BC Métis Federation Response to Yellowhead Institute Policy Brief 78

BC Metis Federation leadership sent a letter today formally to the Executive Director of the Yellowhead Institution Mr Hayden King to retract or remove policy brief #78 entitled “Do Métis Have Rights In British Columbia? Let Our Métis People Be Heard In A Good Way”

This policy document from this First Nation academic institution has sparked divisive public debate and has been used by some First Nations as justification to demand Metis are removed from industry engagements.

We strongly encourage members to read the BC Metis Federation response.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Hayden King
Executive Director
Yellowhead Institute
Ryerson University
Jorgenson Hall – Dean of Arts Office Faculty of Arts
350 Victoria Street,
Toronto ON M5B 2K3

Re: Policy Brief #78 – October 22nd, 2020 “Do Métis have Rights in British Columbia? Let Our Métis People be heard in a Good Way” Via

email: info@yellowheadinstitute.org

Dear Mr. King,

I write today to formally request the removal or retraction of the policy document released by the Yellowhead Institute regarding Métis rights in BC dated October 22nd Do Métis have Rights in British Columbia? Let our Métis People be heard in a Good Way – Yellowhead Institute.

As President of the BC Métis Federation (BCMF) I am working with our board of directors, estimated 3500 Métis members, and a number of partner communities throughout BC to share our concerns about this article which we believe is ill-informed, supporting anti-Métis racism, and lacks historic accuracy. The article references the Métis Nation BC and while we are not the Métis Nation BC, the impacts of this article have affected and impacted BCMF as well and as such we felt critical to respond. We must communicate our serious disappointment that any academic Indigenous institution would author documents that have had such negative divisive impacts on our Metis members as this Yellowhead Institute policy brief has now created between First Nations, non-Indigenous Canadians and many of our Métis members. This document has also been used to fuel anti-Métis racism, sentiment and division on multiple occasions to undermine Métis people and our stated public positions. I therefore formally request the Yellowhead Institute to immediately remove policy brief #78 to reduce conflict.

Therefore BCMF has drafted the following information to educate perspectives on Métis place in BC and the importance of historic and contemporary relationships between First Nations in BC:


There was a recent exchange of letters between the BCMF and the Secwepemc Nation. This arose as a response to the Secwepemc Nation’s assertion, broadly speaking, that the Metis have no right to exercise their rights in Secwepemc traditional territory. The BCMF recognizes Secwépemc aboriginal title and rights and affirms our commitment to uphold your sacred responsibilities to protect and defend their title and rights in Secwépemc’ulcw. We agree that the Secwépemc Nation has neither ceded, sold, nor surrendered title and rights to its traditional territories. We regret any statements made or impressions given within our recent BCMF Terrestrial Study that might suggest otherwise. Our attempts to reconstitute our own Métis history and to understand the existence of self-determining Métis communities throughout what became known as the Province of British Columbia should, in no way, be understood as improperly or unduly infringing upon their laws or jurisdiction. Our hope is that BCMF and all First Nations in BC, such as the Secwépemc, might work together within a framework of respectful dialogue, much like what appears to have been the case in the 19th century when, as the 1910 “Memorial to Sir Wilfred Laurier, Premier of the Dominion of Canada From the Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan, and Couteau Tribes of British Columbia” suggested, our ancestors had worked together within Secwépemc’ulcw for mutual benefit. We desire to live up to the reputation of being, again to quote the Memorial, “good” people who “did not force their conception of things on us to our harm.”

Given the historical record, which shows that respectful guests that honoured Secwépemc land, resources and leadership coexisted with kind and gracious Secwépemc hosts, we welcome the continuation of this tradition. Our recent public exchange of letters illustrates why a direct and honest line of communication is needed. The aftermath of the misinformation and the public broadcasting of the letters has heightened the divisive politics of identity and incited a diverse group of ‘self-identifying’ Metis, self-appointed academic ‘gatekeepers’, and self-interested Indigenous industry lawyers to engage a social media campaign against us that, at times, bordered on hate speech. Our organization and, more sadly, Metis people throughout the Province, have been called “fools”, “fakes”, “pretenders”, and have been blamed for somehow undermining the “historic Metis Nation’s identity.” Tirades by zealous defenders of First Nations’ title and rights equated us with Canadian “invaders” who are infringing upon unceded territory. All of this reaction and recrimination resulted from the telling of our own history in this region, a history that showed the agency of self-determining Métis peoples in what is now the Province of BC.

We do not reveal our history in order to offend Secwépemc honour, to trespass on your sovereignty, or to diminish their self-determination, all of which is not in question. What has been called into doubt, in part due to the Secwépemc position of strength, is the degree to which Indigenous communities themselves can respect and honour each other’s histories. The BCMF’s Land and Life Report, a study produced to fulfil a federally funded TMX accommodation, explored Métis historic and contemporary connection to land and resources along the pipeline corridor. The study established that recognizable Metis communities unique to the Pacific Northwest existed prior to British colonization. Our Métis community-based research and consultation uncovered oral history of Métis peoples that have distinct and longstanding roots in British Columbia. Archival documents from the late 18th and 19th century tell of unique relational dynamics within the northwest coast of North America facilitated by a north-south interactive corridor wherein Métis people actively shaped political boundaries, trading histories and kinship networks. “Half-breed” populations were numerous and they acted in their own self-interest as they engaged First Nations on the land and water; their lives and livelihoods were central to the constant reciprocity of people, supplies and ideas that flowed throughout the region in response to economic opportunity or need. Métis mobility and the resulting complex webs of kinship within this region translated into an intermingling of culture, politics and economics as represented by the  integration of Métis linguistic forms into Chinook Jargon. In the old fur trade society and in places like Fort Kamloops, Metis had prominent roles and were viewed by the Northwest Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company as indispensable partners. In the early years, company policy, whether NWC or HBC, encouraged co-mingling between company traders and employees and the First Nation and “halfbreed” populations. The Land and Life Report also covered the colonial and early provincial period when settler society viewed Métis peoples as original inhabitants along with “Indians” as they participated in the industrial resettlement of the region. In the resource extraction economy, Métis peoples initiated mineral “discoveries”, established camps and towns, owned estates and ranches, and worked in lumber mills and on farms and as militia, labourers, boatmen, hunters, guides, interpreters, trappers and cultural and local knowledge translators. Métis families and kinship networks asserted their economic interests by opening up various business ventures, often side by side with First Nations.

The historical record is clear: Métis self-determining communities asserted their own self-interest as freemen, and secured a future for their families and broader kinship networks within the unique political, economic, social and cultural context all across what is now the Province of British Columbia. We are not alone in asserting Métis historical agency in this region. The Canadian Senate’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples report in 2013 entitled “The People Who Own Themselves: Recognition of Métis Identity in Canada” acknowledged the call by distinguished academicians to do more research on long-held Métis relationships to the land in BC. The BCMF, along with academics who have already broadened the scope of Métis history in the province, is taking up this challenge on behalf of its member communities and, working within an evolving relational framework between all Métis peoples and the Crown, we have identified relevant historical documentation on the Métis. It is our hope that we will be able to add depth and breadth to our stories as more detail emerges from the historical record, from oral traditions, and from community engagement and that our community will grow in strength and confidence as we make this information readily accessible. On behalf of its membership, the BCMF insists on its right to reconstitute our self-determining communities and to represent our own Indigenous understanding of who we are.

Therefore, the BCMF no longer accepts a racialized identity that is imposed upon Métis peoples, one that erases our history and agency in BC. We will contest uninformed theories that deny our existence and resist opportunistic critics that wish to silence us. As a people, we have survived over 130 years of government oppression that denied our existence, legislated away our self-determination, dispossessed us from the land and limited our access to vital resources, and employed racialized social and cultural mechanisms to assimilate us. And yet, we remain as a testament to our unique history and legal standing.

There has been Métis inclusion on record in BC prior as well such as Treaty 8. Although Treaty 8 included negotiated settlements with free and independent Métis communities, we became the targets of racialized injustice in all other parts of the Province. Self-determining Métis peoples faced the full weight of Federal and Provincial law in their effort to assimilate us into Canadian society without our consent. As early as the 1890s, Arthur Vowell, the Federal Superintendent of Indian Affairs in BC, identified our people in his ‘Report on Halfbreeds’ and used racial profiling to enforce provisions of the Indian Act (1876) in the hopes of destroying Métis kinship networks and diminishing any rights we had to the land. By the 1920s, the Provincial and municipal governments followed suit. In one example among many, the City of Vancouver employed social policy and civic bylaws to displace mixed-blood peoples who lived in Brockton point, taking them to court for their “illegal occupation” of their long-held territory. More ubiquitous were settler society categories of “whiteness” and “Indian-ness” that ensured settler domination. The strict white-Indian binary of settler logic left no place for the mixedness of Métis peoples in BC’s hierarchical social order and where Métis communities did self-identify the law treated us as a sub-class of people who were lower than whites and First Nations. The violence directed at historic and contemporary Métis communities in BC drove our communities underground and to the margins of society. Complex Metis histories and kinship networks, our use and practices on the land, and our historical contributions to economic development of the province were omitted from public memory.

The settler-society binary that fueled the oppression and maltreatment of Métis in the 20th century has been perpetuated in the 21st century. Based upon our historical experience in British Columbia, it is troubling that some of our own Métis representative organizations fight to restrict who we are as a people and squabble over who has the right to claim a history. Since Métis people’s self-governing rights were recognized and affirmed in the 1980s, national Métis organizations have tried to imposed an artificial, exclusive, ‘distinction based’ genealogical registry, which is validated and funded by Canada, thereby extending a simplistic “us vs. them” dichotomy that by default denies the existence of diverse and dynamic historic and contemporary Métis communities in the province. The resurgence represented by the BCMF undermines this ‘identity politics’ and challenges any claim that selfdetermining Métis peoples throughout the province were interlopers or trespassers outside of a single “homeland”. But anyone who denies our history in BC does all Metis people a disservice because, by reinforcing the historical roots of racial boundary-making that shaped the lives of all Indigenous peoples, they contribute to ongoing intergenerational trauma, family division and kinship separation, and the resultant inequality and dispossession experienced by our BCMF’s members. Maintaining dominant historical narratives that reinforce settler society notions of civilization and views of progress, which require a virgin land devoid of any Indigenous presence, does nothing to further the inherent selfdetermination of all Indigenous peoples.

The BCMF calls for an intellectual, political and social space where Métis in BC can explore and recover how they belonged within vibrant self-determining kinship networks, across time and place, as they asserted their own self-interest when negotiating with First Nations and interacting with the Nation of Canada. As the Secwépemc are fully aware, the security of rights that are only guaranteed by the Canadian state is no substitute for self-determination and is no way to ensure a sustainable selfgoverning future. Imagine the possibilities for thriving Indigenous communities when we replace fights over biological origins and competing lineage with kinship maps that honour not only Secwépemc history, traditions and laws but also respects a Métis sense of belonging that includes our historical differences and our shared relations. In that scenario, a Secwépemc member with Métis heritage would not have to choose between two competing “identities” but rather could represent an understanding that citizenship in both Secwépemc and Métis nations is a complement to the other. On the surface, these contests appear to be about the recognition of Secwépemc land and rights but undergirding this important consideration are complicated and difficult issues not solved by the blunt instruments of Canadian law or the crude application of long-held historical prejudice.

First Nations academics like John Borrows and Aaron Mills remind us that for Indigenous peoples, “recognition” is not about fitting Indigenous law within Canadian law, nor is it a zero sum contest for scarce resources. Rather, the kind of ‘recognition” the BCMF seeks is the ability to represent and practice Indigenous ways of being on their own merits and in relation to other forms of selfdetermination. Such a pathway to peaceful coexistence, Borrows tells us, will take bravery, humility, wisdom and honesty, love, truth and respect in order to oppose the essentialism that confines Secwépemc to a narrow range of dictates and to put to rest the enduring racial tropes that tell Métis self-determining communities that we don’t belong. Despite our obvious differences, we can build a relational future based upon on our shared love for the land and resources, a responsibility to our people, a common history of genocide and discrimination, and an ongoing commitment to ensure that our communities are able to thrive as self-determining peoples. Appeals to any level of settler society government to continue a genocidal policy of assimilation, or to attempt to leverage a relationship with colonial governments in ways that allows for continued discrimination and racialized violence, is to be complicit with it. Such an adversarial approach may well benefit ill-informed consultants, ahistorical “experts”, or opportunistic lawyers, but it can only lead to ongoing violence, coercion and oppression, not only for the self-determining communities that BCMF represents but also for the Secwépemc people. To embrace these oppressive strategies as a response to Métis resurgence in BC is to be on the wrong side of history.

It is the measure of our self-determination that we can, and must, work out any differences that we have in ways that honour each other. The BCMF believes that we don’t need to leverage Canadian laws or practice settler society confrontational politics in order to open up an honest, truthful, kind, generous and measured dialogue about our shared history. The choice before the Secwépemc (and other Indigenous nations in BC) is not whether you will deny the existence or revitalization of self-determining Métis communities in BC. Rather, you must choose whether you will enter into protocol agreements with the BCMF that enable all of our members to live well together in a way that is consistent with our own Indigenous laws. We would welcome an invitation to gather together with the Secwépemc (and other Indigenous nations in BC) so that we can formally recognize jurisdiction and negotiate an appropriate, on-going relationship wherein we can work together to not only ensure Secwépemc selfgovernment but also the accommodation of long-standing interests of BCMF membership. In this, Indigenous nations have the ability to use the strength of their own self-determination to come into good relations with other, more vulnerable, self-determining Indigenous peoples.

In the Laurier Memorial the Secwépemc graciously welcomed our ancestors and Newcomers to their territory, and in a great show of generosity, encouraged us to share responsibility for the land and resources, provided we respected Secwépemc law. Such a declaration involved a call for mutual recognition and an on-going commitment of all peoples to move towards peaceful co-existence. The conclusion: “We will help each other to be great and good.”

It is time that First Nations in BC turn away from denial and discrimination and get on to doing this important work with the BCMF. We desire to be accountable to each other within a framework of mutual respect for our shared history. The BCMF would prefer to do this in dialogue with the Secwepemc and all First Nations people but fully respect their rights to choose a different pathway. However, if First Nations are not willing to respect our efforts to revive and reconstitute our Métis communities by negotiating formal Protocol Agreements with the BCMF, we ask that First Nations do not create unnecessary roadblocks. In any case, the BCMF respectfully requests that we be afforded a generous space within which to repatriate our own Métis histories and reconstitute our Métis communities. It is the right thing to do.

Keith Henry
President BC Métis Federation

BC Metis Federation Board
BC Metis Federation Operational Team
BC Métis Federation Members
Secwepemc Tribal Council

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