© Submitted photo.
Senator John Boucher CM presents Nelson Mandela with a Metis sash on Sept. 24, 1998.
In the wake of the death of Nelson Mandela, one St. Louis family is remembering their connection with the iconic South African president.
Dori Halcro recalls the time her father, the late Senator John Boucher, met Nelson Mandela in Ottawa on Sept. 24, 1998.
“Dad was chosen to represent the Métis of Canada,” Halcro said. He was a senator, and they picked a Métis, an Inuit person, and a First Nations person to meet (Mandela).”
Originally Boucher was told not to touch Mandela upon meeting him, but quickly vetoed that idea, instead presenting the African leader with a red Métis sash.
Mandela wore the sash later that day while addressing Parliament.
“In Métis culture when you present someone with the sash, you tie it around them,” Halcro said. “Then you give them a Métis name.”
Boucher chose the name “diamant,” which is French for the word “diamond.” Halcro said that her father chose the name because he saw Mandela as “an African diamond who reflected a shining light on his people.”
For Boucher, meeting Mandela was the chance of a lifetime.
“Dad got to meet one of his idols,” Halcro said. “Dad said that when he met him it was amazing because he held such a warm presence, and you felt so connected to him right away. Mandela just had this aura about him. He was just so powerful and such a powerful speaker. He was really impressed with (Mandela). He did so much for his people and for the world, he was just such an inspiration.”
A documentary about Boucher’s meeting with Mandela, entitled “Mandela’s Sash,” was later filmed by Prince Albert resident Bob Rock. The film explains the meeting and the importance of the sash in Métis culture.
Halcro says the sash is a traditional symbol of Métis culture that was ceremonial as well as functional. Many Métis families would have their own colour so they could be recognized from afar. According to Halcro, they would also often use the sash to transport items.
A Métis leader, Boucher became a member of the senate of the Métis Nation in 1991. He also was a member of the Métis National Council. Boucher was also a Métis historian and would often speak about the history of the Métis people. He received the Order of Canada in 2002 in recognition of his political work. Boucher passed away in 2010.
Halcro says she remembers her father as someone who cared deeply about Métis culture, saying he “always taught people to be proud of their heritage.”
“I’m sure when he met Mandela, he must have thought, ‘besides my kids, this is the high point of my life,’” Halcro said.