Dear Métis Citizens,
2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision in R. V. Powley.
Undeniably, the Powley case was a turning point for Métis rights recognition in Canada. This historic court victory remains celebrated throughout the Métis Nation to this day.
For the past 20 years, the MNO has been doing the hard work of implementing the Powley case in Ontario to prepare ourselves for self-government recognition as the next phase in advancing our rights.
Everything we have achieved since 1993, when the MNO was founded, is based on the MNO representing rights-bearing Métis communities and legitimate Métis rights-holders.
Without our Registry that verifies we represent Métis rights-holders, we would not have achieved our harvesting agreement or our self-government agreement or received all the program and service funding that is set aside for Métis rights-holders.
That is why our 2022 MNO Annual General Assembly directed the MNO to conduct a province-wide plebiscite on the following question:
Should all existing members/citizens of the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) and the MNO Secretariat, whose files do not meet the current requirements for citizenship as set out in the MNO Bylaws and Registry Policy, be removed as members/citizens?
A “YES” vote to this question means that those with “incomplete” files should be removed from the MNO Registry. With such a result, the MNO would be able to 100% confirm that every single MNO citizen on our Registry is a verified Métis rights-holder.
A “NO” vote means that those with “incomplete” files should remain on the MNO Registry, and the MNO would not be able to confirm that it only represents verified Métis rights-holders.
The vast majority of MNO citizens have “complete” citizenship files and are documented Métis rights-holders.
In fact, as of October 2022, over 24,600 MNO citizens have “complete” files (i.e., over 82%), meaning they have proven their ancestral connection to a historic Métis community and are rights-holders. Approximately 5,400 MNO citizens have “incomplete” files.
While the MNO has decided not to organize “yes” or “no” campaigns on this plebiscite, we are making all citizens aware of the MNO’s history, development, and the information set out in the resolution the 2022 MNO Annual Assembly, which is available here.
How We Got Here
Back in the 1990s, as the Powley case worked its way through the court, the MNO argued that an ancestral connection to a historic Métis community was required to be a Métis rights-holders. The Supreme Court accepted the MNO’s arguments on this point.
As such, Powley set out clear parameters on who rights-bearing Métis in Canada are. It confirmed that mixed Indigenous ancestry alone did not make a Métis community. It affirmed that Métis rights are not “less than” to other Indigenous peoples. It also directed governments to begin to negotiate with us to implement the promise of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Since 2003, based on Powley and the MNO’s unwavering mandate to advance Métis rights and self-government, we have done a lot of heavy lifting and made a lot of difficult decisions. This has not always been an easy path, but it has been consistent with our Statement of Prime Purpose.
For example, in 2004, the MNO Annual General Assembly changed the definition of “Métis” in our bylaws to align with the criteria in Powley and the national definition of Métis. In 2009, we adopted a Registry Policy that required documentary proof of Métis ancestry, not just Aboriginal ancestry, which was accepted by the MNO between 1993 to 2004.
In 2010, in response to significant debate about the new Registry Policy, our Annual General Assembly decided to undertake province-wide consultations, and to “grandfather” existing citizens until we could figure out how to address the legacy issues our new citizenship registration requirements created. This vote will guide the MNO on what we do next.
In 2012, in order to successfully negotiate a new harvesting agreement with Ontario, our Annual General Assembly voted to cancel all MNO Harvester Cards issued to citizens who did not meet the Powley requirements. This decision ultimately allowed us to remove the 1250 cap on Harvester Cards. This was a hard decision, but ultimately the right decision for Métis rights-holders.
In this same vein, in 2017, we made another hard decision. As a part of advancing our self-government negotiations with Canada, we initiated an independent review of every single MNO citizenship file in order to see how many met our new definition and citizenship requirements (i.e., whether files were “complete” or “incomplete”).
This review took nearly four years, including a great deal of coordination to help many citizens find missing documentation. The Registry Review was completed and publicly released in May 2021, which was an unprecedented act of transparency by an Indigenous government.
As noted above, this report confirmed that the vast majority of MNO citizens had “complete” citizenship files and are documented Métis rights-holders.
While our Registry worked tirelessly to help people with “incomplete” files to find documentation to prove their ancestral connection to a historic Métis community, the majority of the remaining 5,400 “incomplete” files are still missing critical documentation that does not allow us to verify these individuals as Métis rights-holders.
Along the way, some MNO citizens challenged our decisions, but in Green v. MNO, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice confirmed that: “if the MNO wanted to assert and claim Métis section 35 rights, it needed to ensure it represented Métis section 35 rights-holders. This was the purpose of the Registry Review.”
In 2021, based on the Registry Review final report, we initiated further province-wide consultations again to explain the findings, and encourage citizens who had not yet done so to complete their files.
While almost 20 years may seem like a long time to still be dealing with this issue, the MNO recognized this is a deeply personal and very sensitive one, and we needed to take the time to get this right and make sure everyone has an opportunity to be heard.
In some situations, the decision we collectively make may affect you, an individual or family you know, or a beloved friend. However, the MNO is not a club, and its main purpose is to advance Métis rights and self-government.
So, as noted above, in August 2022, the MNO Annual General Assembly directed that this issue be put in the hands of MNO citizens.
We knew that a question of this significance could not just be put to a room of only a few hundred MNO citizens. As a Métis government, the MNO also wanted to ensure that a public and transparent process is undertaken, where all MNO citizens have an opportunity to be heard.
This plebiscite is about obtaining input from all of our citizens on what we do next in our ongoing journey to advance Métis rights and self-government. It is your vote, your voice, and your rights at issue. Regardless of how you vote, please make sure you do.
Merci, thank you, maarsii,
President, Métis Nation of Ontario