Long overdue for federal government to recognize Ontario Métis

By Margaret Froh – President, Métis Nation of Ontario

The Métis story in Ontario is one of resistance and resilience. In recent years, we have been writing a new chapter to our story with Canada based on reconciliation. This spring, we hope to solidify the progress we have made as a people with the passage of federal recognition legislation by Parliament.

In order to understand just how far we have come in our reconciliation journey, you need to know who Ontario Métis are and how our very existence, rights, and self-government were denied for generations.

President Froh and Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
President of the MNO Margaret Froh and the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations sign the updated self-government agreement.

Beginning in the late 1700s, distinct Métis communities emerged along the lakes and waterways of what would become Ontario. While some of our history is tied to the fur trade, and, in a biological sense, we are the descendants of First Nations women and European men, this is an overly simplistic and flawed understanding of who we are. We are a distinct people made up of communities with our own distinct history, identity, culture, and rights that existed before Canada was Canada.

And while the Métis resistances at the Red River in 1869-70 and the Battle of Batoche in 1885 are more well-known, our people were never limited to just those locations, and our history in Ontario is often untold. From Métis participation in the Mica Bay Uprising in 1849-50 that led to the Robinson Superior and Huron treaties being negotiated with First Nations (and that excluded the Métis as a group), to the Halfbreed Adhesion to Treaty 3 in 1875 to petitions to deal with Métis lands and rights that span from Penetanguishene all the way to Moose Factory, our assertions are not new.

The Crown’s approach to our assertions, however, was to deny and ignore them. When the Crown did make bargains with our ancestors, those promises were quickly broken. In the face of those denials, we did what we needed to do to keep our communities intact. We built our own self-government structures through coming together in assemblies, democratic elections, and by sheer force of will.

That resilience drove our fight for rights recognition to the highest court in Canada. For 20 years, Ontario has been the home of R. v. Powley — the first and only Supreme Court of Canada case that recognized a Métis community (the Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Community) with Métis rights protected by s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. To this day, the landmark R. v. Powley decision has remained foundational for ongoing Métis rights assertions and negotiations with the Métis not just in Ontario, but across the Métis Nation Homeland.

But the outstanding piece for us was for Canada to finally recognize the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) as a government. This week, after over six years of negotiations, Minister Marc Miller signed a second self-government agreement with us, immediately recognizing that the MNO is the Indigenous government representing its citizens and Métis communities in Ontario. The agreement also recognizes that the MNO, as a Métis government, has law-making powers and authority over our citizenship, elections, governance operations as well as Métis child and family services.

This agreement also commits the federal government to introduce recognition legislation into Parliament as soon as possible to anchor our nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship. From the failed constitutional conferences in the 1980s, to the Métis Nation Accord being rejected as a part of the Charlottetown Accord in the 1990s, to the Kelowna Accord in 2005, we have been close to having our self-government recognized before to only have politics overtake promises or principles.

This federal recognition legislation will ensure that even as governments may come and go, the recognition of our Métis self-government here in Ontario will not be subject to political whim. Moreover, this legislation will ultimately constitutionally protect the agreement we are currently negotiating with Canada, as a modern-day treaty. Instead of being known as the ‘forgotten people,’ we will be recognized as an equal order of government alongside other self-governing First Nations and Inuit.

We are calling on Parliament to support this important legislation. It is reconciliation-in-action. It is what the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls for. Passage of this legislation will finally end the legacy of ignoring the Métis and denying our rights as an Indigenous people.

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Sun.