Unraveling Misrepresentation: Defending Métis Identity and History in Ontario

This week, the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and Chiefs of Ontario (COO) are hosting an event in Winnipeg to further misrepresent the history and facts about Métis communities in Ontario. What’s worse is that they refuse to allow alternative viewpoints in the room, leaving half-truths and twisted narratives to be echoed unchecked.

For almost a year, Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) citizens have been attacked in the media and online. Our youth have faced harassment at school. Due to stigma and racism, many Métis families who once publicly hid their heritage have only recently felt safe enough to again embrace it have had their identities called into question. This needs to end.

Indigenous identity fraud is a serious issue that requires serious solutions. The MNO shares the MMF’s and COO’s concerns in this regard. But Indigenous peoples only lose when we fight amongst ourselves and approach self-determination as a zero-sum game. The only winners are colonial governments who find further reason to ignore our inherent rights and stand idly by.

Historic Métis communities with full legal rights and protections enshrined in Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution unquestionably exist in Ontario. This has been definitively proven at Canada’s Supreme Court in the widely celebrated 2003 Powley decision, which recognized a distinct rights-bearing Métis community in and around Sault Ste Marie in the Upper Great Lakes.

To be sure, a serious academic and political discussion can be had about the historic and contemporary relationships between historic Métis communities in what is now Ontario and those farther west. The same can be said about their historic and contemporary relationships with neighbouring First Nations.

But for long-serving leaders to assert that those communities never existed at all after 20+ years of recognition, relationships, and collective rights advancement simply defies reason. Someone does not simply “forget” about a distinct people they once knew and supported.

That position, though, is now being taken by some. It has not only been made possible but has taken root because of the collective amnesia that plagues Métis, First Nation, and Canadian electoral politics alike.

The MNO invites open conversation and fact-based dialogue about our historic communities. We have transparently published the historical information that underlies their rights assertions. We even voted in favour of an arms-length Expert Panel to review the MNO’s historic communities. We have nothing to hide. We know our stories and remember our shared history. But, evidently, some people don’t. So, let’s help them remember.

Between 1993 and 2003, the entire Métis National Council—of which the MMF was a Founding Member and President Chartrand a Governor—stood behind the Powley family and the Historic Sault Ste Marie Métis Community in advancing the Powley case to a unanimous victory at the Supreme Court. For two decades the MMF stood side-by-side with the MNO to advance Métis rights claims in Ontario and a legal test to recognize Métis rights across the Homeland.

The MNC’s legal counsel, Clement Chartier—now an MMF Ambassador—even declared that the Powleys are, “descendants of the Historic Métis Nation and, more specifically, the historic Métis community at Sault Ste. Marie,” and that, “Sault Ste. Marie is part of the larger Métis Nation,” in the MNC’s intervention at the Supreme Court.

Following the Powley victory, MMF President David Chartrand gifted Steve and Roddy Powley a commemorative rifle and thanked them for their fight on behalf of the entire Métis Nation. He also wrote to MMF citizens thanking both the Powleys for, “moving our Nation’s rights agenda forward,” and, “our Métis National Council leadership, of which the MMF is part, for their foresight and wisdom in supporting the Powley family in their arduous journey.”

Just a few years ago, when the MNO signed our first self-government agreement, President Chartrand celebrated this milestone moment for our people through a formal statement saying: “We the Métis have fought for decades to have our distinct rights recognized. I offer my best wishes to the Métis organizations of Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan on the recent signing of self-government agreements with the federal government.”

The MNO has been transparent and consistent about its agenda since its founding in 1993. The communities it represents are not new. Their aspirations for self-government are not new. Our commitments to respectful and fact-based dialogue are not new. Nothing has changed about us.

With such history and evidence, only one important question remains: What has changed, President Chartrand?

Mitch Case is the Regional Councillor for the Huron Superior Métis Community and a member of the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario.