Sask. Métis group says future elections only open to 'registered citizens'

The Métis Nation - Saskatchewan (MN-S) has changed the requirements for both voting and running in the organization's future elections.

From now on, voters and candidates will need to provide documentation proving that they are a registered citizen of the MN-S.

The "proof of citizenship" requirement also applies to local presidents, who have 60 days to demonstrate they are a registered citizen of the organization or are in the process of being registered.

The changes were approved in a series of motions voted on by 90 delegates at the Métis Nation Legislative Assembly in Saskatoon this past weekend.

Shirley Isbister, the president of the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. local in Saskatoon, said she welcomes the new rules.

"I think we need to do it. I think it's it's about time," she said. "We need to register in the future. It's going to be how we're going to have pride in our people, in our communities."

Previous system 'fraught with challenges'

The organization's citizenship registry was first established in 2009, but Isbister said people didn't need to be officially registered to vote in past MN-S elections.

She said people could vote by showing identification and a card issued by a Métis local, or by having someone vouch for them.

Isbister said she didn't think it was a good system.

"I think it was a system fraught with challenges," she said. "If you don't know who is actually voting, it could be someone that isn't Métis."

Isbister said she expects challenges with the new requirements, adding the MN-S needs to make it easier for people to get registered.

"I think there are people who are finding it challenging to track their genealogy and what actually makes you Métis. You know, your ties to the Métis homeland," she said.

Isbister said she is convinced the Métis citizenship registry is free of political interference.

Membership no longer in hands of local presidents

Mary Ann Morin, who is involved in a legal dispute with the MN-S over whether she resigned as the organization's treasurer in September of 2017, said the change "does make sense."

She said she is concerned that the locals will no longer determine the membership.

"In a lot of ways, I agree that people are claiming to be Métis who may not be Métis as per our definition," she said.

She said that's the reason it has been left to the locals to determine who is Métis in their community, who is a part of their lives and who is related to each other.

Morin said another issue with the change is that the MN-S is currently a non-profit corporation.

"It actually goes against human rights to determine your ability to belong to an organization. It's your choice," she said.

"When they become a government, maybe they can introduce that. But currently they're still a not-for-profit organization."

In a self-government agreement the MN-S signed with the federal government in June, the MN-S commits to maintaining a "register of citizens," with electors to be listed on the register as citizens.

According to the citizenship registry's website, all four parts of the MN-S's constitutional definition must be met in order to receive a MN-S citizenship card.

The definition reads: "Métis means a person, who self identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry and is accepted by the Métis Nation."

An MN-S spokesperson said there are currently more than 10,000 Métis citizens in Saskatchewan who have registered.

Just under 58,000 Métis were counted in the province in the 2016 census, although the MN-S estimates the actual population is closer to 80,000.

More than 5,000 people voted in the last MN-S election in 2017.

The next MN-S election is scheduled to take place in the spring of 2021.