Métis say proof of being is a link to Riel
- via ndn-aim
Métis say proof of being is a link to Riel
By ROBERT MATAS
GLOBE AND MAIL NEWS
Monday, December 30, 2002 - Page A1
VANCOUVER -- Rosemarie Plante thought she knew what it meant to be a Métis.
She was shut out from white society for being a native, and shunned from
Indian society for being not native enough.
She thought she fit in with others who shared her history and aspirations.
But even the Métis community has turned on her.
A spirited resurgence of nationalism is redefining who is Métis, leaving
behind tens of thousands of people from Labrador to British Columbia who
consider themselves Métis because they are of mixed native and non-native
ancestry and identify with that community.
The Métis National Council decided that those calling themselves Métis must
show a direct link to those who lived in Métis settlements in the 1800s, at
the time of Louis Riel.
To be formally recognized, the council said recently, Métis must have proof
of "historic Métis Nation ancestry," tracing their roots to the traditional
That homeland is a territory of undefined borders in west central North
America. Estimates of the Canadian Métis population vary widely, running as
high as 800,000. In 1996, Statistics Canada set the population at 210,190,
based on a question that asked whether people identified themselves as
Métis. More than half lived outside the traditional homeland territory.
Debate over identity and recognition likely will heat up early in the new
year, as Métis organizations deal with those who are disqualified from
citizenship in the reconstituted nation.
The federal government and the Supreme Court of Canada will take part in the
If those who consider themselves Métis are pushed out of the Métis nation,
Ottawa may have to take a second look at whether its $250-million
job-training program for the community is reaching everyone it thought would
The issue of identity and rights will be under the microscope at the Supreme
Court for the first time in a case this spring dealing with Métis hunting
and fishing rights in Ontario.
The landmark case, to begin on March 17, involves an appeal of Ontario court
rulings finding that Steve and Roddy Powley were part of a community rooted
historically in a Métis settlement at Sault Ste Marie in the 1800s. As Métis
with aboriginal rights, they have the right to hunt and fish for food, the
lower courts decided.
If upheld by the Supreme Court, the ruling would mean the Métis Nation
includes people of mixed ancestry from Ontario, as well as descendants of
the Riel settlements on the Prairies.
To Tony Belcourt, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, the Métis
homeland stretches from the Ontario-Quebec border to British Columbia.
Mr. Belcourt dismissed Métis in other provinces as not genuine because their
ancestors did not live in separate settlements. "For example, the Métis
community of Labrador -- we have absolutely no connection with them
whatsoever. It's up to them if they want to say they are Métis, but it has
nothing to do with us."
Gerald Morin, president of Métis National Council, said that some people of
mixed ancestry describe themselves as Métis to claim benefits as members of
a recognized aboriginal group.
They may have mixed native and non-native ancestry, "but they are not our
people," he said.
The Métis emerged as a distinct people -- with their own history, culture
and homeland -- in Western Canada, Mr. Morin said. "We have never pretended
to be other than who we are."
But those who say the Métis began as a people of mixed ancestry in the
1600s, when Europeans arrived in North America, say they are as Métis as the
Riel Métis of the 1800s.
Kurtis DeSilva, president of the B.C. dissident group Métis Nation, launched
a lawsuit against Ottawa this year for providing job-training funds to Métis
groups that restrict membership to Riel Métis.
The new definition would deny government support to people who are known and
accepted as Métis, he said. "Métis organizations should be inclusive, not
The conflict over definitions and geography strikes Ms. Plante as
irrelevant. Her father was a Métis from Quebec. Her mother was an aboriginal
woman from out East; she is not sure where.
Ms. Plante was born in Alberta and spent most of her life in British
Columbia. She did not feel she was part of mainstream society or Indian
"You're on your own," she said. "You don't belong in either place; you're
not accepted in either world."
At least she had the support of her Métis friends, who shared her history
and her aspirations, she said. "It was not until I found the Métis community
that I felt I belonged somewhere."
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