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Feds mull options as Métis self-government bill threatens to collapse

April 18, 2024

Métis Nation-Saskatchewan withdraws support for Bill C-53

A man in a red shirt and a baseball cap with the Metis insignia speaks at a podium.
Métis Nation-Saskatchewan president Glen McCallum gives a speech at a legislative assembly event in 2019.(Submitted by Métis Nation-Saskatchewan)

CBC Indigenous: The federal government is mulling a path forward after the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan dropped support for its own proposed self-government legislation, another blow to the controversial Bill C-53.

If passed, the bill would recognize Métis political associations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario as Indigenous governments, but it faces vigorous opposition from First Nations in Ontario and other Métis in Manitoba and Alberta.

Métis Nation–Saskatchewan (MN–S) President Glen McCallum announced the move in a Wednesday statement.

He said the bill’s “one-size-fits-all” approach now has his group entangled in “legal and political pressures” in Alberta and Ontario.

Critics say the surprise about-face is a welcome shift that effectively spells doom for the beleaguered bill.

“It’s dead,” said Will Goodon, housing minister for the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF).

“The coffin has been nailed shut. It’s being lowered into the ground.”

Scott McLeod, chief of Nipissing First Nation and spokesman for the Chiefs of Ontario umbrella organization on the issue, said, “It’s definitely a positive outcome.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the federal government doesn’t back down at this time. If they do, it’s admitting that they made a gross mistake,” he added.

“I’m thinking it might just kind of sit on the shelf and die. Either way, I think the First Nations here in Ontario would be happy.”

A minister in a suit seated at the witness desk preparing to testify.
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree waits to appear before the Indigenous and northern affairs committee on Nov. 30, 2023 in Ottawa. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree wouldn’t comment on the bill’s future.

“We will continue to work with the Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan to recognize their rights, in ways that work for them and in the spirit of reconciliation,” wrote Joanna Sivasankaran by text Thursday morning. 

Dispute over Ontario communities

The proposed legislation is contentious chiefly because of the recognition it would afford the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO).

For years the MMF accused MNO of watering down Métis national identity. At the core of the dispute are six new “historic” Métis communities, some as far east as the Ontario-Quebec border, recognized in 2017.

The Métis Nation emerged as distinct people in the Prairies in the 18th century, but whether the Métis homeland stretches to eastern Ontario is a source of controversy.

The MMF cut ties with the Métis National Council in 2021 over the issue and has since formed an alliance with McLeod’s Chiefs of Ontario, which also rejects the new communities.

Not all Alberta Métis in support

Last month the Federal Court ordered Crown-Indigenous Relations to amend its self–government agreement with the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA), which the bill also proposes to recognize.

Some Métis in Alberta reject MNA’s authority and allege the bill usurps their rights to self-determination and tramples their right to be consulted.

In a joint statement, MNA and MNO decried the process they’ve undergone as divisive and marred by misinformation.

“For the past 10 months, our Métis governments, citizens and communities have endured a legislative process — not of our own making — that was often unfair, delayed, disrespectful and demoralizing,” they said.

“This process enabled, and at times encouraged, misunderstandings and division between ourselves and other Métis and First Nation communities.”

The Wabun Tribal Council in eastern Ontario already launched a court challenge against the MNO agreement, while the Chiefs of Ontario continue to wage a pressure campaign to “kill the bill.”

In their statement, MNA and MNO wished their Saskatchewan counterpart well but vowed to fight on to cement their self-government rights.

“Nothing has ever come easy to the Métis, and this journey to self-government is no different,” they said. 

“Finally securing our rightful place in the Canadian federation means too much to our citizens and communities to allow for this colonial process  — that has been filled with misinformation and harm — to deter us from achieving the dreams of our ancestors and aspirations of future generations of Métis people.”

The statement didn’t expressly promise to further pursue Bill C-53, however. Rather it pledged to ensure Canada lives up to its constitutional commitments and obligations to the Métis.

Way forward unclear

It’s not clear if the bill can move forward at all with one of its subjects withdrawing support.

Goodon called the abrupt shift a political embarrassment for the Métis National Council (MNC), which represents the three provincial groups and one in British Columbia.

Two people face each other standing arm's length apart.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Metis National Council President Cassidy Caron in his office on Parliament Hill on April 11 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Just last week, in a face-to-face meeting with the prime minister, national council President Cassidy Caron told Justin Trudeau she looked forward to C-53’s swift passage.

“That is ultimately what our ancestors have always been working towards,” she said.

The MNC issued a terse, three-sentence statement Thursday promising to support its Métis governments as they pursue self-determination, but otherwise offered little clarity on the path forward.

The bill, stalled for months after an exhaustive committee study, still must pass third reading in the House of Commons then repeat the legislative process in the Senate before it can become law.


Brett Forester, Reporter

Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.