Still In the Making By Joe Desjarlais

There is a revolution in Metis identity formation taking place among Metis people, families, communities and nations. Ideology is making way for the idea that Metis identity is ‘still in the making,’ among Metis and in Canadian society. It continues to grow, evolve, change, emerge, and mature in and through us, through the good and bad moments.

Ideology takes many forms. As the result, the ability of Metis people to choose is compromised. For instance, a Metis academic recently wrote a book supporting a limited definition of identity. Judging by our current state of affairs, there is a troubling history that persists in Canada of telling each other to be Metis in a certain way or ‘you are not our people.’

Restrictive ‘homeland’ arguments by academics have been appropriated for political purposes. Metis politicians like the Metis National Council (MNC) President Clem Chartier currently hopes to trade a ‘limited identity’ for special status/rights, judging by his latest opinion piece in mainstream media. Chartier disregards the fact that in history, First Nations never asked for special status and there is a movement away from it today. Special status in history was in fact a process of dispossession for First Nations people!

These Metis politicians assume their values and goals are that of the ‘Metis nation,’ or its people, but this has not been borne out by recent events. They talk to each other and to no one else, and continue to think that their opinions matter. They continue to see optimal Metis community life as the by-product of a lopsided ‘deal’ with the Federal government.

The reality is that in the larger picture, the consensus has shifted. The recent Daniels ruling, the Senate report on Métis identity and social movements have indicated that the consensus on Metis identity has shifted and these standard representations will not hold. As well, we have seen the rise of more inclusive political bodies like the BC Metis Federation that commit to include and respect the ideas and values of real people in communities. There is a move toward honest dialogue and debate on the ‘many ways of being Metis,’ including that as vital communities and nations.

Like many other Metis, my own family history is ‘still in the making.’ I recently found out that my grandpa’s uncle had family kinship through marriage with the Pierre-Guillaume Sayer family as well as the Cuthbert Grant family. It would be ‘convenient’ for me to rationalize my Red River history as truth. To suggest that this account holds the key to progress, a ‘unified’ national path that can recover what the Metis have lost. This would, however, be unethical. Rather, it is disturbing and telling that I am just learning about my own history now. I often wonder how things would have been different in my family if the political, economic and social self-understanding of my family had been affirmed. Then I think of Metis people outside of the Metis ‘homeland’ who are currently ‘excluded’ and ask the same question. This is a caution about the power of history, both as a way of remembering but also it’s ability to forget and obscure, to continually entrench new forms of conformity and exclusion.

There are as yet untold histories of indigenous people and their understandings that guide Metis across Canada and in the US as they seek to exist, self govern and co-exist with ‘others.’ These ‘ways of remembering’ should guide our attitudes and our conduct. Instead of attempting to entrench a particular kind of definition and support it with streamlined stories and accounts, its time to meander down the pathway to affirming and including each other’s perspectives, and tossing out the coercive bits.

We at the BC Metis Federation believe that being Metis is ‘still in the making,’ best reflected by a process of slowly building a consensus in policy that finally reflects our many realities in this country. Remember once again that in history, designations were employed to ‘bring them under control.’ All Canadians, including our academics and politicians, Metis or otherwise, are responsible to find ways to remember the past differently, not as ideology that controls or dominates.

[ilink url=”[ilink url=”” style=”download”]Download this Press Release in PDF[/ilink]

Become a Member