Reconciliation with the Métis: The time is here

bill153 groupThe MNO leadership and senior staff with representatives from all three political
parties after the passage of Bill 153 on December 9, 2015. Left to right: MNO
Associate Chief Operating Officer Margaret Froh, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs
David Zimmer (Liberal), MPP Gilles Bisson (NDP), MNO President Gary
Lipinski, Speaker Dave Levac (Liberal), MNO Chair France Picotter, MPP
France Gélinas (NDP), MPP John Vanthof (NDP) and Leader of the
Progressive Conservative Party Patrick Brown.
The following article is from an op-ed piece written by Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) President Gary Lipinski to several media outlets. This particular version was printed by the Chronicle Journal, located in Thunder Bay.

This Wednesday the members of the 41st Legislative Assembly made history and fulfilled the aspirations of Métis throughout this province by passing the Métis Nation of Ontario Secretariat Act.  For our citizens and communities, this legislation represents a significant step forward in our ongoing journey toward reconciliation between the Crown and the Métis Nation.

For generations, we have struggled to be recognized and respected as one of this country’s Indigenous peoples and partners in confederation. As the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples aptly concluded, we have been Canada’s “forgotten people,” even though we played a fundamental role in this country’s expansion and development.  While we had hoped our inclusion in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 would correct this pattern of neglect, governments throughout Canada—including Ontario—remained willfully blind to our unique history, rights and needs.

In the 1990s, Ontario became ground zero in the Métis Nation’s “hunt for justice” in this country. As a part of the denial of our existence as an Indigenous people, the Ontario government charged two of our citizens--Steve and Roddy Powley--for hunting a moose without a license outside Sault Ste. Marie.  In 2003, after a decade of court battles, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously affirmed that there were Métis communities in this province with constitutionally-protected rights.  The Powley case was and remains a watershed for Ontario Métis and the Métis Nation as whole.

Throughout these struggles, our citizens and communities--through the Métis Nation of Ontario--have developed their own forms of self-government at the local, regional and provincial levels.  In 1994, as a part of our organization efforts, we incorporated the Métis Nation of Ontario Secretariat as a not-for-profit corporation under Ontario law to act as our nation’s legal and administrative arm.  We incorporated the Secretariat under Ontario law because we needed a legal entity to receive and administer funding, do business, and protect our citizens and leaders from legal liabilities like other governments.

That said, this provincial legislation has always been an awkward fit for us.  It is designed for local clubs and associations, not province-wide Métis government.  As is our Métis way, we made do with what we had, but always aspired to something more.  When I was first elected as President in 2008, we began to write a new chapter with the Ontario government by signing a framework agreement.  This first-of-its-kind agreement included a commitment to “discuss options for the legislative recognition” of our unique governance structure.  This became an increased priority with changes to the existing provincial legislation pending, which would have had a devastating effect on our governance structures.

In light of our urgent concern, Premier Wynne committed to pressing forward with us to develop Métis Nation of Ontario specific legislation. This legislation was introduced by the Ontario government on December 2, and passed unanimously on December 9.  It was quite something to sit in the same legislature that once put a $5,000.00 bounty on Louis Riel’s head, and now see the government and every political party stand united for this historic recognition of Ontario Métis.  I and other Métis leaders were honoured and humbled to be there representing our citizens and communities.

While we continue to work toward full recognition of our Métis self-government, this new legislation advances the yardstick significantly.  Most importantly, the days of anyone denying the existence of the Métis people and our communities in Ontario are over.  Now, both the courts and the legislature have affirmed that the law in this province recognizes our historic and continued existence as an Indigenous people.  This week’s events in the legislature show that reconciliation is not an impossible task.  We just need to work--together--to make it happen.

Gary Lipinski is President of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

 

 

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