The bill recognizing Métis self-government remains in limbo. This is what you need to know

The committee process for testy legislation that would recognize Métis governments in three provinces has been extended until at least February.

In the House of Commons committee hearings on Bill C-53, 65 witnesses have appeared and 274 briefs have been submitted vigorously arguing for or against the legislation, which Métis leaders say would lay the groundwork for treaties on internal affairs such as child welfare.

Some First Nations groups also oppose the bill, which would recognize Métis governments in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and are urging MPs to vote against it because they say it could erode their own rights.

But it has the support of bodies that would be the direct beneficiaries of the bill and broader groups, including the Métis National Council.

Recently, Members of Parliament have been arguing over the finer points of the bill during meetings dedicated to clause-by-clause deliberation; seven of them so far, with hours of debate.

That process will resume after the House returns from a winter break at the end of the month.

A sticking point has been whether the bill should use the term “indigenous governing body” in reference to the recognition that organizations would be authorized to act on behalf of the Métis, and that this affirms their inherent right to self-government as affirms the Constitution. .

The term is included in the original wording of the legislation but is not defined. It has been used and specifically defined in other bills governing child welfare and a new national council for reconciliation.

Métis groups covered by the legislation said not including the term would dilute the intent of the bill and its benefits.

With the bill recognizing Métis self-government in limbo, here’s what you need to know. #CDNPoli #Metis #MétisSelfGovernment #BillC53

But some politicians, including Conservative and NDP MPs, expressed concern that its inclusion could affect other Métis groups in the same provinces who may not want to be governed by the bodies included in the legislation.

Métis Nation of Ontario President Margaret Froh says Métis people have been fighting for their rights for generations, and passing the bill would help recognize that.

But the delays have been “disheartening,” he said in a recent interview.

“Our leaders have fought and died for the recognition of Métis self-determination, and we are finally in a place where we have the opportunity to move forward.”

The Métis National Council unanimously passed a resolution last month calling on politicians to pass the legislation without delay.

The scale of the committee’s study is “unprecedented” and “sets a new and negative standard to which all future indigenous self-government legislation will be subject,” said the resolution, introduced by Froh.

“The dragging legislative process has resulted in the amplification of toxic falsehoods, misinformation, and painful lateral violence that has negatively impacted Métis youth and elders.”

First Nations leaders, especially in Ontario, have expressed concerns in committee and in public statements about what they see as the consequences of the bill’s passage.

The Chiefs of Ontario, an organization that represents about 130 First Nations in that province, have stressed that the chiefs are concerned about the inclusion of the Métis Nation of Ontario in the legislation.

Their concerns primarily center around six new communities that the Métis Nation of Ontario and the province recognized in 2017 and which they say have no historical basis for existing.

The Assembly of First Nations, which represents about 630 First Nations across Canada, and Ontario Chiefs have called for the bill to be withdrawn entirely, saying future agreements could erode their rights, a claim that Métis groups and the federal government have questioned.

At a committee hearing in November, a senior federal official testified that Ottawa has not verified the legitimacy of the disputed Métis communities or broader members of the provincial organization, explaining that the government is not required to do so.

“They’re not doing their homework to make sure they’re listening to the right people,” NDP MP Lori Idlout said shortly afterward.

“And I can understand why Ontario First Nations would be so concerned about what’s going on.”

One of the most scathing critiques of the legislation and the Métis Nation of Ontario was written by Darryl Leroux, a political studies professor at the University of Ottawa.

In his six-page report submitted to the committee, Leroux explained how his research, often in partnership with First Nations, has continually failed to prove the existence of the six disputed communities.

But Froh insists that it be so. He said in a recent interview that he is “unfortunate” that some are building a narrative that the Métis only exist around the Red River in Manitoba.

“The position that some are putting forward does not recognize the incredible and beautiful Métis stories of many other communities, some of which have a connection to Red River, but some of which do not,” he said.

“They stand on their own two feet and should be respected on their own.”

Jason Madden, a Métis citizen, lawyer and solicitor, testified before the committee in November that “just because someone makes a statement from a vehicle that Métis communities do not or cannot exist without their permission does not mean that this is the case.”

Conflicts over Bill C-53 extend to Métis communities themselves, particularly in Alberta, where the Fort McKay Métis Nation has argued that the legislation could “take over” Alberta’s Métis communities.

“In its current form, Bill C-53 is a threat to Métis communities in Alberta and represents a huge step backwards and not progress towards reconciliation. It threatens to unilaterally assimilate all Métis and Métis communities under one organization that lacks the consent of the governed,” said President Ronald Quintal.

At a November hearing, Quintal urged the committee to limit the recognition given to the Métis Nation of Alberta under the legislation or reject the bill entirely.

The Métis Nation of Alberta also launched ads on X, formerly known as Twitter, urging citizens and supporters to write to their MPs explaining why they should support the legislation.

“Not many of them have returned calls, which is very frustrating,” Alberta Métis Nation President Andrea Sandmaier said in a recent interview.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2024.

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