|Hey--you know where you can put it?|
Someone is demanding that Louis Riel’s walking stick, now in the Manitoba Museum, be “repatriated” to “the Métis.”
This is odd. Riel is commonly considered the founder of Manitoba. What spot could therefore be more apt for his walking stick than the Manitoba Museum? Why should it be in private hands?
And why should any government entity be handing public property over to some private entity, without compensation?
In any legal sense, the Manitoba Museum is the rightful owner. According to the National Post story, Riel gave the walking stick to a driver named Will Banbury on his way to prison. Banbury’s family donated it to the Winnipeg Rifles. The Winnipeg Rifles donated it to the Manitoba Museum. Each in turn was the legal owner; nobody stole it from anyone. Did Riel not have the right to give his stick to Banbury? Did Banbury not have the right to give his stick to the Rifles? Did the Rifles not have the right to give the stick to the Museum? By what right does a third party now step in and claim ownership?
Is it on the grounds that the members of the designated Métis organization share some ethnic heritage with Riel? So what? Must all memorials to Sir John A. Macdonald belong exclusively to some Scottish-Canadian Society, and all memorials to Sir Guy Carleton belong to some Order of Irish-Canadians? What about the fact that Riel, as Métis, was half French? How can you ignore the ancestral rights, then, of French-Manitobans, to anything he once owned?
And it is not as though any Métis organization can claim to represent all those of Riel’s ethnicity. Any such group is a self-selected private organization, democratically elected by nobody; and even who is and who is not Métis is open to debate. Why should this particular group of self-declared Métis get the artifact, and not this other one?
There is only one fair and honourable solution: Riel’s walking stick should be in the Manitoba Museum, open to and owned by all Manitobans.