BC Métis Federation Letter to Federal Minister Bennett Regarding MMF

Honourable Dr. Carolyn Bennett
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
Government of Canada

Re: Meeting Request              VIA EMAIL 

Dear Minister Bennet:

Last weekend the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) website announced that the “Government of Canada and the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) have concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to advance exploratory talks on reconciliation.” The BC Métis Federation commends the Federal Government on its willingness to negotiate but is requesting a meeting in light of our serious concerns outlined herein.

The release went on to state that “With the signing of this MOU, the parties are taking a historic first step toward a shared and balanced solution that advances reconciliation between Canada and the Manitoba Métis Community.”

The BC Métis Federation represents the interests of Métis people and communities that will be impacted by these historic negotiations and their interests must be also considered in these negotiations.

The BC Métis Federation has strong concerns that must be considered for Métis people and communities impacted:

1. The Manitoba Métis Federation and affiliates, including the Métis National Council (MNC), do not represent all Métis people across Canada potentially impacted by this potential agreement. How will this “framework” address Métis people, families and communities now living in British Columbia impacted by unjust policies so long ago and forced to move or lose kinship connections? Where is their voice and participation in this process? How is this process informed by culture and knowledge capital? The interests of many Métis with historic families and kinship in the Manitoba Métis community are represented by other groups. In BC as example, they are represented by other legitimate organizations such as the BC Métis Federation and local Métis communities. Will they be coerced into membership with MMF?

2. Instead of a national ’community of dialogue’ engaging different groups, the government and the MMF seem to be well on the way to brokering yet another coercive backroom deal with the pretence of “exploratory talks”.

3. A plurality of First Nations across Canada are clearly asserting sovereignty, jurisdiction and ownership, asserting nation-to-nation relations. To these groups, land is the basis for self-determination and sufficiency. First Nations in Saskatchewan as example now call themselves “the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous nations” as they seek to assert their sovereignty and land rights. They are moving away from limiting Indian act legislation. All the while, the Metis Nation of Ontario (another affiliate MNC and MMF) recently instituted the Secretariat Act (bill 153.) This exclusive Metis ‘rights-agenda’ is NOT mutual recognition of equal, co-existent and inherent self-governing communities and nations. These MMF affiliate Métis organizations have not advocated for jurisdictional issues including sovereignty and coexistence. As well, the MMF has not been able to forge cooperation with Manitoba First Nations, who currently actively oppose MMF negotiations with government.

4. Why is MMF President David Chartrand so intent on entrenching this new framework by fall? Don’t forget that MMF President Chartrand has long been forging ahead in crafting an exclusive rights based citizenship through their registry process and exclusive ‘nationhood’ model, and have urgently attempted to consolidate and entrench an exclusive political relationship with Canada. In stark contrast, the recent SCC Daniels ruling opens up to the diversity of Métis identity as communities and nations outside of Red River identity. “Multiple Metis Nations” have come into focus. In recent correspondence, MMF still appears desperately entrenched in constructing and reinforcing an exclusive one “Métis Nation” image, trying to differentiate themselves from other Aboriginal organizations saying they are the only Métis “government” negotiating nation-to-nation.

5. In order to effectively respond to the challenges facing them, Métis people and communities need to access their cultural capacity, historical imagination and knowledge capital to reconcile with Canada. In order to negotiate meaningfully across colonial boundaries and provide people and communities with knowledge capital and research connections, governments must commit to establishment and ongoing funding in negotiations. Instead in this latest situation MMF President Chartrand appears interested in shutting down the dialogue. In a more recent example, he voiced his disapproval with the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples entitled “The People Who Own Themselves: Recognition of Métis Identity in Canada.” Chartrand quipped that the Senate report “misses the mark,” that the time for research into identity has passed and “now is not the time to muddy the waters.” MMF President Chartrand dismisses the idea of open ended research in his statement. In its place, he suggests that the Senate Committee should be “pressing AANDC” (the Federal Government and now known as INAC) for funding to complete their registries. His rationale is that stakeholders will have access to a database that will furnish “reliable statistical information.”

6. The disturbing context here is that MMF President David Chartrand and MNC President Clem Chartier have in recent years seemingly been putting the building blocks in place to be accountable to ‘government’ instead of Métis Nations across Canada and to limit Metis historical identities in exchange for block funding, as example, through the recent Metis Accord. These Métis leaders ignore that the historical record is contingent and invokes responsibility to the past. Their words and actions are seemingly telling Métis people to selectively forget the past. To skim over the violence and oppression of the past, and the marginalization. The division. The dispossession. To gloss over the financial irregularities and the unbridled identity politics of their own organizations, the lack of voice for people and communities.

7. This recent announcement and negotiation invokes the historical record and how political interests have long appropriated the history and memory of Riel and Riel’s people as mechanisms to gain power. As example, it appears MMF is recently working to make Louis Riel the “first premier of the province”

Our serious concerns are in the fact that people like MMF President Chartrand chose to ignore that Louis Riel was not a “Canadian hero”. Riel was a political philosopher and Métis activist. He had a clear vision for co-existence and mutual recognition. He fought for political independence, protection of difference, inherent self-government and land rights.

Métis academic Adam Gaudry recently opined on Riel: “He was a champion of “multiculturalism” but a multicultural confederation of self-determining peoples. Gaudry further stated that “He didn’t fight for Métis integration, but for a self-governing Métis-led province in Canada. We don’t have that in Manitoba.”

In his day, Louis Riel for his part had a clear vision for co-existence and mutual recognition for his people. Riel’s eloquent defense of Red River Métis sovereignty reflected his understanding of Western systems of common law and his familiarity with self-determined and self-governing Métis Nations. Within the Red River, Riel brought together “French” and “English” Métis to resist the government’s plans to take over their land and resources.

Riel himself stated, “What did the Government do? It laid its hands on the land of the Métis as if it were its own.”

The BC Métis Federation believes that “land” is at the centre of the Manitoba negotiation process rather than money. Land cannot be separated from self-determination, self-government and self-sufficiency, jurisdiction and ownership. Compensation for use of stolen land must also be negotiated.

8. Your office also stated that “These talks are in response to the 2013 Manitoba Metis Federation et al. v. Canada decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.”

The BC Métis Federation is deeply concerned that since Powley (2003) the legal definition of Métis has increasingly been restricted to a rights-bearing individual within an ethnic collective. Métis histories are riddled with examples of the Canadian government using law as an instrument of state power to gain social, political and cultural control over their communities in order to carry out the political objectives of assimilation.

“Riel’s people” are wary of courts that ‘rule’ the potential of Métis nationhood out of existence and Canadian governments that use narrow interpretations of agreements to dispossess and subjugate Métis peoples. The MMF Case (Manitoba Métis Lands Case) decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on March 8, 2013 is a case in point.

Asked by the MMF to determine the legal status of Section 31 land rights provisions of the Manitoba Act, the Court determined that Métis interests in the so-called Child’s Land Grants that were (fraudulently) administered by the Métis Lands Commission were limited to “personal history, not their shared Métis identity.” While this refers specifically to Child’s Land Grants, the decision seems to uphold the lower court rulings that the Métis did not create collective land-based rights with Section 31 and 32 of the Manitoba Act. In the absence of the MMF proving the Red River Métis held a collective interest in the land, the SCC ruled that the Federal government has no ‘fiduciary’ responsibility to Métis collective/nationhood. 

What the MMF ‘won’ was the recognition that the Crown owed a duty of diligence in administering Section 31 and was therefore bound to uphold the rights of individual Métis because of the ‘honour of the Crown’. The importance of MMF v Canada for Métis identity, especially the application of the ‘honour of the Crown’, has yet to be realized.

Opportunities to negotiate with the Federal Government may produce a long awaited settlement for descendants of Child’s Land Grants but we fear that long-overdue compensation may resemble “more the case of Japanese-Canadians whose ancestors were detained during World War II” than an independent Métis Nation(s) looking to secure its place within Confederation.

In the blunt words of the court: “It was up to the Métis to prove that they held an Aboriginal interest in land prior to the Manitoba Act, and they have not done so … Canada acknowledges that individual Métis people held individual parcels of land, but it denies that they held the collective Aboriginal interest necessary to give rise to a fiduciary duty.”

By not arguing for and establishing the validity of a ‘pre-existing’ Métis sovereignty, the MMF provided the courts with a limited remedy for Métis peoples in this case. It could very well be that Métis people covered by s31 and s32 of the Manitoba Act are well compensated but ‘homeless’ rights-bearing citizens of Canada. In this sense, Métis legal identity originates from an individual’s ability to access the rights of a disadvantaged ethnic group rather than the Aboriginal right to self-determination and self-government.

In conclusion, the recent Federal Government’s move to settle the Manitoba land issue has the great potential to further ‘enslave’ Métis people, rather than open up the opportunity for greater freedom. Instead of coercion, division or competition, it is urgent that the Federal Government negotiates the concept of mutual recognition with all potentially affected Métis organizations in Canada including the BC Métis Federation on behalf of our members and partner communities.

In light of the move by the Federal Government to negotiate a “shared and balanced solution” with Métis, BC Métis Federation calls for an immediate meeting with the Federal Ministers office to work together on this important issue for our members.

I hope a meeting can be arranged in Ottawa at your earliest opportunity. This can be arranged by officials at k.henry@bcmetis.com or call our offices to set up 1-604-638-7220.

Thank you,

Keith Henry , President
BC Métis Federation
Suite 300-3665 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
V5R 5W2

cc:  Ian Ketcheson, INAC Director for Métis and Non Status
BC Métis Federation Board Members
BC Métis Federation Members

[ilink url=”http://bcmetis.com/wp-content/uploads/BCMF-letter-to-Minister-Bennett-June-1st-2016-Meeting-Request-Re_-MMF-Announcement.pdf” style=”download”]Click here to download the letter in PDF format.[/ilink]

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