Métis Nation of Ontario members are voting to determine who the organization should recognize as a Métis citizen.
Some 28,000 members across the province are able to cast their "yes" or "no" vote in a plebiscite, as to whether or not the Métis Nation should continue to represent around 5,400 people with incomplete documentation about their ancestry.
In 2003, a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision determined Métis people have rights under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which pertains to Indigenous treaty rights.
Métis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh said that decision meant Métis people were recognized in the same way as First Nations and Inuit people.
The plebiscite itself will not result in anyone losing citizenship. - Métis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh
In 1993, Ontario conservation officers charged Steve and Roddy Powley, both members of the Sault Ste. Marie Métis community, for harvesting a bull moose outside of the city.
The Supreme Court determined the Powleys could exercise a Métis, and Indigenous, right to hunt.
In 2019, that recognition from the Supreme Court of Canada led to the country's first Métis self-government agreement.
With that recognition, Froh said it's time for the Métis Nation of Ontario to take the next step.
"One of the very first things that any Indigenous people do when they are pushing for that recognition of their inherent rights is they determine who it is that they represent," Froh said.
The issue is whether or not the 5,400 people who have yet to prove their ancestral connection to one of Ontario's traditional Métis communities, such as Killarney or Mattawa, should have the same rights set out in the Constitution for Indigenous people.
"Incomplete files are still missing critical documentation, so it does not allow us to verify these individuals as Metis rights holders," Froh said.
Froh added that the vote will not be binding, but will instead inform how the Métis Nation of Ontario should move forward on the issue.
"So the plebiscite itself will not result in anyone losing citizenship," she said.
"What it will do is give us an indication of whether or not we need to move ahead with an assembly where we can actually bring that decision back through our Métis governance structure, bringing the decision back to our citizens and assembly and make the determination at that time."
Voting deadline pushed back
The voting deadline for members was originally Jan. 22, but that has been pushed back to Feb. 28.
Paul Devillers, the Métis Nation of Ontario's chief electoral officer, said OneFeather— the company facilitating the vote through online, phone and paper ballots— had an administrative issue and failed to deliver voting information to 10,000 people.
"I made the decision to extend the voting and to instruct OneFeather to send that mailing to the people that were missed in the first mailing," Devillers said.