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Robinson Huron Treaty chiefs denounce Métis Nation of Ontario

May 28, 2024

A group representing the collective interests of 21 First Nations in Robinson Huron Treaty territory has passed a declaration denouncing the Métis Nation of Ontario — over claims to Indigenous identity and historical Métis communities in the province 

James Hopkin

A map of Robinson Huron Treaty territory. Whitefish River First Nation website 

First Peoples Law Report: – An Anishinaabe group representing the collective interests of 21 First Nations in Robinson Huron Treaty territory has passed a declaration denouncing the Métis Nation of Ontario — including its claims to Indigenous identity and its recognition as a self-governing Indigenous group by Canada. 

Robinson Huron Waawiindamaagewin (RHW) passed the declaration during a chiefs-in-assembly meeting held in Sudbury, Ont. earlier this month, according to a news release issued by the group Monday. Both RHW and chiefs in the treaty territory contend there were no distinct historic Métis communities within Robinson Huron Treaty territory when the treaty was signed in 1850.  

“The declaration asserts the inherent rights and obligations of the Anishinaabe to RHW lands,” said the release. “The spirit and intent of the Robinson Huron Treaty is to share the benefits of the land; it does not include delegating jurisdiction to Canada to recognize or to enter into treaty with other groups in the territory.” 

The declaration comes as Bill C-53 — a piece of federal legislation tabled last year which would affirm Métis rights to self-determination and self-governance in Ontario and Alberta if passed — continues to stoke ongoing criticism from First Nations groups concerned about land and resource rights being granted to Métis groups without their consent. 

The Assembly of First Nations, which represents more than 600 chiefs across Canada, passed a resolution last year calling for the federal government to kill the legislation altogether. The AFN’s concerns are mainly focused on six new communities both the MNO and Ontario recognized in 2017, which it believes have no historical basis to exist. The Anishinabek Nation, which represents 39 First Nations in Ontario, has also passed a similar resolution. 

The Métis Nation Saskatchewan pulled its support for Bill C-53 last month over concerns about the other two groups it recognizes. The Manitoba Métis Federation, meanwhile, has also opposed the extension of self-government to MNO, saying the group’s membership does not meet its own definition of Métis.    

The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and the Chiefs of Ontario co-hosted an Indigenous identity fraud summit in Winnipeg earlier this month. The event saw both political organizations pass a joint resolution calling on Canada to cease all negotiations with the MNO, and for Ontario to scrap the identification of the six new Métis communities

The MNO issued a statement following the identity fraud summit, chastising organizers for excluding it from the summit and spreading “misinformation” about the Métis communities and citizens it represents. 

“It is deeply disappointing that we have reached a point where once firm allies cannot sit down and discuss the issues currently affecting our peoples,” said MNO president Margaret Froh in the statement. “Despite the MMF’s best efforts to confuse and distract people from our achievements and rights recognition, and to undermine every Métis government, we stand strong in who we are and are singularly focused on supporting our citizens as their democratically elected Métis government.”

RHW made headlines last year when it released a pair of studies it had commissioned, which claimed to disprove the historical existence of distinct Métis communities in Robinson Huron Treaty territory.   

The first report, entitled An Exploratory Study of Métis Nation of Ontario’s ‘Historic Métis Communities’ in Robinson-Huron Treaty Territory, alleged the MNO used “poor research practices” to omit historical data that calls into question its interpretation of verified Métis family lines used to establish four historic Métis communities in Georgian Bay, Killarney, Mattawa and Sault Ste. Marie. 

A subsequent report, entitled The Sault Ste. Marie ‘Metis’ Community and ‘Halfbreed’ Petition — co-authored by academics Daryl Leroux and Celeste Pedri-Spade — accused the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) of misidentifying Anishinaabe descendants of mixed ancestry in order to fabricate a narrative of a historic Métis settlement in Sault Ste. Marie.

The backlash against the Métis group drew the ire of MNO regional councillor Mitch Case, who represents the Huron-Superior Regional Métis Community. 

“These chiefs are trying to deny our ability to negotiate with the Crown, about how we have chosen to identify our citizens, govern ourselves, and protect our children, families and communities for generations to come,” Case said in a lengthy and heated rebuttal issued to SooToday following the release of the first RHW-commissioned report. “I find this logic difficult to follow.”

The Métis Nation of Ontario used charges against Steve Powley and son Roddy Powley as a test case for Métis rights after the pair killed a bull moose just outside Sault Ste. Marie in the fall of 1993 without an Ontario hunting licence; instead, the father and son tagged their catch with a Métis card, along with a note that read “harvesting my meat for winter.” 

Over the course of a decade-long legal battle, more than a dozen judges affirmed the existence of a rights-bearing historic Métis community in the Sault Ste. Marie region. The community also possesses a right to hunt protected by section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act.

“Powley is 100 per cent clear: There was — and is — a Métis community in Sault Ste. Marie that exists within the Robinson Huron Treaty territory,” said Case in his letter to SooToday. “It was here before that treaty was signed in 1850. It continues to be here today, and it has rights that co-exist with treaty rights. Period. And our rights are rooted in our existence as a people and distinct community, not as derivatives of our First Nations relatives who require their consent.”

Although the MNO claims that Bill C-53 isn’t about claiming lands in the province, it’s certainly on the group’s radar: As previously reported by SooToday, the group called on both Canada and Ontario in 2021 to develop a formal land claims process specifically for the Métis in Ontario. The MNO also wanted compensation for a series of long, narrow river lots along the St. Marys River in the Sault — roughly stretching from John Street to Bellevue Park — that it claims provided a number of Métis families access to both the river and communal pasture lands.

“Let’s get an economic assessment of what that would be, let’s talk about a process, whether it’s for monetary compensation, land-in-lieu-of, all those other sorts of things. Those are things that we’ll have to get to the table and talk about,” Case told SooToday at the time. “I’m not a big fan of negotiating in public or whatever else, but that’s simply the reality. If the honour of the Crown means anything…we can’t be talking about a just society for some Aboriginal people, and not for others.” 

In its statement issued Monday, RHW claimed a lack of “recognizable societal markers” in the historic Métis communities that signify nationhood, such as language, culture and ceremony. It also called out the federal government for recognizing a “concentrated group of mixed-blood people as a collective,” and that it failed to consult with Robinson Huron Treaty First Nations on matters of jurisdiction and delegation of authority. 

Neither RHW nor MNO responded to interview requests made by SooToday Monday.

BY: James Hopkin