Métis Belong in British Columbia – By Joe Desjarlais

Premier Horgan announced at a recent Assembly of First Nations gathering that there “is no more argument and debate about rights and title in British Columbia.” Horgan, the leader of the first province in Canada to pass the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) legislation, wants to achieve certainty. His government is preoccupied with control; they want to be clear about who owns the land and how to reconcile ownership within the existing framework of Canadian law.

On the surface, UNDRIP is about recognition of Indigenous land and rights. First Nations academics like John Borrows and Aaron Mills remind us, however, that for Indigenous peoples, “recognition” is not about fitting Indigenous law within Canadian law. Rather, the kind of ‘recognition” proposed by UNDRIP is the ability to represent and practice Indigenous ways of being on their own merits and in relation to other forms of being. I recently encountered this new hopeful way of interacting at a gathering at Trinity Western University where Sto:Lo leaders reframed the conversation around the contested term “unceded” with Sto:Lo concepts like love, relationships, sharing and stewardship that are informed by stories about family and community. Sto:Lo Grand Chief Kelly reinforced what Horgan (and other non-Indigenous leaders) sometimes forget: law and legal principles are not created in a vacuum; they are the outcome of relationship building.

To read this entire insightful paper, click here.

3 Responses to Métis Belong in British Columbia – By Joe Desjarlais

  1. James Clifford Erskine January 3, 2020 at 3:05 pm #

    The letter was well written and very well said. We as Métis people deserve to be recognized for who we are and time to stop the division and suppression between government and Métis people. We have a place in this world and our values towards all aspects of recognition in our communities. We only ask for inclusiveness and our rights to land. Under federal law these rights are affirmed and inclusive, time for the government of British Columbia and Mnbc to come to grips with federal law and recognition that we are who we are and treated as laid out under federal law as indigenous people of Canada. I see no reason why or how the provincial government (Horgan ) can not see past the hurt that has been placed upon Métis people in BC to be segregated from stewardship from the land. We have and always will be indigenous people no matter what and good stewards of the land, this can never be taken away as we practice this our whole lives. The only thing they can accomplish is rejection of who we are and our place in this world by refusing inclusiveness.

  2. Maskwa Atim January 9, 2020 at 11:58 am #

    This paper genuinely hurts me.

    We Michif have no more rights in British Columbia west of the Rockies than any other settlers. Don’t confuse matters. If you have a true belief in Indigenous law and decolonization then that’s the inescapable conclusion – we are settlers in this place. Your position is antithetical to decolonization and, frankly, does nothing to improve relations with our First Nations cousins. Our rights lie east of the Rockies in our historic homeland. The land of our ancestors. Any rights we may have as Indigenous peoples in British Columbia west of the Rockies are permissible and grounded in kinship and/or permission from our First Nations cousins. If we wish to be stewards of any land here that’s who we must go through, gain permission from, etc. Our First Nations cousins.

    Non-status First Nations folks or other mixed blood Indigenous people descended from British Columbia First Nations west of the Rockies may very well have rights here as they are Indigenous to this place. But those rights stem from the fact that they are descended from those First Nations, not the fact that they are collectively mixed blood. That makes no sense from an Indigenous legal perspective. If they have been excluded from their First Nation and are being discriminated against on the basis that they are mixed blood, they may have recourse, as noted in Article 9 of UNDRIP:

    Article 9
    Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.

    But that’s where their recourse lies. Not in lazily banding together as a loose collective of mixed blood Indigenous people who have no other historical connection to one another other than the fact that they’re mixed. And us Michif certainly don’t gain rights by virtue of that loose association. Frankly, the author seems more interested in throwing around words and references that they clearly don’t understand in hopes that others will be blindly be impressed than they do in decolonization or the revitalization and application of Indigenous law. Be honest. Your opinion is grounded in an overly generous interpretation of colonial law (Powley) than it is in Indigenous law.

    The bottom line is that our rights don’t follow us wherever we may go by virtue of the fact that we are Indigenous and have been displaced. That is new age colonialism and is eerily similar to the doctrines of terra nullius and discovery that the Crown erroneously uses to justify its sovereignty.

  3. Keith Henry January 11, 2020 at 10:19 am #

    Thank you Maskwa Atim,

    Evidence shows that there were distinct, diverse and dynamic self-identified “Metis” or “mixed blood” or ‘half-breed” communities in the Pacific Northwest that were functioning prior to and contemporaneously with any other non-indigenous declaration of sovereignty. The kinship networks of these self-determining peoples ran throughout the whole of this region and related to indigenous communities located both within and outside of the area. Sadly, in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century, national, provincial and local governments used the force of law and racialized policies to diminish their existence, ignore their rights, dispossess them from their land, limit their access to resources, restrict their mobility, and separate them from their kinship networks. Our work is to make these communities known and to repatriate their (indigenous) history.

    Decolonizing the standard Canadian narrative that says there were no self-determining Métis peoples in BC, including a version that argues that there is only one way of being Métis in Canada, is a difficult task, one that is made more challenging by Métis organizations which use the politics of exclusion to impose ‘originalist’ identity frameworks upon all Métis peoples. It is our hope that academics who are passionate about protecting Métis identity will resist using rights-based discourse as a starting point for any analysis.

    In our opinion, it would be better for all of us to commit to recognizing and respecting the relational histories and kinship proximity of all Metis peoples and move towards the hard work of negotiating mutual recognition as self-determining nations. This strategy should start with being responsible for an ongoing, positive and open dialogue about Métis belongingness, while being committed to the practice of historical difference. In the meantime, the BC Metis Federation will remain faithful to recovering and representing the history of unique self-determining Metis communities in British Columbia.


    Keith Henry

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