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Manitoba Métis Federation president blasts Ontario group during identity summit

By The Canadian Press

Published 12:28 PDT, Tue May 14, 2024

The president of the Manitoba Métis Federation is blasting the Métis Nation of Ontario at a summit on how leaders are reacting to — and can come together to fix — what they call Indigenous identity fraud.

Co-hosted by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Chiefs of Ontario, the summit in Winnipeg also includes Inuit and Innu leaders who have raised concerns about the topic in their respective jurisdictions.

One of the topics up for discussion is 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 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.

The president of the Ontario Métis group, Margaret Froh, wrote a letter to Manitoba Métis Federation president David 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."

He said he'll do everything in his power to let the legislation they're part of "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 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." He highlighted the historical resistance of Métis in Manitoba, including through their late leader Louis Riel, and urged First Nations in Ontario to join in their fight against what he called identity fraud.

"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."

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."

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.

Palmater highlighted the high-profile case of author Joseph Boyden, whose claims of Indigenous ancestry were thrown into serious question following an investigation by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

She said there are real-world consequences for misrepresentation, especially if those who incorrectly claim Indigenous identity enter positions of power and begin speaking about what it means to be “Indigenous" without actually knowing — and being part of — histories. 

Palmater also called on universities and other schools to work with local First Nations and the Manitoba Métis Federation to verify the people they're hiring are actually Indigenous.

"Put people on notice," she said. "So that we're no longer using (self-identification)."

The two-day summit will also hear about "illegitimate and shifting claims to Indigeneity" in Eastern Canada, according to Inuit and Innu leaders.

– Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press

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