“Iron in Your Words” Article by Joe Desjarlais

I recall a phrase from an old western movie, “There is iron in your words.” Words grounded in principled ideas and actions that stand up under scrutiny.

Metis National Council (MNC) and Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) leaders have no ‘iron in their words,’ demonstrated by their recent written submission to the United Nations rapporteur in his visit to Canada.

These politicians and their affiliates pretend to be the voice of all Metis people and communities in the “homeland.” They quote the UN rapporteur in earlier reports in 2004, citing the lack of recognition for Aboriginal people and their traditional ways in areas like natural resources, governance and resolution of land claims.

They put out some recommendations, yet these are countered by their own ideas and actions that work to marginalize and dispossess. The lack of an ethical core is striking as their solutions are disconnected from the reality of ongoing human rights violations and discrimination that Metis people and diverse nations with claims to sovereignty face. The following few points best describe the situation.

1. The first clue to this divergence is that MNC and their affiliates sign agreements with mainstream governments with policies that limit dynamic and fluid Metis identities: They maintain a standard narrative of political Métis as an exclusive, homogeneous and geographically bound peoples whose rights flow from the Crown, an exclusive terminology and restrictive definitions to defend their privileged political position and limit access to ‘being Métis. They attempt to define Metis in an artificial manner that satisfies a government’s rights-based agenda (ie: creation of rights-bearing citizens), which amounts to an identity by negation (the “everything but” approach) that fixes identity in time and space. However, the same limited political definition has also been utilized by the Canadian government to entrench strict representations of Métis identity into law, thereby systematically discriminating against all other ways of being Metis in Canada.

Everyone who disagrees with their singular approach to Metis nationalism is deemed ‘outsiders.’ Their zero-sum brand of identity politics and racially charged governance and registry processes has made it difficult to entertain broader definitions of being Métis. Because of their actions, Metis people have thus become the basis of a constructed Canadian identity from which Métis organizations and government agencies can administrate all Métis peoples based on exclusive jurisdiction to certain rights. The effect has been that Métis agency (the ability of Metis to shape Canadian society) has been restricted to that of an ethnic interest group that has to compete for scarce government resources.

2. Another red flag is that these Metis leaders have not held mainstream governments accountable for wasting public funds on a failing organization in BC called the Metis Nation BC (MNBC). They did not inform the rapporteur about the utter lack of transparency and denial in the face of financial mismanagement such as evidenced by their governance organizations such as MNBC, or the lack of meaningful consultation in major policy decisions. I believe the UN rapporteur would also be interested in the manipulation of programs to serve political agendas, or legal action against engaged citizens.

3. Yet another problem is that these Metis politicians selectively ignore the history of human rights violations toward Metis people. Let’s not forget that the context for the UN rapporteur visit is a history of human rights violations in Canada toward Aboriginal people. Current governments are the focus of legitimate human rights cases among Métis people in British Columbia, a documented case of discrimination against Metis yet to be resolved. The MNC and MMF conveniently fail to acknowledge this to the United Nations.

4. These groups distort the historical significance of Metis-specific court cases in their public commentary for political reasons to champion their brand of identity politics.
In reference to Powley v. Canada, (2003) as example, this Supreme court case has been uncritically heralded by these affiliate MNC organizations. For instance, the Metis Nation of Ontario (MNO) recently declared that Powley was” groundbreaking,” a “new era” of recognition of Métis rights, and the “affirmation of our right to harvest.” To recognize that 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the landmark Powley decision, the MNO is apparently holding special commemorations on November 15 in conjunction with this year’s Louis Riel Day ceremonies in Toronto. In other words, Louis Riel by association is branded the hero of all ‘Powley compliant,’ objectively verifiable, ‘rights bearing’ citizens, a politically charged story with ‘selective histories’ championed by MNO and affiliates, of course.

Though the Powley Supreme court ruling could just as easily have led to an exploration of many ways of being Métis through a shared sense of belonging, Powley has become less about establishing Métis collective rights and more about refining processes for establishing which individuals can exercise these rights.

The historic Metis land claims case ruling in Manitoba was decided earlier this year. 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, self sufficiency and self-government.

Finally, the recent Daniels case ruled in January 2013. The unspoken reality is that extending the legal definition of Métis beyond the Powley Test and by defining Métis as s.91 Indians, Daniels brings Métis communities into conversation with broader legal discussions on the nation-to-nation relationship as defined in the historical treaty process. By stark contrast, their own policies of the MNC and affiliates discount the full weight of Canada’s treaty relationship, a relationship informed by dignity, respect and consent. The many different ways of ‘being Métis’ present a huge challenge to political, legal and historical imagination of Métis communities across Canada. The fear of the ‘many different ways of ‘being Métis’ is the biggest impediment to establishing Métis “Nations” as coherent communities of historical difference and as meaningful partners in Confederation. From all indications, it appears that the rapporteur should be made aware that Canada’s preference is to continue to rationalize Métis identity; its government system is well equipped with mechanisms that take diverse nations with claims to sovereignty and turn them into rights-bearing citizens.

This submission of the MNC and the MMF has not challenged the dominant narrative that tends to consolidate Métis identity into a single national paradigm or marginalize Métis peoples in a footnote to the past. Their core beliefs about the nature of Métis people in Canada result in words and actions that deny the real concerns and aspirations Metis people face and this will not withstand the ‘refining fire.’ Once we get beyond the surface, no amount of rhetoric can hide the facts. There are many people in a growing movement of Metis people who believe in a new kind of Metis politics, where our policies are linked to ethics, to place, to community, to friendship and belonging, and a real language to describe ourselves to others. Thank you for considering the situation critically and your opinions are welcomed and valued.

[ilink url=”http://bcmetis.com/wp-content/uploads/Iron-in-Your-Words-October-16th-2013.pdf” style=”download”]Download this Article in PDF[/ilink]
[ilink url=”http://www.metisnation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/MMF-UN-SP-FINAL-W-COVER-Brief-to-the-UN-Special-Rapporteur-October-11-2013-.pdf” style=”download”]MMF UN Brief Special Rapporteur[/ilink]
[ilink url=”http://www.metisnation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/OVERVIEW-OF-THE-RIGHTS-AND-FREEDOMS-Web-version-Oct-12-2013.pdf” style=”download”]MNC Overview of Rights and Freedoms[/ilink]

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