With only three days left before the House of Commons broke for the summer, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller tabled implementation legislation for self-government for Métis Nations in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
On June 21, Bill C-53, an Act respecting the recognition of certain Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, to give effect to treaties with those governments and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, was introduced and has received second reading.
It initially appeared on the order paper for House of Commons business June 19 and representatives from the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan had made the trip to Ottawa.
“As we are nearing the end of the parliamentary session, some delays out of our control may occur with regards to scheduling in the House of Commons,” read a statement from Miller’s office as to why the legislation wasn’t introduced June 19.
Some have speculated, however, that mounting opposition to the bill was the reason for the delay.
First Nations from across the country and Métis organizations in Alberta are coming out against the legislation—for different reasons.
Leaders and grassroot members from Ontario First Nations held a rally on Parliament Hill on Monday. Speakers said treaties were being threatened by MNO, which since 2017 has identified six new historic Métis communities in the province.
The rally came only days after Miller spoke at the Chiefs of Ontario’s (COO) general assembly. He fielded questions from spokesperson Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod, who made it clear that chiefs were not in favour of the legislation. McLeod said MNO had not proven that their leaders or membership were legitimate rights holders.
Miller called the upcoming legislation “very skeletal in nature” and said he could not understand COO’s disagreement with the legislation.
The minister told chiefs that the federal legislation was not about recognizing the new historic Métis communities nor about title or land. It was simply about recognizing the MNO’s right to govern itself under Sect. 35 of Canada’s Constitution.
Bill C-53 provides a framework for the implementation of treaties between the three Métis governments and Canada, as well as advancing government-to-government relationships.
“Canada committed to introducing this legislation as soon as possible following the signing of our self-government agreement and we expect they will honour that legally binding commitment,” said Garrett Tomlinson, senior director, self government, with the MNA.
Tomlinson responded to Windspeaker.com’s questions with a short email statement, calling Métis self-government legislation reconciliation in action.
In February, Canada signed updated self-government recognition and implementation agreements with the three provincial Métis governments.
On Tuesday, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) joined the long list of First Nations organizations calling on the government to delay the legislation as it relates to the MNO.
AFN Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare said the proposed legislation, in its current form, raised concerns about the “jurisdiction of the MNO and how the proposed legislation may impact our inherent and Treaty rights.”
He also called out Canada for not abiding by its fiduciary responsibility to consult with First Nations on legislation that may impact or encroach on First Nations treaty rights. Ontario First Nations had not been consulted on the legislation.
In another statement issued Tuesday, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) executive council called Canada “dishonourable” for recognizing Sect. 35 rights for “alleged Métis communities within our territories when our history confirms that no such communities existed.”
NAN is a political organization representing 49 First Nation communities within northern Ontario.
Since mid-May, statements have also been issued by the Wabun Tribal Council, Robinson-Huron Waawiindamaagewin, Grand Council Treaty #3, Temagami First Nation, and the Association of Manitoba Chiefs in opposition to the federal legislation.
The Wabun Tribal Council, representing six First Nations in northeastern Ontario, has also begun legal action against Canada for the self-government agreement with MNO. The Robinson Huron Waawiindimaagewin, the Anishinabek Nation and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, along with the MNA, have expressed interest in intervening.
The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) in British Columbia released a statement Tuesday that said it “stands in solidarity” with Ontario chiefs and First Nations in opposition to the proposed MNO self-government recognition and implementation legislation.
Where “First Nations are the sole and proper title and rights holders…any attempt by Métis persons or representative bodies to ignore or undercut the laws, legal systems, systems of governance, jurisdictions and title of First Nations through colonial means, rather than seeking to establish relationships in a respectful and legitimate manner, must be rejected, denounced, and resisted,” stated the FNLC.
In a statement issued June 19, the MNO accused the First Nations of “Métis denialism,” saying it was “distasteful and lateral violence.”
The MNO says that “credible and overwhelming historical and genealogical research” supports the additional six historic Métis communities alongside the one undisputed Métis community in northwestern Ontario.
“This is why both Ontario and Canada stand behind the recognition of the MNO,” the statement continued.
The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) is supporting the Ontario chiefs in opposition to the legislation, saying the MNO was “ignoring historical and inconvenient facts” by claiming Métis communities in eastern Ontario.
In 2002, the Métis National Council, which the MMF broke away from in 2019, adopted a definition of Métis, which required citizens to have an ancestral connection to the Red River Métis. MMF asserts that the new historic Métis communities claimed by the MNO do not have that ancestral connection.
“The Red River Métis know who we are. Our First Nations neighbours and relatives throughout our Homeland also know who we are. We have no reason to doubt the Eastern Ontario First Nation Leaders who say they have never heard about Métis communities in their territories,” said the MMF in a press statement.
Repeated efforts by Windspeaker.com to interview MNO President Margaret Froh were unsuccessful.
In Alberta, the Métis Settlements General Council (MSGC) and the Alberta Métis Federation also oppose the new legislation.
Métis Settlements President Dave Lamouche thinks Miller has delayed the legislation because of the widespread opposition.
“I spoke to some MPs and they said they didn’t think (the legislation) would go through,” said Lamouche. “The original plan was to have the unanimous consent (of the bill) and have that thing just passed or moved through and then (the MPs) said they weren’t going to allow it.”
Lamouche said he spoke with NDP Edmonton Griesbach MP Blake Desjarlais, who is also a member of Fishing Lake Métis Settlement. Fishing Lake is one of eight members of the Métis settlements council.
“He took my concerns and said, ‘Look, Dave, I think those are very important things that need to be discussed,’” said Lamouche.
Windspeaker.com reached out to Desjarlais but had not heard back by deadline.
A portion of the title of the bill—recognition of certain Métis governments—concerns Lamouche.
“What does ‘certain’ mean?” he said. “It implies that they’re only dealing with a few of the Métis nations. And then what happens to our agreement?”
Bill C-53 states that Canada recognizes that the Métis government is authorized to act on behalf of the “Métis collectivity,” which, for Alberta, is defined as the “Métis within Alberta.”
The Métis settlements signed a framework agreement with Canada in 2018.
Lamouche is also concerned the legislation will give force to the MNA’s Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution.
The Métis Settlements and Alberta Métis Federation both say the constitution, ratified in November, is over-reaching and interferes with the autonomy of the settlements and the federation.
The MNA constitution states, “Only the Otipemisiwak Métis Government has the mandate and authority to represent the Métis Nation within Alberta….and is authorized to advance and address all rights, interests and claims of the Métis Nation within Alberta.”
“Canada will not impose a system of governance on us outside of the democratic systems we have established. We will fight it. The federal government needs to tread very carefully here,” said Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis, in a statement.
Fort McKay was one of seven northern Métis communities that broke away from the MNA to form the Métis federation.
Opposition to the MNA constitution and new bylaws that will change the structure of the MNA have also been voiced internally and include a court challenge by the Grande Cache Mountain Métis Local.
Lamouche said the only input his organization has had to the bill was through writing to the department and expressing its concerns.
“Even if they do the first reading and then leave it sitting for the summer to go through, not just the debate, but also to go through consultation. Then return it back to the committee. And then hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk about our concerns when that happens,” he said.
In speaking with the Ontario chiefs last week, Miller said, “We undertook as part of the signing of these self-government agreements the duty to pass legislation expeditiously.”
He added that he had not made any public statement that debate would be limited, nor had he committed to “forcing this through Parliament.”
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com
Published on Jun 22, 2023