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Indigenous Identity Fraud: The Fight for Proper Recognition

Will Goodon, MMF Minister of Housing and Property Development.

“They haven’t proved who they are, they have no connection to the historic nation, and they’re using the word Metis in a way that just basically means mixed.” 

For a week in May, an Indigenous Identity Fraud Summit was held in Winnipeg. Co-hosted by the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), the National Government of the Red River Métis, and the Chiefs of Ontario (COO), the Summit denounced “the actions of the MNO [Métis Nation of Ontario] and to call on Canada and the Métis National Council to withdraw their support of the federal Bill C-53,” according to a statement sent to MMF citizens. 

Bill C-53, which has been vehemently opposed by the MMF, will recognize Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), Métis Nation Saskatchewan and Métis Nation of Alberta as Indigenous governments. It will “affirm the inherent right of the Métis collectivities to self-government; provide a legislative framework to give legal force and effect to the future self-government Treaties.” 

The statement from MMF explains the Summit condemns “any person or group falsely claiming an Indigenous identity for financial gain, academic recognition, or any other purpose,” and “such actions are unacceptable and contribute to the ongoing marginalization of authentic First Nation, Inuit and Red River Métis voices and experiences.” 

“The intent of this summit is not to pick a fight,” said Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand in the statement. “We have every right and all responsibility to stand up for ourselves and protect our identity.” 

“I ask these other groups to show us who you are—tell us your history, what your language and culture are, who your heroes are—without stealing what was born at the heart of the Red River Métis Homeland.”  

While multiple provincial representatives are mentioned, MMF leadership has accused the MNO of falsely identifying Métis communities which have no ties to the historic Métis nation. 

“I’m not going to say there’s no Métis that live in Ontario, just like I’m not going to say there’s no Métis that live in Australia,” said Will Goodon, MMF Minister of Housing and Property Development. 

“But that doesn’t mean Australia is part of our homeland.” 

Goodon believes the MNO relies on Métis people moving to Ontario from the west in order to act as a “smoke screen,” giving the MNO a legitimate basis upon which to promote illegitimate Metis communities in Ontario. 

“They haven’t proved who they are, they have no connection to the historic nation, and they’re using the word Metis in a way that just basically means mixed.” 

First Nations leaders in Ontario have stated they were unaware of any historic Metis communities in Ontario. Regarding the Metis in the west, from Manitoba to the eastern portion of British Columbia, there are records of Metis interactions with First Nation communities over the past 200 years. 

Goodon says MNO made no contact with MMF or First Nations in Ontario before declaring their historical existence. The absence of a history of nation-to-nation interactions is part of what raises red flags among MMF and COO leaders.

“When Canada had to negotiate with us for the provincial recognition in Manitoba, when we entered into treaty with other Indigenous Nations on the prairies, people knew who [the Métis] were.” 

According to Goodon, Chiefs in Ontario have not seen any record of treaty or trade with Métis communities in Ontario.

Goodon describes the MNO coming to exist solely of its own volition, with an inaccurate understanding of the Métis nation. This lack of collaboration to determine the ancestral connection between the West and Ontario has left many questions unanswered for MMF leaders, which they say have been poorly addressed by the MNO.

“They’re upset when we’re pointing out the inconsistencies, the falsehoods, the misleading statements, the misdirection. They’re getting upset at us because we’re pointing them out now and because they have no answers.”

Goodon says groups who self-identify as Indigenous have created communities of individuals with no connection to the Metis Nation, which was formally established in 1816 in what is today Winnipeg. Goodon described this as a situation where individuals are “being sold a load of goods that the person selling it has no right to sell.”

“[Individuals are] being told having a long-lost ancestor gives them the right to claim Métis identity.”

What Goodon and others believe is happening is a large-scale misinterpretation of the Métis, which is being used to alter the nationality of ancient ancestors. If an individual has a single Cree ancestor from 5 generations ago, they will be denied citizenship to the Cree nation. However, if that ancestor’s nation is changed to Métis as a result of their being in a mixed-race marriage, the descendent may be eligible to claim ancestral connection to the Métis nation.

Ultimately, Goodon believes leadership at MNO is at fault for allowing such alterations of the past to occur.

“It’s not the tens of thousands of people who are in the Métis nation of Ontario. They’ve been told they’re Métis for 20 years and now along comes Will Goodon and says they’re not. And then they become mad at Will Goodon when they should be upset with the leadership, who basically lied to them. Who told them that they were something that they’re not.” 

MNO representative Rachel Strong called the statements of the MMF “harmful, dehumanizing, and false.” 

“The leadership of the MMF knows exactly who we are. They supported and celebrated the MNO and the Sault Ste. Marie Métis Community–located in north-central Ontario and 1400kms from Red River— when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Sault Ste. Marie Métis Community had existing rights protected by section 35,” Strong explained via email.  

“While connections between Sault Ste. Marie and Red River exist and were even discussed at various stages of the Powley case’s decade-long journey to the Supreme Court. At no time did the Court claim that the Sault Ste. Marie Métis Community, or other Métis communities located from Ontario-Westward, derive their rights or culture from the Red River. ” 

“They pretend they did not support, celebrate, or personally benefit from the sacrifices made by Steve and Rod Powley, Métis citizens from a Métis community in Ontario, made to advance the entire Métis Nation’s rights-based agenda.” 

The last year has been particularly difficult for MNO citizens due to the judgement they are receiving from other MMF and other Indigenous leadership. According to Strong, the arguments against the MNO in the media are impacting the “mental health, safety, and physical well-being of Métis people” in Ontario. 

“Bill C-53 has only ever been about recognizing the internal self-government of the MNO related to our citizenship, elections, financial management, and child and family services. It is abhorrent that anyone would want to prevent us from protecting our babies and children from the child welfare system.” 

It does not currently appear that Bill C-53 will pass legislation. Despite this, MNO will not stop the fight for federal recognition. 

“We will ultimately overcome the denial of our rights that our ancestors have fought for across generations, and we will continue to pursue those discussions on a government-to-government basis.” 

It is important to acknowledge each provincial representative organization represents the Métis communities in each province under the singular Métis nation. One point the MMF and MNO see eye-to-eye on is the rejection of any Metis communities in Quebec or the Maritimes. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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