Métis leaders urge MPs to ignore the critics, pass self-government bill quickly

Métis Nation of Ontario President Margaret Froh speaks as Métis Nation of Alberta President Andrea Sandmaier looks on during a news conference on Wednesday in Ottawa.  (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Métis Nation of Ontario President Margaret Froh speaks as Métis Nation of Alberta President Andrea Sandmaier looks on during a news conference on Wednesday in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Métis political leaders from Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta are urging members of Parliament to ignore the critics and quickly pass federal legislation recognizing their groups' internal self-government rights, calling it "reconciliation in action."

MPs heard from the Métis leaders for two hours in Ottawa on Thursday, as the House Indigenous affairs committee opened its study of Bill C-53, proposed legislation that would also give effect to future, still-unwritten treaties between Canada and the three groups.

"If this bill failed, I believe, it would be a tremendous black mark on this beautiful country we call Canada," said Michelle LeClair, vice-president of the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan (MN–S), in an exchange with the committee.

First Nations in Ontario oppose the bill because of the recognition it would confer on the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO).

The Chiefs of Ontario umbrella organization says six new Métis communities, recognized provincially in 2017, didn't exist historically and wouldn't pass the Supreme Court of Canada's Métis rights test.

In a statement last week, the chiefs accused the MNO of "manipulative, callous identity, rights, and land fraud," and suggested the group is using the recognition of internal rights as a beachhead to launch land claims.

On Thursday, in her prepared remarks, MNO President Margaret Froh acknowledged the criticism, before urging MPs to look past it.

"Bill C-53 does not impact the rights of other Indigenous peoples in any way, including Ontario First Nations," Froh told the committee.

"We ask this committee to ensure that it remains focused on what the bill actually does and says, not the myths or the rhetoric — the anti-Métis rhetoric being advanced by some."

Other Métis groups concerned

Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) President Andrea Sandmaier offered a similar response to the concerns from other Alberta Métis groups. The Métis Settlements General Council in Alberta, the central government for the eight land-based Métis settlements in Alberta, is unaffiliated with the MNA and has sued Canada for deciding to recognize the MNA.

"The legislation does not impact the rights of other Indigenous people, including other Métis," Sandmaier said in her remarks.

"Passage of C-53 doesn't affect anyone else — but failing to pass C-53 will hurt Métis people and the advancement of Indigenous rights across the board."

The MNO, MN–S, and MNA along with the Métis Nation B.C. together form the Métis National Council. The Manitoba Métis Federation withdrew from that organization in 2021 over the MNO identity dispute and now supports the Ontario First Nations.

MMF minister Will Goodon said last month that Bill C-53 "rewards Indigenous identity theft."

"No matter how much they try to usurp our flag, culture, identity and language, the MNO and its communities remain carpetbaggers, out to grab what does not belong to them," said Goodon in a statement.

Michelle LeClair, vice-president of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan,
Michelle LeClair, vice-president of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan,

Michelle LeClair, vice-president of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan. (Travis Reddaway)

MMF President David Chartrand added, "We cannot let these cultural thieves and modern-day identity colonizers erode our distinct Red River Métis identity or those of the First Nations for their own gain."

The three provincial Métis leaders, who indicated they collectively represent more than 120,000 people, said their registry system is strong and said the bill excludes issues like land and expressly does not impact other groups.

"Legitimate rights holders should not be pitted up against one another," LeClair, the MN–S vice-president, told MPs.

"It's your responsibility to build bridges, create opportunities for everyone to thrive, not to divide and conquer."