The Métis Nation of Ontario has voted to boot 5,400 members whose files lack hard evidence of a Métis connection.
The MNO announced the results of a province-wide plebiscite in a news release on Wednesday, saying a clear majority voted to remove members with incomplete files, meaning they lack a documented link to a Métis ancestor, from the registry.
The vote saw 8,270 people out of an eligible electorate of 27,805 cast ballots. Of those, 71 per cent, or 5,898, voted in favour of removal, which the release called a significant turnout that more than doubled historic turnout for MNO elections.
"The results are clear that MNO citizens want to ensure that the MNO can verify that all of its citizens are Métis rights-holders," MNO President Froh said in the release.
"We will move forward on this basis."
The release emphasized that no one loses membership immediately because of the vote. Instead, Froh is mandated to call a special assembly to decide what comes next.
The release promised that an assembly to amend bylaws and registry policy will be called but didn't indicate when.
"Although the results of the plebiscite are clear, the MNO wants to acknowledge how sensitive of an issue this is for many," added the MNO's chair Hank Rowlinson in the release.
Any voter with grounds to believe there was a material violation or irregularity with the vote has until March 10 to file an objection for review by the MNO's chief executive officer.
Concerns date back years
The vote came following years of factionalism and turmoil at the Métis National Council (MNC), fuelled largely but not solely by concerns about Ontario's registry.
These concerns prompted the withdrawal of one of the council's founding members, the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) in 2021.
In 2002, nearly two decades earlier, the national council adopted a definition governing Métis citizenship. In 2004, the council's five provincial members were directed to re-register their members under the new the definition, but Ontario refused.
The issue simmered for years but boiled over when Clément Chartier, then president of the MNC, delivered a 2018 report recommending the MNO be placed on probation pending an independent probe of its registry.
MNO never submitted to the probe, however, sparking an attempt to suspend Ontario from the council but the suspension bid failed. At a court-ordered MNC assembly in 2021, held shortly after the MMF had withdrawn, Ontario was present as a full member and a new MNC administration was elected.
The MNO release said Ontario has been working on "legacy issues" with its registry.
The Métis are a distinct Indigenous group with rights entrenched in Canada's Constitution, but who can claim those rights is an ongoing battle.
As a nation, the Métis emerged through the fusion of First Nations and European cultures in the west of what is now Canada, but eastern groups from Quebec and the Atlantic continue to lay so-far unsuccessful claims to Métis rights.
The MMF accuses Ontario of "opening the floodgates" to easterners who may have Indigenous ancestry but aren't Métis, while Froh maintains the communities the MNO accepts, but which Manitoba rejects, are legitimate.