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Bill C-53... What is the big fuss?

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“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.”

The potential impacts of governments’ existing and further recognition of Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO)’s asserted rights could be catastrophic. In addition to granting constitutional rights to a group with no legal or historical basis to claim those rights, First Nations’ rights will be displaced if MNO is granted “equal” rights in First Nations’ territories, there is also the indirect impacts of the reduction in consultation and funding for First Nations both for land and water impacts.

During the Standing Committee hearings in November 2023, Canada admitted that it took no steps to verify the legitimacy of the six new historic MNO communities when it recognized these communities as holding Section 35 rights. Robinson Huron Waawiindamaagewin (RHW), Anishinabek Nation and Chiefs of Ontario (COO) have informed Minister Rickford, that Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) officials admitted that they did not verify MNO’s claims before introducing C-53, and that instead they are relying on the work done for the 2017 Recognition — and so Ontario has a role to play in resolving this issue.

RHW recognize the Powley decision exists, but its scope is extremely limited geographically and does not support any broader recognition of a MNO. Métis rights that are protected by Section 35 of the Constitution flow not from mixed ancestry, but from the existence of a culturally distinct, self-governing nation that formed around and from the Red River communities in Manitoba before the Canadian government took control of the lands that are now Canada.

“First Nations in Ontario know there were no distinct Métis communities in our territories historically because we have always been here—we would have noticed. We would have acknowledged them, we would have entered into agreements as per our sovereign responsibilities, we would know about them because they would be a part of our oral histories. Unlike the federal government, First Nations have done our research. The MNO’s claims are based on changing the identities of First Nations individuals in the past into “Métis” simply because they are mixed race (referred to as “half-breed” in census records).”

Since 2003, several organizations claiming to represent Métis communities have sprung up. Though many have filed for federal recognition of their communities, none have successfully met the Powley Test. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of people identifying as Métis, particularly in the eastern provinces.

Margaret Froh, who has been president of the MNO since 2016 and is a strong voice for rights in the province, has said in a recent interview with The Narwhal published on March 4, 2024, many MNO members do not have the ancestral ties to Ontario communities that would grant them land rights — including herself, since she is from Saskatchewan.

Bill C-53 is very much about land — our land. Canada isn’t even waiting for Bill C-53 to be passed to begin creating a land base for the MNO.