Ontario chiefs’ rally turns up the heat on Métis self-government legislation

Thursday, September 21st, 2023 10:02am


Image Caption

Chief Wilfred King addresses the rally against Bill C-53 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sept. 20.


“At stake here is not merely jurisdiction over local internal administrative functions, but, we fear, the encroachment into First Nations governance and lands.” — Celeste Pedri-Spade, associate professor of anthropology at McGill University
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

First Nations chiefs and scholars in Ontario addressed a rally on Parliament Hill Sept. 20 and accused the federal government of “modern day colonialism”.

The rally was in response to a bill that recognizes self-government for the Métis Nations of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Bill C-53 awaits third and final reading in the House of Commons.

“We are the rights holders and it is our territory protected by treaty,” said Chief Wilfred King of the Gull Bay First Nation.

At issue is the proposed Act respecting the recognition of certain Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, to give effect to treaties with those governments and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The bill was tabled June 16 as a government motion by former Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Marc Miller. It received first and second readings.

The legislation advances the recognition of the right to self-determination, including the inherent right to self-government recognized and affirmed by Sect.35 “of certain Métis collectives and the recognition of the authority of Métis governments to act on behalf of those collectives.”

Ontario chiefs are saying that Métis rights are being advanced on land that belongs to First Nations; that the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is claiming historical communities where they never existed; and that the MNO is turning Anishinaabe ancestors into Métis.

Ontario chiefs condemned both the Ontario government and Canada for recognizing Métis rights on land that First Nations have dwelled on for time immemorial.

Assembly of First Nations Interim National Chief Joanne Bernard called Bill C-53 a “colonial piece of legislation.”

“I have sent a letter to Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau formally requesting that Bill C-53 be halted until proper consultation with impacted First Nations takes place. We will maintain this stance until meaningful dialogue, engagement and consultation has occurred with First Nations,” said Bernard.

The Chiefs of Ontario provided buses to transport community members to the rally. The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians added their support to the day’s events. It was the second rally that has been held in Ottawa in opposition to Bill C-53.

Celeste Pedri-Spade, a member of Lac des Milles Lacs First Nation and an associate professor of anthropology at McGill University, said she and seven other First Nation scholars from Ontario were all “very concerned about what is going on here.”

A collective of academic scholars produced a brief for the Yellowhead Institute entitled “A call to reconsider the Métis-self-government agreement in Ontario.”

“Our First Nations leaders in Ontario have denounced the agreement as a form of modern-day colonialism,” read Pedri-Spade. “At stake here is not merely jurisdiction over local internal administrative functions, but, we fear, the encroachment into First Nations governance and lands.”

Miller has asserted in discussions with Ontario chiefs that Bill C-53 is not about recognizing the historic Métis communities put forward by the MNO nor about title or land. It was simply about recognizing the MNO’s right to govern itself under Sect. 35.

In 2017, a study undertaken by the Ontario government and the MNO formally recognized six additional historic Métis communities. Up to that point, the only Métis community in the province was located in northwestern Ontario along the Manitoba border.

“(The MNO) says this agreement is about matters internal. But what is self-government without land?” said Pedri-Spade.

She noted that the agreement gave rise to negotiate a treaty within two years.

“We all know that treaties are about land,” said Pedri-Spade.

She also pointed out that MNO had been participating for some time in land-use decision making in First Nations’ territory through the consultation and accommodation regime.

In a June interview with Windspeaker.com, MNO President Margaret Froh said the treaties referred to in the legislation would focus on citizenship, electing leaders, other core governance areas and exercising jurisdiction over child and family matters. See article here: https://windspeaker.com/news/windspeaker-news/metis-nation-ontario-celebrates-self-government-legislation-introduced-house

“These agreements and the modern self-government treaties that will come do not deal with land or land-related issues,” said Froh. “But in the event that those types of things happen, then clearly…when we're talking about lands, in particular, there would have to be some conversation. There would have to be a determination of whether or not there was interest and if there was, then the duty to consult would apply.”

Ontario First Nations don’t stand alone in their condemnation of Bill C-53.

The British Columbia Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) released a statement Sept. 20 expressing it “unequivocally” supported the chiefs in Ontario.

“If passed, Bill C-53 would facilitate baseless claims to First Nations’ lands, waters, and resources asserted by illegitimate “Métis” groups across the country,” stated the BCAFN.

Chiefs from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 also added their support in a statement Sept. 20, pointing out, “We have serious concerns about its possible impacts on the existing numbered Treaties, Treaty Lands and Treaty Peoples. Once again, Canada has left us out of the discussion, and we have been excluded from decisions with serious, long-standing implications.”

“Federal, provincial and territorial governments have neither the legitimacy nor the power to create new nations or recognize their usurped rights and thus compromise the ongoing Reconciliation with the First Nations,” said AFN Quebec and Labrador Regional chief Ghislain Picard, in a statement issued Sept. 20.

Support for Ontario First Nations has also come from the Manitoba Métis Federation.

“Decisions made by Canada in support of these individuals and communities without due diligence will have current and future impacts on legitimate rightsholders for generations to come,” said President David Chartrand.

“We cannot let these cultural thieves and modern-day identity colonizers erode our distinct Red River Métis identity or those of the First Nations for their own gain.”

King said a meeting in the morning with their New Democratic Party Members of Parliament resulted in a commitment from them that there would be no unanimous consent to introduce the legislation Sept. 20 or Sept. 21.

According to the House of Commons legislation information website, a meeting scheduled for the Indigenous and Northern Affairs standing committee on Sept. 21 has been cancelled. No new date has been set. However, the information provided does not indicate specifically that Bill C-53 was to be part of the agenda.

After consideration in committee, the bill will return to the House of Commons for the third and final reading.

Windspeaker.com reached out to Crown-Indigenous Relations to inquire on the status of Bill C-53 and were told in an email that “the department cannot speak on parliamentary timelines.”

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.