Ontario remains the battleground on Métis citizenship

·6 min read

Three Métis researchers have been directed by the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) to undertake a “deep dive” into the communities the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) has extended citizenship to as historic Métis communities.

In a yet-to-be-released report, Will Goodon of the MMF, says work undertaken by researchers Darryl Leroux, Darren O’Toole and Jennifer Adese indicates the connections in the Mattawa/Ottawa River Métis community that the MNO claims as their own are actually ancestral connections to Algonquin and Nipissing First Nations.

“So basically the MNO is claiming the same ancestors that the First Nations are claiming. It’s a bit of a mess. Actually quite a bit of a mess. And it’s a bit of a tangle as well to try and pull all these things apart,” said Goodon.

In 2017, the MNO and Ontario government jointly released a statement saying that after studying historical reports and based on the criteria provided by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Powley decision, historic Métis communities went beyond Rainy River/Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario.

The MNO and Ontario government identified Sault Ste. Marie (where the Powleys resided), Northern Lake Superior, Killarney and Georgian Bay (which comprise the Great Lake Métis), as well as Abitibi Inland and Mattawa/Ottawa River as historic Métis communities.

The Métis National Council (MNC) has accepted the Rainy River/Lake of the Woods Métis community as part of the Métis homeland, but they reject the rest.

As far as the MNC is concerned, the historical Métis homeland includes the entirety of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, and only parts of British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and in northwestern Ontario.

Their homeland map excludes the Powleys’ community, although it was the Powley decision in 2003 that affirmed Métis hunting rights were protected under Sect. 35 of the Constitution. The MNO helped advance the Powley harvesting case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The map is in keeping with the MNC’s definition of Métis: “a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation ancestry and who is accepted by the Métis Nation.”

That definition was adopted in 2002 by the MNC. The MNO and the MMF, along with the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis Nation-British Columbia, are the five Métis governments that comprise the MNC.

In 2018, the MNC put the MNO on probation for accepting into its membership people from the Métis communities that resided outside of northwestern Ontario.

Since then angry words have flown between MNO President Margaret Froh and various MNC representatives, including MNC President Clement Chartier and MMF President David Chartrand, who often serves as spokesperson for the MNC.

Froh, however, does not stand alone. MNO has garnered the support of the presidents of the MNA and MN-S. The three Métis governments entered into a tripartite agreement in 2019.

Goodon says the MMF has spent a lot of money and energy battling MNO. The research paper to be released in the coming weeks is the second such paper commissioned by MMF. He says while housing, his portfolio for MMF, and education are priorities, so is this.

“To me it’s about the integrity of the Métis Nation. If MNO gets to decide who’s a citizen without the input from the rest of the Métis Nation then we have abdicated our rights to decide who we are,” he said.

“Obviously Indigenous people have the right to self-determination, self-identification, and the Métis Nation have done that, but the problem is that the MNO is affiliated with the Métis Nation through the MNC,” said Goodon.

Had MNO presented these additional communities to the MNC for political affiliation, that would have been a different matter, he said.

“Even though we know they’re not part of the Métis Nation, they are a different people, but we will affiliate with them. They never asked us. They never asked the Métis Nation if that would be appropriate.

“To me that would be one of the first things they do. To say, ‘We’re not you… we are our own peoples, but we want to be affiliated with you’,” he said.

Presently, MNO is suspended from MNC. That decision was taken unilaterally by Chartier, says Froh, and should not have been made.

Should MNO remove itself from the MNC and want a political affiliation instead, Goodon says that would be a difficult conversation “because there are some pretty hard feelings on both sides.”

“I think if cooler heads were to settle down and say, ‘Hey, maybe we could have that conversation.’ Maybe. I think it could have been handled a little more properly on MNO’s side to say, ‘Look, we know, we understand nationhood. We understand who you are. This is us. Can we have a conversation?’ I think that could have happened and that still could happen if there’s good will. Good will is kind of hard to find at this point, I think,” said Goodon.

However, a political affiliation is not what Froh is after. In an open letter on Nov. 27 to the Métis Nation leaders and citizens Froh addresses being “cut off” by the MNC.

“It is apparent to the MNO that the current MNC leadership’s next steps will be to suggest that funding to the MNO and the Great Lakes Métis, including the Powley community, be cut off because of the new MNC map.

“Let’s be clear, the MNO and Canada won’t allow for these types of crass political games, which disregard the Crown’s constitutional duties owing to the Powley community and other Ontario Métis communities, to happen.”

In 2019, the MNO and Canada signed a Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement. At the MNO’s annual general meeting in November, the MNO informed membership of steps it was taking to implement that agreement.

“The MNO will continue to represent, defend, and stand up for the Sault Ste. Marie Métis community, the Great Lakes Métis, as well as the other Métis communities it represents within Ontario as it has for the last 28 years,” Froh wrote in the November open letter.

Goodon admits that MNO’s claims aren’t new, but MMF had its attentions focused on other matters. However, when MNO started accepting new communities, the issue was pushed.

“We the Métis Nation decides who the Métis Nation is and a small part of the Métis Nation, maybe MNO, the small part of Ontario that is a part of the Métis Nation, maybe five, 10 per cent. That 10 per cent can’t decide they’re going to expand by 90 per cent. The Métis Nation should make that decision on who is the Metis citizen,” said Goodon.

Froh points out in her letter that the MNC benefited from the Powley decision.

“From 2003 to the present, Canada has provided well over $150 million… to the MNC and its Governing Members because of the Powley case to support Métis registries, Métis harvesting laws and policies, and research on other Métis Nation communities,” she wrote.

As far as Froh is concerned, the MNC has “become dysfunctional … controlled by a few individuals.”

MNO’s open letter is accompanied by a series of fact sheets, which Froh wrote are “to set the record straight ...(so) … people can make their own informed decisions.”

She also wrote that the MNO would not be “engaging in a subsequent back-and-forth” with the MNC over what is presented in the letter.

Windspeaker.com

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com