Métis Na­tion ral­lies to se­cure iden­tity, sym­bols

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - NIIGAAN SIN­CLAIR niigaan.sin­[email protected]­ress.mb.ca

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.

PAUL CHI­AS­SON / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

MÉTIS NA­TIONAL COUN­CIL

The Métis Na­tional Coun­cil re­leased this map that de­fines its home­land.

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