‘It’s not simply you just get a little check mark and say I’m Métis. You have to prove your identity’
The president of the Manitoba Metis Federation says the 2016 census numbers for Métis in Canada are wrong — but his objections point to a larger debate about who in fact is Métis.
“People just think that because you have potentially First Nation blood in you that you can quantify yourself as Métis,” David Chartrand said Tuesday. “I can guarantee there’s not 125,000 Métis Nation citizens in Ontario.”
The 2016 census asked people whether they were Aboriginal, and then further broke that down to First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
There were 587,545 people who self-identified as Métis, a growth of more than 50 per cent since 2006, with the most in Ontario, where there were just over 120,000. Almost 90,000 in Manitoba self-identified as Métis.
But Chartrand says a lack of understanding prompted many people to incorrectly self-identify as Métis, a word with roots in the French for mixed blood.
“Our nation is probably about no more than 400,000, from parts of Ontario all the way to parts of British Columbia and all of the Prairies. That’s our population. We know it. We know where we live, we know who we are,” he said.
Chartrand’s organization strictly regulates who gets Métis Nation citizenship cards.
They must show they trace their ancestry back to the mixed First Nations and European people who lived in Western Canada during the time of the fur trade.
“It’s not simply you just get a little check mark and say I’m Métis,” Chartrand said. “You have to prove your identity and prove your connection to the historical and collective homeland of the Métis Nation. It’s a long process.”
However, not everyone agrees with Chartrand’s definition.
A 2016 Supreme Court ruling about Métis rights launched some infighting among Métis about who meets the definition.
The Daniels vs. Canada ruling states the Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under the Constitution and thus fall under federal jurisdiction, so they must turn to Ottawa when negotiating rights or for new programs and services.
The ruling determined Métis status must be granted on a case-by-case basis, with the generally agreed upon criteria including ancestry and community ties.
The Métis Federation of Canada has a broader criteria for membership than the Manitoba Metis Federation.
“The true history of the Métis is very inclusive,” said president Robert Pilon said following the Daniels ruling.
“If you want to have a true representation of Métis in Canada, they got to make sure all Métis are at the table,” Pilon said in 2016. “Not just pick and choose just because one group has been around longer.”
A Statistics Canada analyst said the census did allow a wide variety of people to identify as Métis, but more data is being gathered to learn exactly what people mean by the term.
“We understand that there’s no single definition of Métis that’s endorsed by all Métis groups in Canada,” said Vivian O’Donnell.
Statistics Canada is trying to find out what people mean when they self-identify as Métis, she said.
Statistics Canada added two new questions to the Aboriginal Peoples Survey for those who said they’re Métis.
“We asked them, ‘Do you have a card or certificate issued by a Métis organization that identifies you as Métis?’ and if they say yes, we ask what Métis organization issued the card or certificate,” O’Donnell said.
“We also have other questions about sense of belonging — trying to capture some cultural connectedness — so there’s a lot of research potential there to better understand how people are identifying with the Métis nation or the Métis population.”
‘Capital M Métis’
Jacqueline Romanow, chair of the department of Indigenous studies at the University of Winnipeg, says she uses the terms “capital M Métis” and “small m Métis” in her classes to define two separate groups.
Small m Métis are people with mixed blood, which is how many people interpret the word, which has its roots in the French for mixed blood, Romanow says.
Capital M Métis are members of the Métis Nation who trace their ancestry back to the Red River Settlement and Ruperts Land before the creation of the province of Manitoba, she said. She is a member of that group.
Those Métis developed a culture with its own language and traditions in a specific region, she says.
“This is a unique place in history and in time, where you have the genesis of a whole new kind of culture,” she said.
“This didn’t happen everywhere — a new culture with a new language, new traditions that evolved that are very unique and specific.”
There are also specific rights given to those who can trace their heritage to Red River Métis, including land entitlements tracing back to the creation of Manitoba, when Métis were promised land that many never got.
Chartrand said only those who meet the Manitoba Métis Federation’s citizenship requirements are entitled to those rights.
People who are not members of the Métis Nation but want to be identified as part Indigenous should embrace their heritage, but it is not Métis, he said.
“We worked too damn hard to get where we are as a nation,” he said. “We do not take kindly to others who are just trying to jump in to something we’ve been working on for 150 years.”