The Plumb line~By Joe Desjarlais

For those who aren’t familiar with construction tools, a plumb line is a balanced weight on the end of a string that a tradesman uses to verify that what they’ve just put in place is true to vertical. In other words, the standard supposedly by which everything else is judged. But can this measurement tool or process be faulty? If so, everything is ‘out of whack’ or off the centre.

Political columnist Andrew Coyne recently wrote about Prime Minister Harper’s arbitrary standards, selectively enforced in the name of political expediency rather than public integrity, in light of the recent Senate growing scandal. This got me thinking about continued attempts by a Metis technocratic elite in Canada to brand and justify Metis identities or engineer solutions according to their arbitrary political “standards.” I can think of two current examples:

First the Metis National Council (MNC) and their affiliates are apparently working with the Canadian Standards Association to brand historic Metis peoples and communities. I read this rubbish in the recent November newsletter of the MNC: “The final standard will be published by the CSA if it meets its stringent criteria.” What hubris. They insist with an urgent public language that refers to “consolidating our existence.” They attempt to fix their identity in stone through what they refer as processes and registries that are “objectively verifiable and unassailable.”

Recently, MNC leader Clem Chartier and team intervened in the Daniels appeal. Obsessed with controlling the MNC and Métis brand, the MNC’s main reason for intervention as stated in their November newsletter “was to address the issue of Metis identity and distinctiveness.” Identity politics and acrimony continue to cloud judgement at every turn.

Second for Metis people in British Columbia, all it takes is a cursory look at BC Metis politics to recognize the inconsistencies. The assumption appears to be that the lack of financial transparency, gross financial mismanagement, anti-democratic behaviour, and the absence of public integrity is the politically expedient price to pay to maintain and entrench the “standard” narrative, a colonial dependency relationship. In the process, governments share the blame by allowing this dysfunctional status- quo to carry on at the expense of Metis people.

In a nutshell, the Metis Nation BC (MNBC) reflects the same ideology as their political affiliates, as well as their mainstream government “bestowers.” They demonstrate a paternalistic governing philosophy cut from the same cloth and it reads like this to historic Metis people and communities: “We know what you deserve. We are the “enforcer, the natural governing organization or party that is going to give it to you.”

The recent MNBC financials, as stark as they present, betray yet another disturbing layer of intrigue. Beyond the paralysis of their leadership, the banal bureaucratic speak and emotional outbursts for false unity, the real issue is the illusion of ‘certainty,’ that the MNBC are perceived as the inevitable ‘standard bearer’ for Metis people in BC. They don’t trust their own people to participate in democratic process or public conversation. Instead, they misconstrue criticism from engaged citizenry as being “under attack,” or accuse people of “tearing down the nation” and claim that they are the “authorized representative body.” Their hubris and disconnect is striking.

The reality is that many people see through these charades. Their twisted logic is breaking down in the face of public opinion. In addition, Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has the historical traditions, Constitutional precedents and societal awareness to effectively understand the complexity of Metis communities and recognize their unique position within the nation’s political, economic and social structure. The Senate debate on Metis identity, and recent Metis specific court cases as well as the grassroots social movements only serve to underscore this reality.

Metis people across Canada are redefining meanings of political representation and community formation and are gravitating toward an accurate reflection of historic and legal position of historic communities. This means ongoing community formation and a commitment to the dynamism of Metis life. What then might be required to see it practically implemented into Metis nations in the future? People increasingly recognize that in order to be Metis, community formation must be consistent with the well entrenched principles that recognize self determined, self governing and self sufficient Metis nations.

As Louis Riel himself recognized, anything that stops short of comprehensive nationhood as the basis for the dynamic identity of the Metis would be inadequate. Two principles follow. First the right to self determine (implicit here is that identity will change over time) and second, the right to self govern (implicit here is the nation to nation relationship.) Perhaps this is a more accurate ‘plumb line’ whereby Métis peoples can enter into healthy and meaningful relations with each other and with Canadian society. There are many ways of being Metis through a shared sense of belonging. But if Metis people and communities give up the right to practice a fluid and dynamic identity, they give up being Metis. We should all learn from watching the MNC branding experiment or the gross mismanagement by MNBC because it is also plain to see that there are all kinds of ways of giving up our identity.

[ilink url=”” style=”download”]The Plumb Line November 2013[/ilink]

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