This article was originally published in The Hill Times on October 25, 2023

Under Bill C-53—the federal government’s proposed legislation to recognize self government and self determination to Métis in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario—it will be easier for Métis communities to develop child welfare services that make sense for Métis, writes Theresa Stenlund.

Métis communities in Ontario have a rich and proud history, and while we cherish the past, it is also important that we look to secure a strong, stable future—and for that we need to look after our children and youth.

In Northwestern Ontario, the regional Métis community took that step forward to look after our children, youth, and families by creating the Northwestern Ontario Métis Child and Family Services (NWOMCFS), a child welfare agency that was formed following a thorough process of consultation and engagement with our Métis community. The NWOMCFS is the first Métis Child and Family Services agency in the province, and focuses on prevention and preservation services including education, targeted programs and intensive family support.

This agency also advances Métis self-government as it enables our community to address its own needs. The ultimate goal is for it to be a resource for Métis children, youth and families to reconnect with their heritage, strengthen cultural bonds, and enhance the well-being of Métis families. When it comes to preserving our Métis identity, culture, and pride, nothing is more important than sharing it with the next generation.

When it comes to fostering a feeling of belonging and kinship in our communities, nothing is more important than holding our children close. On Oct. 26, the House Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee begins its study of Bill C-53—the federal government’s proposed legislation to finally recognize self-government and self-determination to Métis in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

The proposed law will make it easier for Métis communities represented by the Métis Nation of Ontario, as well as other Métis governments in Canada, to develop child welfare services that make sense for Métis. It is an assurance that Métis communities like mine in Northwestern Ontario will have a strong role to play in family services, and can develop systems that will place Métis children in Métis homes. Giving Métis communities more control over their own family support systems is reconciliation in action.

Other governments should not be dictating to Métis communities how we look after our children. Bill C-53 provides an option to Métis communities to be able to look after our own children, youth and families in a way that allows them to choose the right path forward for them as Métis. What’s more, Métis communities already have working models in place to meet the family and child welfare needs of our citizens.  Bill C-53 is about ensuring Métis in Ontario have a say in our collective future, and with Bill C-92 it provides another option to protect Métis children who are our future.

It commits Canada to working with us so that we can develop programming to meet the unique and evolving needs of our citizens. Through self-government, we—not Ottawa—will be able to make choices that make sense for our citizens and communities. That’s what Bill C-53 is about: Métis self-government and our relationship with Canada—no more, no less. Métis are only asking to be treated the same as other Indigenous Peoples who have seen their self-government legislation passed swiftly and respectfully.

Moreover, Bill C-53 will ensure Canada’s colonial legacy of denying the Métis is finally overcome. After more than 150 years of perseverance and struggle by my ancestors and years of negotiations, my Métis community has been waiting for Canada to honour its commitments to us. The time has come for Canada to recognize the Métis and our inherent right to self-government.

Theresa Stenlund is the Region 1 Councillor of the Métis Nation of Ontario, and is a social worker specializing in child and family services.