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Newly-appointed Interim National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Joanna Bernard, left, stands on stage in front of Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller during the AFN annual general assembly in Halifax on July 13.Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

The federal government must immediately withdraw legislation that recognizes Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, the interim chief of the Assembly of First Nations says.

Joanna Bernard, who is leading the AFN until a new national chief is named in December, said Wednesday that the bill must be withdrawn and the government must “properly engage and consult with First Nations rights holders” about potential effects of the legislation.

“We need to develop a respectful First Nations-led process that ensures all impacts of this legislation are thoroughly considered,” she said.

Some First Nations leaders believe the legislation was introduced by the federal government without proper consultation and fear it could pose a threat to First Nations’ inherent and constitutional rights.

Ms. Bernard said the development of the legislation “failed to include a process for First Nations to voice their concerns regarding the potential negative impacts of overlapping Métis rights assertions or concerns regarding unfounded Métis rights assertions.”

In June, then Crown-Indigenous relations minister Marc Miller announced the introduction of Bill C-53. At the time, the federal government said the legislation delivers commitments that were co-developed and signed with the Métis governments.

Canada formally recognized that Métis governments “possess an inherent right to self-government recognized and affirmed” by Section 35 of the Constitution.

“Canada also recognizes that each of these Métis Governments has jurisdiction in the areas of citizenship, leadership selection, and internal administration,” a statement said.

The legislation has passed first and second reading in the House of Commons and is currently being studied by the Indigenous and Northern affairs committee. Ms. Bernard appeared at that committee on Tuesday evening and the AFN subsequently issued a statement Wednesday.

The AFN, which represents more than 900,000 people in 634 communities, said that while the federal government has stated the legislation will not adversely affect First Nations, “it has failed to properly consult with First Nations and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations rights holders in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Matthieu Perrotin, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree, said Wednesday that the bill “advances self-governance for the Métis Nations of Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.”

“Métis have been fighting for their rights for over two centuries, and this co-developed bill is long overdue in recognizing those rights,” he said.

This legislation does not affect the rights of any other Indigenous peoples, Mr. Perrotin said, adding that if any future negotiations or treaties affect rights holders under Section 35 of the Constitution, they will be consulted in line with Canada’s duty to do so.

The president of the Métis National Council, Cassidy Caron, told the committee recently that Canada is finally taking action on what has been long promised. “Métis self-government is not new,” she said.

Earlier this month, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Chiefs of Ontario issued a statement to say they were urgently asking the federal government to halt Bill C-53 “without obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations.”

The statement said the Chiefs of Ontario have been “sounding the alarm” about the legislation and believe that it sets a “dangerous precedent.”

“Canada’s actions will only encourage groups asserting false claims across the country,” said Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare.

In an October letter to Mr. Hare, Margaret Froh, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, said she wished to “clarify some misconceptions” about the discourse around Bill C-53.

She said that work being done to advance Indigenous self-determination and self-government, as reflected in the legislation, is important to and helpful for all Indigenous peoples in Canada.

“In solidarity, we can pursue the inherent and absolute right of all Indigenous people to achieve self-government,” she wrote.

She also said the Métis Nation of Ontario takes very seriously the credibility of its citizenship registry and the need to ensure it only represents Métis rights holders.

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