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Indigenous fraud summit passes resolution against Ontario Métis group

OTTAWA — Indigenous leaders at a summit on what they call Indigenous identify fraud have passed a resolution specifically targeting the Métis Nation of Ontario.
Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on September 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — Indigenous leaders at a summit on what they call Indigenous identify fraud have passed a resolution specifically targeting the Métis Nation of Ontario.

The resolution calls on Canada to cease all negotiations with the provincial organization, and for Ontario to retract the identification of six new communities the province recognized in 2017.

It also urges the federal and provincial governments to stop "accommodating Indigenous identity theft," and to take proactive steps with "legitimate rights holders" to protect their constitutional and inherent rights.

The Métis Nation of Ontario was the main topic on the first day of the summit Tuesday, co-hosted by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Chiefs of Ontario in Winnipeg.

The summit also discussed Bill C-53, a federal piece of legislation that seeks to formally recognize Métis governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

The bill is hotly contested by both the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Chiefs of Ontario, who say the inclusion of the Métis Nation of Ontario threatens their rights — and who question the validity of the organization altogether.

By signing the resolution with Ontario regional chief Glen Hare, Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand said they were committing to a "marriage."

"We'll be here fighting together. We're some tough cookies in the Red River, I'll tell you," he said.

Métis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh wrote a letter to Chartrand early this month asking for a speaking role during the summit, saying it could be an opportunity to "correct the record on the history, existence, and relationships between the Métis communities in Ontario and the broader Métis Nation."

Her request was denied.

"Why would I let a thief back into my house? They stole from me," Chartrand said Tuesday.

"They're disguising themselves in camouflage and they're playing the victim — they're trying to become the victim and say that First Nations chiefs are picking on them."

The Assembly of First Nations, which represents some 630 chiefs across Canada, passed a resolution last year calling for the federal government to kill the legislation. The AFN’s concerns are mainly focused on six new communities the Métis Nation of Ontario and the province recognized in 2017, which it says have no historical basis to exist.

Chartrand, for his part, said he'll do everything in his power to let Bill C-53 "die."

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod, who is a vocal opponent of the legislation and the Ontario organization, spoke at the summit about growing up in his community in the 1960s and '70s, when elders were wary of sharing culture with younger generations for fear of repercussions from the federal government.

"I struggled for years to reclaim that (knowledge)," McLeod said, wearing a shirt that said "Say No To Bill C-53."

But today, he said, there's a different crisis.

"We're struggling with people who are trying to be us," he said. "We've been struggling for over 400 years now to maintain our identity, and this is just another branch of that battle."

Froh has long defended her organization, and says she has been consistently denied requests to meet with First Nations leaders in Ontario to make amends and explain the history of Métis in the province.

In a release Tuesday, she highlighted the landmark R. v. Powley case from 2003 that recognized a Métis community in the Sault Ste. Marie area.

While chiefs, for the most part, don't deny the existence of a small Métis community in the area, they and the Manitoba Métis Federation take issue with the new communities that stretch as far east as Quebec.

In another letter to Métis Nation of Ontario members this month, Froh said in the face of the Manitoba Métis Federation’s "continued and calculated campaign to erase the history of Métis communities in Ontario," it’s important to share stories "rooted in facts."

The Ontario organization began releasing short videos attempting to do just that, including one about Métis in the Sault Ste. Marie area, and is encouraging members to share those videos.

Speaking at the summit earlier in the day, Chartrand took aim at the organization, saying, "times are changing, and now everyone wants to jump in the Red River cart."

"We will shake the foundations of the political engine of this country … We are ready to do this battle, and we're not poor anymore."

Chief Shelly Moore-Frappier of Temagami First Nation spoke of how her ancestors are being used in the Métis Nation of Ontario registry as a distinct family line, though she says her family was never Métis. She said the Métis Nation of Ontario is relying on census records rather than community connections that are still ongoing.

"You cannot make a nation through colonial records," she said. "Nationhood comes through kin — it comes through ties and relationships to each other and the land."

Froh sent a notice to media Tuesday about Métis identity, criticizing the "concerning trend regarding the portrayal and blatant misrepresentation of Métis people, history, and rights in some Canadian media outlets."

The Métis National Council, of which the Métis Nation of Ontario is a member, and which the Manitoba Métis Federation pulled out of in 2021 due to conflicts with the Ontario group, also released a statement.

"The Métis National Council continues to strongly condemn the epidemic of Indigenous identity fraud occurring across Canada and are disappointed in the attempts by the Manitoba Métis Federation to use this critical issue to further their own political agenda and cause further dissension within and across the Métis Nation," the statement said.

Lawyer and Toronto Metropolitan University professor Pam Palmater spoke during a keynote about the issue of "pretendians," saying those same people are criticizing the summit on social media.

She called Indigenous identity fraud one of the most pressing issues and said it’s far more threatening than a few people claiming to be Indigenous when they’re not.

"Pretendians" are not, she said, people who have been disconnected from their communities through mechanisms like the Sixties Scoop or residential schools. They are, however, people who claim an ancestor from "400 years ago" who are now holding on to that one distant individual in an effort to access supports set aside for Indigenous Peoples.

The summit will continue Wednesday in Winnipeg, with Nunatsiavut Government president Johannes Lampe and Simon Pokue, Innu Nation’s grand chief, scheduled to speak.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2024.

Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press