It might have come to a shock for some when Métis Nation of Ontario president Gary Lipinski announced his decision to retire earlier this month.
The Fort Frances resident opted not to seek re-election in the 2016 MNO elections this May during the final meeting of the Provisional Council of the MNO (PCMNO) before the elections.
“I always planned to work hard and be able to retire when I still had my health,” Lipinski explained.
“So that lined up with the fact that I’m really proud of the accomplishments we’ve been able to achieve.”
Lipinski said his two decades of holding political office within the MNO have been marked with plenty of commitments and sacrifices.
“You are travelling a lot,” he stressed, citing his last stretch was 11-straight days on the road.
“Fort Frances has always been in my blood,” he added. “I want to be able to spend more time at home with my family, especially outdoors and the lake.”
And retirement is something Lipinski has been musing for quite a while.
“Once you declare you’re not running again, you become a lame duck president and it becomes harder to get things done,” he reasoned.
“So even though I made my mind up quite a while ago that I wouldn’t be running, I wanted to continue to work hard and continue to be able to deliver results for the Métis people.”
Lipinski said very few knew he wouldn’t be running again. So when he did make the announcement March 5, there were a lot of shocked people.
“I know there was strong support and encouragement for me in the next election, and I know there is a fair bit of disappointment,” he admitted.
“But I’m convinced MNO will be strong going forward.”
Lipinski has been a part of the MNO since its beginning in 1993.
“Prior to 1993, there wasn’t a Métis-specific voice in Ontario,” he noted, adding he wanted the government to recognize the rights of the Métis people.
“Being born and raised in this part [of the province], like so many others, hunting and fishing is a big part of who you are and being on the land and connected with it,” he explained.
“And at that time, the government wasn’t recognizing any Métis rights.
“It was certainly defending and advancing our Métis-specific rights that drew me into the MNO,” he remarked.
So when an organizational meeting was held locally, he got involved.
Lipinski and a number of others got together and developed the Sunset Country Métis council, which was affiliated with the MNO.
It wasn’t too long afterwards that Lipinski was asked to run as a regional councillor and he served a couple of terms in that role.
Then in 1998-99, he was asked to run on the executive as chair, which Lipinski explained is kind of like vice-president.
“So since 1999, I’ve been in that full-time capacity on the executive, and then the last eight years—since 2008—as MNO’s president and CEO,” he added.
Lipinski said he’s enjoyed the more than two decades he has spent with the MNO, particularly because of the variety of issues he was able to be part of.
“It was just such an interesting journey because once you start getting involved, you are involved in so many other areas,” he noted, adding there are two tracks: rights-related issues and social-related issues.
“You can be dealing with someone on a rights-related issue and the next phone conversation has something to do with education, while the next one can be dealing with health matters, housing,” Lipinski explained.
“So you really are dealing with a full gambit.”
He also said the organization has made some huge strides over the past two decades.
“When they look forward, people always think they are a longtime coming,” he remarked.
“But when you look at what you’ve done in the previous years, it’s remarkable.”
For instance, Lipinski said they now have recognition of Métis rights through agreements with the province, and made advancements on the MNO-Ontario Framework Agreement that he signed with the government in 2008.
“[It] moves us toward reconciliation, but also commits us to working with them on other issues that are important to Métis—children, families, and communities,” he said, citing the MNO has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
“We were able to create, negotiation, and set up the Métis Voyageur Development Fund, which is a $30-million fund to support Métis businesses and entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses,” Lipinski added.
He noted many of the regions have negotiated the impact and benefit agreements with various mining companies, including locally with New Gold.
Lipinski said it’s hard to name the accomplishment he’s most proud of because there are so many near the top of the list.
“There were lots of significant things,” he stressed.
“To me, the most successful thing is when people stop you in the street, you may not know them but they recognize you, and they show their appreciation for some way they got help, whether it was through one of the health programs or their son or daughter got a scholarship or bursary and are now going on to post-secondary [education].
“That is some of the most rewarding things I look fondly upon,” he remarked.
“To me, that’s what it has always been about—helping people in communities and seeing those successes.”
Lipinski said there is some amazing young talent up and coming, working toward high-calibre professions.
“From my perspective, the future is bright,” he enthused. “I see lots of potential and lots of opportunity out there for young people.”
Lipinski admitted being in his leadership position and being from the north presented some challenges, but he’s happy he was able to share his northern perspective.
“I think it can’t be understated,” he noted. “That’s certainly true for Métis and I know it’s equally true in mainstream.
“Things are a lot more challenging,” he added, citing the difficulties it takes for him to attend a one-day meeting in Toronto or even on health matters.
“So there’s lots of unique perspectives that people from this area bring to discussions to the larger table,” Lipinski said, noting he received plenty of support over the years from the Rainy River District School Board, where he remained employed during his time with the MNO.
“And I like to think they recognized the value of having somebody in that significant leadership role pushing education as an important priority,” he reasoned.
Lipinski added he appreciates being able to work with a great group of people, as well as for the many opportunities he’s had working with the MNO, such as face-to-face meetings with the last few premiers, meeting numerous ministers and prime ministers, and travelling to places as far away as Johannesburg, South Africa and Iqaluit, Nunavut.
“You get to see and experience lots of different places and people,” he remarked. “What you find is that each place has its own unique gems and jewels, including our area.
“I love it here—it’s my roots.”
May 2 is the official election day but with many of the votes coming through mail-in ballots, Lipinski expects a new MNO president will be declared by mid-May.
“Until then, I will continue to work and look forward to handing the baton over to the next leader,” he said.