are the leaders of now,” she noted. “Which is absolutely true, I think it’s important to bring our youth along to these events and have us learn along side the leaders of right now.”
After the three-hour summit, Caron had her own moment with the Prime Minister.
They shook hands, he thanked her for her leadership and spoke of the importance of being involved.
After that, the first thing she did was call her mom in Rossland.
“When I was first invited to the summit, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “When I was elected I knew these opportunities would come up and that it was going to be really important to take every opportunity that I could.”
But what about her mom, the affable Anna Caron?
“She said, kind of as a joke, ‘So when are your going to meet the Prime Minister?’” Caron giggled. “I just laughed along with her – so I called her right away and said it was happening sooner than I thought, I was going to meet the Prime Minister.
”She couldn’t believe it.”
Since graduating from Rossland Secondary School in 2010, it’s been full speed ahead for Caron.
Right after high school the teenager moved to Nanaimo to study at Vancouver Island University for four years – she achieved a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Indigenous studies.
Aside from her work with the MétisBC youth portfolio, Caron also holds down a “day job.”
She works and travels for an all indigenous research and evaluation firm based in Vancouver – though she still comes back to her hometown every chance she gets.
“At Reciprocal Consulting we do program evaluations primarily in Indigenous communities,” Caron continued. “With a social justice lens … so evaluating programs like health, crime prevention, women’s safety and HIV/AIDS. It’s mostly in British Columbia, but national programs as well.”
Throughout her experiences, Caron is getting a first hand account of this critical time in Métis history.
“There’s just been so much movement towards the recognition of rights with Métis people in Canada,” she said. “Actually being in the room with the Prime Minister was really, really cool. But it was even more important for me to be there in my (provincial) position, and I was surrounded by some very amazing Métis leaders.”
With the accord signed and history made, collaboration with the government is ongoing.
“We talked about first year priorities, mostly around employment and training, education, early learning in childcare, housing and health,” Caron clarified. “And this new physical relation with the government.”
Outlined as a permanent bilateral process, the accord established an annual meeting between Métis Nation leaders and the Prime Minister; and semi-annual meetings with the Ministry of Indigenous and North Affairs as well as key ministers.
“So when we do go to meet, (as an example) for the health of Métis people, the Minister of Health will be there,” said Caron.
The Métis Nation is represented by the Métis National Council and its Governing Members: the Métis Nation of Ontario, Manitoba Metis Federation, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis Nation British Columbia.