Some Métis citizens say they’re more concerned about preserving culture and getting land back than political infighting over identity.
Last month, the Métis National Council (MNC) voted in its first new president in 18 years, and its first female president. The Manitoba Métis Federation withdrew from the MNC the night before the election, citing concerns over the citizenship policies of the Métis Nation of Ontario.
CBC News spoke with three Métis citizens from Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario about the Métis Nation, and their views on what it should work on moving forward.
‘The land knows who we are’
Breanne Lavallee-Heckert is a Manitoba Métis Federation citizen with roots in St. Ambroise, Man.
She recently graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a law degree, and is co-founder of the Métis organization Red River Echoes.
Lavallee-Heckert said she thinks the most important thing the Métis should focus on is getting their land back.
“If we return to the land, and we live off the land the way our ancestors did, and in the way our future generations will, hopefully, we don’t need to worry about who is saying what about who we are,” she said.
“We know who we are, and the land knows who we are, so for us, that’s a priority.”
Heckert said the MMF parting ways with the MNC was not surprising. She said the citizenship and identity issues show division at the national level, and if anything, show gaps in current leadership.
Lavallee-Heckert said Red River Echoes as a collective is concerned about people who may try to fraudulently claim Métis as their culture, but added the definition of Métis should not be mandated by the Canadian government, or based on the Powley decision.
Transparency is key
Keeping Métis culture alive and transparency in Métis governance is important for Joshua Morin.
Morin, a member of the St. Albert Métis Local, a part of the Métis Nation of Alberta, is the office manager for Michif Cultural Connections. He takes on many roles within the organization, including organizing events, and teaching language classes.
“My fear is always, you get so sucked into the politics, and then you come out forgetting . . . You forget Michif, you forget Métis jigging . . . You forget all of these things because you’re so stuck in the bureaucracy of it,” he said.
He said transparency is key in Métis governance. He notes during the MNC special sitting in September, a vote was taken to live stream the event, with some members not in favour. However, it was eventually voted to be streamed live.
“We elect them into those positions; we absolutely should know what they’re talking about,” he said.
“Their duty is to us as citizens, and if we don’t know what they’re doing, how do we know they’re serving their duty in the fullest form to us?”
He said he would always be Métis, even if there wasn’t a political body.
“[If] all these governments decided to disappear magically, I would still be a Métis person, because it’s not as if our culture and our way of life and our traditional ways would go away,” Morin said.
‘Métis are voyageurs’
One of the communities the MMF has said has questionable ties to the Métis Nation is the MNO’s Barrie South-Simcoe Métis Local.
The local’s president, Roxanne Shank, is a lawyer with traceable roots to the Red River Valley. She said she does not understand why the MMF is persistent with those allegations.
“The interesting thing . . . is that the Métis are voyageurs,” she said.
“So you have a lot of people in Ontario that are related and have connections to the Métis in Manitoba and farther west.”
Shank said the Métis Nation has other battles to worry about, more important than infighting.
“I think we’re greater together,” she said.
“The challenges are there, let alone dealing with re-writing the history books, and getting Indigenous culture recognized more than one day a year, on Sept. 30.”