BC Métis Federation Letter to Shuswap Tribal Council (Secwepemc)

There has been growing First Nation leadership correspondence to the Government of Canada about the role of Métis in BC.  It appears the position that Métis do not have rights in BC and that somehow our work for our members is perceived as threatening to First Nations interests.

BC Métis Federation (BCMF) has sent a letter with information to the Federal Government, Provincial Government, First Nations and others today that clarifies our current and future work.  It is not meant to be divisive but rather the start of important conversations.

This affects all Métis in BC.  Unfortunately we also see some Métis people taking a position to undermine their community which appears to be based on the notion that Métis did not exist in British Columbia historically and that we have no rights.  We strongly disagree and we do not believe our rights undermine any First Nations.

All of the relevant documentation can be downloaded at the bottom of this post. The following is the content of the letter sent by the BCMF…

Dear Chief Christian:

Re: Your Letter Dated December 8, 2020

I acknowledge your letter dated December 8, 2020, sent to all of the people copied on this letter. I write to you in my capacity as the President of the BC Metis Federation (BCMF). We represent thousands of Metis people in British Columbia. As you are likely aware, the Metis are a constitutionally recognized Canadian Indigenous group. This is confirmed by Section 35 of the Constitution Act which states:

35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Firstly, I wish to acknowledge that the BCMF recognizes that your people, as you indicate, have lived in their homelands and territory for so long that the time of occupation extends beyond the reach of memory. Unlike your people, the Metis arose as a distinct people prior to effective European control of the North American continent. On the timeline of occupation and effective control you reference, our people came into existence between First Nation’s longstanding occupation of territories on the continent, and the later assertion of sovereignty by European crowns on the continent.

Just as your people are afforded the protection of Section 35, so are the Metis, notwithstanding our later arrival on the timeline of usage and occupation of homelands and territories which you reference. This fact is well documented in Canadian jurisprudence and is uncontroverted. Further, as you are undoubtedly aware, no Indigenous right, even though constitutionally protected, is absolute in Canadian law. Rights arise and exist relative to other rights, and are, quite literally, weighed on this basis.

Our Indigenous Metis rights co-exist, alongside your peoples’ rights, notwithstanding your earlier presence as a people on the continent, just like non-Indigenous Canadians’ rights co-exist with Indigenous rights. Many non-Indigenous Canadians, for example, carry out rights in your territory and homeland, notwithstanding their later arrival to the continent. These rights, of course, are not enshrined in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, however they necessarily co-exist with your peoples’ Section 35 rights, just as they do with our Section 35 rights.

Simply put, your assertion of never ceding, selling, or surrendering your title and rights, does not mean that Canadians and other non-Secwepemc groups, whether they are Indigenous or not, can’t exercise some of their rights on your traditional territory. Your traditional territory does not give you the right, in all circumstances, to exclude others from it, or to state that others’ rights can’t co-exist, with your rights to your territory and homeland.

To summarize, there is a co-existence and application of multiple rights across multiple territories and provinces in Canada. Prior to and after Confederation, Canada’s laws have reflected an ongoing conversation between asserted sovereigns and those Indigenous peoples who occupied and depended on the resources of the continent prior to effective European control of it.

I raise this not to offend you, but to point out the reality of the situation at law. I realize that you may disagree with Canadian law, however, I would point out that one cannot in one breath claim the protection of Section 35 of the Constitution Act, and then in another breath disregard its application when it does not support one’s political aims or position. As I noted earlier, Section 35 protects the Metis, just as it does the First Nation and Inuit people of North America.

I note that your letter references the Metis National Council. We are not affiliated with this group. Many other Metis communities in Canada are also not affiliated with this group. To be clear, affiliation to the Metis National Council is not proof of Metis nationhood and identity. Metis identity, self-identification, and community acceptance has evolved over the decades just as these concepts have evolved in First Nation communities.

Further, it is important to note that the Crown has as of yet not fulfilled its obligation (as part of reconciliation) to assist with the reconstitution of the many different Metis communities across Canada and BC, because their policies effectively destroyed these self-determined peoples that existed prior to effective colonial control. The Metis National Council has advocated for a prairie-based recognition of the ethnogenesis there which brought into existence the prairie Metis. This ethnogenesis also occurred in BC. As history will reflect it is naïve to believe that this only happened in the prairies. We have attached an academic article produced in 2009 entitled “Reflections on Being, and Becoming Metis, in British Columbia” by Dr. Jean Barman and Dr. Mike Evans. It is this specific academic reality that BC Metis Federation is working towards addressing with our members and partner communities throughout BC.

Respectfully, it seems inappropriate for you to be writing to everyone you did in your letter of December 8, 2020, and taking an authoritative position on who the Metis people are, where they live, and where they emerged as a distinct people on the continent. This naturally seems more appropriately spoken to by Metis people. We would never, for example, publicly take a position about who legitimate Secwepemc people are, and which territorial boundaries accurately represent historical use and occupation of their territory.

To date, we have written to your tribal council and offered to enter into a protocol agreement to discuss these matters which you raise. Our repeated invitations have been declined.

The Metis people have a long and well documented history in BC, which predates effective European control of the province we now call BC. We have historic settlements in North Eastern BC. Likewise, our people travelled the historic grease trails and other pathways and waterways which led to the many fur trading posts across the province. We helped Alexander Mackenzie forge Westward through the continent. This is all set out in the history books, and as new evidence emerges, the history books are revised. In fact, our Metis ancestors are well documented in your territory since 1841:

To be clear, it is not the BCMF’s intention to in any way harm your people and their exercise of inherent rights. The BCMF seeks dialogue with you and a space for respectful discussion and mutual co-existence, just as latecomers to Canada co-exist with pre-existing Indigenous nations and communities. We do not interpret Canada’s jurisprudence as advocating a zero sum game. To the contrary, we view this jurisprudence to recognize co-existence and the sharing of the abundance derived from the vast resources of the continent.

I welcome the opportunity to speak with you and can be reached at: k.henry@bcmetis.com or (778) 388-5013. I believe our work as leaders must negotiate a respectful way forward to work together between all Metis and all First Nations.

Yours truly,

Keith Henry



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