Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It’s not at this stage in the process that Canada should weigh in, the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs was told Thursday. It was holding its first hearing on Bill C-53, legislation that recognizes certain Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
The time to weigh in will come when treaties from the legislation are being negotiated and that’s when other Indigenous people will be consulted, said Michelle LeClair, vice president for the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S).
“All three treaties…will be negotiated independently and it’s there, through that process, that duty to consult will be triggered,” she said. “But the venue for these concerns is not here. Not regarding Bill C-53. Our legislation doesn’t trigger the duty to consult. It lays the path for treaty making.”
Bill C-53 establishes the framework for implementation of treaties negotiated and entered into by the Métis governments and Canada, LeClair said. A two-year window is set to accomplish this goal.
LeClair was joined at the Standing Committee hearing by presidents of the Métis Nations of Alberta and Ontario.
The committee also heard that once the treaties are negotiated, they will not come back to Parliament for approval. Bill C-53 states approval will be provided through an order by the Governor in Council.
The focus for the standing committee, said Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) president Margaret Froh, should be only on what is included in the bill.
“Similar to other Indigenous self-government legislation that Parliament has passed, Bill C-53 is only about matters that are internal to our Métis self-government,” said Froh.
“It was introduced into Parliament with our full support. We do not seek any amendments or changes to the bill and we ask that it be passed quickly by this committee, consistent with how other Indigenous self-government legislation has been considered,” she said.
However, Froh’s statement did not stop members of Parliament from raising concerns that have been voiced by other Indigenous nations.
Jamie Schmale, Conservative MP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock (Ontario), said Ontario First Nations were concerned over a number of issues in Bill C-53, including membership and potential land claims by the MNO.
Ontario First Nations are protesting six additional historic Métis communities claimed by the MNO saying they are on First Nations land and MNO’s membership list includes people whose ancestry is First Nations and not Métis.
“The rights that are being recognized in the legislation, which is our inherent rights to self-determination, to self-government, those will be collected in the form of the treaty. They don’t deal with lands,” said Froh.
On the matter of the six historic Métis communities in Ontario, LeClair pointed to an independent panel, “championed” by the MN-S that is looking “at the root issues…and I’m confident the expert panel will shed some light on the concerns that Ontario First Nations have.”
The panel was struck in 2021 by the Métis National Council, the organization that all three Métis governments belong to, along with the Métis Nation British Columbia. However, it is only now meeting. The panel is supposed to undertake an examination of the history of the six additional communities that the MNO and the province of Ontario have identified as being part of the Métis Nation homeland.
LeClair said she hoped the Ontario chiefs would attend the panel and raise their concerns. She also encouraged Ontario First Nations to raise their issues with Canada during the consultation process when Canada is negotiating the treaties with the three Métis governments.
Schmale also raised concerns voiced by both the Fort McKay Métis Nation and the Métis Settlements General Council in Alberta. He said they claimed the legislation elevated the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) over other Métis groups that have their own elected bodies.
“Fort McKay and the Métis Settlements, among others, would want specific amendments to basically carve out…a section ensuring that they are, in fact…the representatives of the people who elected them to be that way,” said Schmale.
In a brief submitted by Fort McKay Métis Nation in northern Alberta, they asked the standing committee to consider an amendment to Bill C-53 that “would avoid Parliament passing laws that would create infringements of the existing and asserted Aboriginal rights of Métis communities that do not recognize or participate in the Métis governments which Canada has chosen, at this time, to give statutory recognition.”
Schmale asked Andrea Sandmaier, newly-elected president of the MNA, if she would be open to an amendment.
Sandmaier said the legislation was clear in that it impacted only those who had chosen to become citizens of the MNA.
LeClair added that there was nothing stopping Fort McKay Métis Nation from entering into its own self-government agreement with the federal government.
Lori Idlout, NDP MP from Nunavut, asked what the impact would be on the three Métis Nations if Bill C-53 did not pass.
“Failing to pass C-53 will hurt all Métis people and the advancement of all Indigenous people in Canada,” said Sandmaier. “That legislation is there to protect us, to protect our rights. Governments come and go and we need that legislation to protect what we’ve built.”
“This is a really important start to our study of C-53,” said committee chair John Aldag, Liberal MP for Cloverdale-Langley City (B.C.).
More meetings will be held with other witnesses over the next three weeks, he said, culminating with appearances from the Crown-Indigenous Relations minister and department officials.
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