Métis Nation rallies to secure identity, symbols
LAST week in Winnipeg, at the annual general assembly of the Métis National Council, a resolution was passed to protect, “by any means necessary, including legal,” the Métis Nation flag.
The flag, council president Clément Chartier claimed, is being misused and appropriated by people claiming to be Métis in Eastern Canada (specifically Quebec and the Maritimes).
“They’re stealing our identity,” Chartier pronounced at the meetings. “They’re using our Métis Nation flag and they’re calling themselves Métis nations.”
Representatives at the meetings also called for a moratorium on the use of Métis symbols such as the Assomption sash and the Red River Cart by non-Métis.
“Our cultural symbols are being usurped by people who aren’t us,” council spokesman Will Goodon said.
The council is the representative body of about 400,000 Métis, made up of members of the Métis Nation of Ontario, Manitoba Metis Federation, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis Nation British Columbia. These nations draw their relationships from the emergence of the Métis Nation at the Red River Settlement in the 18th century as products of (mostly) Anishinaabe and Cree and (mostly) French and British settlers. Métis see themselves as a distinct people, with a common history, culture, territory and language.
Coming together in 1983, the council has represented the Métis at constitutional talks and is often the organization the federal government speaks to on Métis issues.
Citing this history, the council approved and issued an “official” map, declaring and defining the homeland of the Métis Nation. This territory encompasses all of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and parts of northwestern Ontario, B.C., the Northwest Territories and the northern United States.
The map sparked online reaction, specifically from First Nations whose territories were overlapped by the claim. The council was quick to respond that the map was intended to define members of the Métis Nation and where Métis rights could be asserted — rather than deny the claims of First Nations. “I say that the treaty territories overlap our territory,” Chartier told APTN National News. “It’s coexistence. There’s no one exclusive to the other.”
Driving these decisions are increasing numbers of eastern communities claiming to be Métis.
According to the census, from 2006 to 2016, there has been a 60 per cent increase across Canada, and huge increases in Quebec (150 per cent) and Nova Scotia (125 per cent). In these places, most cite an Indigenous ancestor and being of mixed Indigenous/ European ancestry to do so.
This has resulted in dozens of “new” organizations purporting to represent Métis, especially following Supreme Court decisions recognizing rights and land claims.
Many are now taking legal steps to have their members recognized legally as Métis under Canada’s Constitution. Some organizations also create membership lists and issue identity cards, encouraging members to claim tax exemptions under the Indian Act.
Representatives of the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs have met with eastern groups and included them in discussions on Indigenous policies. The federal government “does not define who is Métis,” Stephanie Palma, a spokeswoman for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, told the CBC.
Some of this has to do with money. Armed with Supreme Court decisions that force the federal government to deal with Métis claims, the council and others (such as the Manitoba Metis Federation) have signed multimilliondollar agreements to support self-government and programs.
Some of this has to do with the integrity of the council. The Métis Nation of Ontario, for example, was put on probation by the council for accepting members from organizations that the council doesn’t recognize.
The real issue here is who has the right and jurisdiction to define Métis.
In his book Métis: Race, Recognition and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood, University of Alberta Prof. Chris Andersen points out Métis are often positioned as “mixed-race,” obscuring the fact they are a geographical, self-governing and definable nation that predates Canada.
When this fact is obscured, the Edmonton school’s dean of native studies argues, Métis claims for land and legal rights are easily denied and lost in debates over identity and whether Métis can make claims at all.
“If the term ‘Métis’ was to be used to describe people of mixed ancestry… everybody would be Métis,” Chartier said.
The move to define the Métis Nation with a map, while promising to protect its sash and flag, has been met with derision and anger by the eastern groups.
This is not just about flying flags, but a struggle that affects real-life policy, practice and people. It also affects Manitoba’s identity as the “birthplace” of the Métis Nation.
So, are eastern, mixed-race peoples Métis? Mary Lou Parker, grand chief of the Eastern Woodland Métis Nation Nova Scotia, says yes.
Parker’s organization claims it has 20,000 members, and defines its members as “a person of mixed blood; specifically: a person of European and North American Indian ancestry, regardless of how many generations back.” The group makes self-identification a primary part, as well as being “accepted by the community.”
Its website lists Métis culture as encompassing the flag, sash, “prayers,” “bannock bread” and a lengthy timeline showing connections between the Mi’kmaq Nation and Acadians.
The council, meanwhile, met with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia in October, and signed an agreement that only the council could recognize Métis, and there is no proof of “rights-bearing Métis communities in the Maritimes, including Nova Scotia, at any time before or after 1670.”
For Métis in the west, the issue is solved. For those claiming Métis in the east, not so much. The question may be in why there’s a question — and who benefits as a result.
Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand (left) and Métis National Council president Clément Chartier meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Montreal Friday to discuss social and economic partnerships.
The Métis National Council released this map that defines its homeland.