Dumont’s Fictional Métis by Joe Desjarlais

Dumont's Fictional Metis
I recently watched embattled BC Métis politician Bruce Dumont’s pro-oil spin on APTN to a national audience. It seems that for governments and industry proponents, $1.3 million is the going price for enlisting a Métis politician to pitch their ‘big and oily’ project to a national audience without consultation. What they demand in return is at terrible cost to Métis and to all Canadians.

It appears to matter little to mainstream governments and industry if the Métis Nation of BC (MNBC) is functionally bankrupt or that they function outside of their own rule of law. The irony of spinning benefits like ‘jobs’ on the backs of a historically socially oppressed, marginalized and dispossessed people is apparently lost to Dumont as well as his funders.

My main argument is that Dumont is also seemingly oblivious to the disturbing reality that in our colonial past, many aspects of Métis and First Nations cultures have been appropriated and commodified to help sell products. The net result in this case is a reduction of Métis people and culture to a set of simplistic and patronizing attitudes and images – dictated by everybody but Métis people!

As the result of generations of similar mis-representation, Métis identity politics across this country has been a hostile cesspool of competing ethnic interests and oppositional power struggles. Métis have been battered and prodded into often competing political identities by outside political or economic forces. Positive community formation and sharing of culture has been almost nonexistent.

In Canada, people have long been conditioned to think, write, and teach about Aboriginal people and how they ‘fit’ into Canada. These ideas have been no accident. For our Canadian national ethos since Confederation, moving the narrative from one state to another in the ‘national interest’ became important to political elites. Establishing a predictable and inevitable future and establishing a history to justify it and establishing an ‘origin’ became real important.

Any kind of counter-narrative was problematic. Like most Canadians, I am well acquainted with the Western genre, accounts where the progenitors of a ‘new nation’ would encircle the wagons in a raid to defend themselves against the ‘savages.’ This villain motif worked to exclude, justify and marginalize. A ‘myth of the West’ celebrated Newcomers as the beginning of Canada and Métis/Indigenous history as a thing of a primitive, prehistoric past. If someone stepped away from the ‘accepted narrative,’ they were on shaky ground!

Up through the 1950’s the dominant stories in Canada still supported the dark ages for Métis. ‘Being Métis’ was incompatible with progress and they were enemies to Canada. Until the 1970s, indigenous history has mostly been told through the lens of dependency. This was the idea that indigenous people owed their well-being or lack of well-being to someone else. It wasn’t about the Métis and their political and social realities. It was about voyageurs, canoes. They were postured as allies and ‘sidekicks.’

At the national level in the years before the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982, PM Trudeau, in line with ideas of multilingual country of individual equal opportunity, worked to situate Métis as a disadvantaged minority group. After 1982, the government recognized Métis in the Constitution. A mainstream rights discourse slowly began to take shape for Métis, a new form of ‘noble savage’, dependent on the benevolence of the Canadian government. In order to provide ‘acceptable’ meaning, Métis peoples with historic claims to sovereignty were increasingly appropriated by governments within mechanisms and structures as ‘rights bearing citizens.’ They needed to be good functional Métis and Canadian citizens. Within this narrative, there was still no place for Métis to co-exist, no room for the diversity of Métis nations.

My point in this history lesson is that a vision in Canada for Métis self determination and self government led by ethical leaders with a historical memory has been very elusive in our history. Since the days of the earliest colonists, non natives have attempted to impose their culture in this country as they attempted to settle new frontiers.

By Bruce Dumont’s unqualified support of a fictional version of Métis history, actual Métis people are deemed ‘outsiders,’ who stand in the way of Canada realizing its ‘true’ potential. Once again in history, real Métis indigenous people and vital communities are imagined as a threat to the ‘national dream,’ but now in its contemporary 21st century form. They are imposed into predetermined categories.

Canadians and their governments can’t expect healthy dialogue and successful relations with Métis if they continue to live in fiction. We have Constitutional, legal and historical precedent in Canada for principled and dignified relations. If they can’t imagine being partners with Métis in history, they will not imagine what its like to partner with them today.

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