Cassidy Caron speaks against ‘misinformation’ concerning Bill C-53
CBC Indigenous: The Canadian government must fulfil its long-standing promise of self-government for the Métis Nation by passing Bill C-53, the president of the Métis National Council told members of Parliament Thursday.
“Simply put, it’s time,” Cassidy Caron said in prepared remarks before the House of Commons Indigenous affairs committee in Ottawa.
Caron described that promise as 40 years in the making and flowing from failed constitutional talks, Supreme Court of Canada decisions, royal commissions and more. “Your processes have repeatedly led to the same recommendations calling for the full recognition of Métis rights,” Caron said.
“Métis self-government is not new. What is new is that Canada is finally taking action on what it has long promised.”
Bill C-53 would recognize the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) as Indigenous governments, while laying out a path to approve still-unwritten treaties with them.
The committee is now nearly a month into its study of the proposed legislation that has revealed many of the flashpoint issues in contemporary Métis politics. The bill has drawn concerns from First Nations in Ontario and some Métis communities.
As president of the national council that advocates for the three provincial associations named in the bill, as well as the Métis Nation B.C., Caron got her chance to refute the criticism on Thursday. “There has been, unfortunately, a lot of misinformation that has been shared throughout this committee process,” she said.
Caron said the bill doesn’t concern land, adding that the self-government agreements the bill would ratify expressly state the agreements don’t infringe on other groups, whether First Nations or Métis, as some fear.
Ontario First Nations reject the bill because of the inclusion of the MNO, which has previously faced concerns about the integrity of its citizenship registry. At issue are six new MNO communities the Ontario government recognized as historic in 2017.
Caron said the groups’ Métis citizenship registries are objectively verifiable, subject to audits and cross-referenced with the Indian Act status rolls to confirm potential Métis citizens aren’t registered with First Nations. “As an Indigenous nation, we have a right to determine who our citizens are,” Caron said.
Speaking in the second panel after Caron, Grand Chief Joel Abram of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians which advocates for seven First Nations in Ontario, reiterated First Nations’ opposition to the bill, warning it would destabilize relations with his member communities.
He described the bill as an overreach by MNO, echoing previously voiced fears the bill provides the group a beachhead to make land claims through the upcoming treaties.
“We stand united in our opposition,” said Abram. “I am here to ask you to kill the bill.”
Other Métis concerned
The Métis National Council was formed in 1983 to advocate for Métis rights following patriation of Canada’s constitution. The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) was a founding council member four decades ago but withdrew in 2021 because of the dispute over MNO. The federation now backs the First Nations.
“We assure the committee that these ‘historic Métis communities’ in most of Ontario have no connection to us,” MMF housing minister Will Goodon testified on Nov. 8, framing the issue as “the attempted theft of the identity of a nation.”
Nunavut MP Lori Idlout offered Caron the chance to explain why it’s not identity theft. “It’s just not,” Caron said. “We know who we are, we know where we come from … this piece of legislation simply affirms the right of self-government for these three Métis governments.”
The MMF also warned the committee about the path the bill sets out to ratify treaties with the three Métis groups, something MPs have also questioned.
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The bill says the treaties could come into force through an order-in-council, which is a cabinet decision, signed by the Governor General, that doesn’t require legislation or consideration by Parliament.
Caron said the scheme isn’t new but was used previously in treaty talks with Yukon First Nations.
Meanwhile, some Alberta Métis leaders who aren’t represented by the MNA have also expressed concern. Ronald Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis Nation, described the bill in a recent hearing as giving Parliament’s blessing to a “hostile and undemocratic takeover of Alberta Métis communities” who reject the MNA.
“If this bill passes in its current form, we will fight it in court. We will not be governed by the MNA,” he said. Caron replied that “Metis citizens have the right to choose who represents them,” whether through the MNA or not.
There are about 160,000 people registered with the four Métis associations who currently comprise the national council, Caron said. Some 60,000 Métis have chosen to register with the MNA, she said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.