A coalition of First Nations is calling on Ottawa to delay a bill that would recognize the Métis Nation of Ontario as a government body, claiming the group has made faulty claims about the existence of historic Métis communities in the province.
In an interview, MNO president Margaret Froh called the claims frustrating and insulting.
“It’s offensive for any other Indigenous group to come forward and say we shouldn’t have the recognition of our rights,” Ms. Froh said. “That’s deeply offensive.”
The federal Liberals have been negotiating the MNO’s jurisdiction since 2017. In February, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller signed a self-government agreement acknowledging the MNO as the Indigenous government representing Métis communities in Ontario and pledged to enshrine the agreement in legislation.
But First Nations in Ontario have a fundamental objection to the negotiations. They deny that any distinct Métis communities have ever existed in Ontario.
“We do not recognize any MNO communities or any rights that the Crown may have given them,” said M’Chigeeng First Nation Ogimaa Kwe (Chief) Linda Debassige.
The Temagami First Nation, Robinson-Huron Waawiindamaagewin and Chiefs of Ontario joined that chorus this week, citing two recent reports that raise questions about the validity of MNO claims throughout Ontario.
One report found that many of the individual ancestors the MNO has used to buttress its research on historic Métis communities were actually European or First Nation, and that the MNO relied on unreliable sources located in the communities.
“Our research has uncovered just how the MNO’s poor research practices have led it to make faulty conclusions about the historical existence of distinct ‘Métis’ communities in the Robinson-Huron treaty territory,” reads the report, authored by five Indigenous studies researchers for Robinson-Huron Waawiindamaagewin, a group representing 21 First Nations in the vast Robinson-Huron treaty area around Sudbury.
Identifying historic Métis communities is a key part of establishing Métis rights protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act. In 2003, the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking Powley decision confirmed the existence of one such community in the Sault Ste. Marie area and laid out criteria to define who is entitled to Métis rights.
Using that criteria, the MNO and Ontario government identified six other historic Métis communities in 2017: Rainy River/Lake of Woods, Northern Lake Superior, Abitibi-Inland, Mattawa/Ottawa, Killarney and Georgian Bay.
“These communities are established in fact, one is the only Métis community recognized by the Supreme Court,” said Ms. Froh. “They’re not going anywhere. Indigenous rights cannot be a zero-sum game. Just because our Métis rights to govern ourselves have been recognized doesn’t take away from First Nations rights to do the same.”
The Wabun Tribal Council, which consists of six First Nations north of Sudbury, has applied for a judicial review of the self-government agreement, arguing the Métis claims in their territory don’t hold up to the Powley criteria.
Other First Nations have expressed concern that federal recognition of the MNO and its historic communities could lead to greater Métis harvesting and resource rights on First Nations territory, without First Nations consultation.
“Nobody asked us if these Métis communities were here,” said John Turner, 2nd Chief of Temagami First Nation, located 90 kilometres northeast of Sudbury.
“We need to put a pause on things so that this whole thing can be looked at in a proper, complete way,” he added. “That just seems reasonable.”
Ms. Froh said the federal agreement only recognizes MNO jurisdiction over core governance matters, such as citizenship, elections, administration and caring for children.
“The self-government doesn’t deal with harvesting or any land matters whatsoever,” she said. “But I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what these agreements are.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Miller’s office said the government remains committed to recognizing the MNO in legislation despite objections from provincial First Nations.
“We are steadfast on our commitment to introduce legislation,” said Aïssatou Diop in an e-mail. “We still intend to honour that commitment, and will provide more updates when they become available.”