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Self-proclaimed Métis group sparks debate with shop opening in Ottawa

November 23, 2023

Critics accuse Métis Nation of Canada of engaging in identity theft, cultural appropriation

A view from outside a mall storefront with Indigenous art and items inside.
The Métis Nation of Canada has sparked debate and calls for investments in Métis business verification after it opened a shop in Ottawa’s Place d’Orléans shopping centre in Ottawa. (Brett Forester/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: Inside “The Métis Place,” not far from the food court in an east Ottawa mall, you’ll find a floor-to-ceiling exhibit of tanned pelts, fringed buckskin moccasins and woven birch-bark baskets, just past a rack of orange Every Child Matters shirts.

Nearby, a collage of old pictures showcases the Red River Métis of western Canada, while across the shop art is for sale, done in the recognizable brightly coloured Woodland painting style created by Anishinaabe artist Norval Morisseau.

The display is impressive inside the cultural centre and shop — except for one problem. Critics say the group behind the store is not Indigenous at all.  “They’re fakes,” said Will Goodon, housing minister with the Manitoba Métis Federation in Winnipeg. “They’re frauds, and people need to have a good understanding of that.”

A collage of old pictures shows the culture of the Red River Métis of western Canada.
Red River Métis culture on display inside “The Métis Place.” (Brett Forester/CBC)

The Métis Nation of Canada (MNOC) is a self-proclaimed Indigenous group, not recognized by the federal government, Métis or First Nations, that lets anyone with a single Indigenous ancestor join, no matter how distant. 

It sparked debate earlier this fall when it set up shop in the Place d’Orléans mall. The MNOC’s national chief Karole Dumont rejects the allegations against her members. “This is a free country,” said the 66-year-old former public servant. “Our ancestors worked hard; they fought in the wars; they gave their lives; and we have a right to exist.”

With its roots in the controversial eastern Métis movement, MNOC has accessed provincial and federal public money and applied unsuccessfully for Indigenous-only federal funding in 2017, CBC Indigenous has found.

CBC Indigenous also learned the group is affiliated with a former white rights activist who generated public controversy by referring to First Nations people as “featherheads” and the “Red Taliban” in the early 2000s.

A brightly coloured sign for the Métis Nation of Canada community care foundation hangs on a wall.
An example of the Woodlands style made famous by Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau. (Brett Forester/CBC)

The Métis National Council, representing recognized Métis political associations in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., said the opening of the store in Ottawa reveals the need for urgent investments in Métis business verification. “The use of ‘Métis’ in its name is profoundly misleading and another unfortunate example of attempted financial benefit from Métis identity appropriation,” said MNC President Cassidy Caron in an emailed statement.

But Dumont contends they aren’t appropriating anything, describing the centre as a not-for-profit operation barely making enough cash to pay rent. And she has a question for the critics: “Why shouldn’t we exist?”

For Goodon, claiming Métis identity based on mixed marriages in the 1600s, as MNOC does, is problematic and wrong. “Folks have this misconception that just being mixed is what makes a person Métis,” he said. “I’m very vocal on the fact that we are a distinct nation.”

The Supreme Court of Canada said in its 2003 Powley ruling that the word Métis in Canada’s Constitution “does not encompass all individuals with mixed Indian and European heritage.”  Dumont, who retired from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in 2012, rejects the court’s opinion. She says “the first Métis baby was born pretty much a year after first contact.”

A woman sits in a chair surrounded my Indigenous artifacts and art.
MNOC national chief Karole Dumont answers questions in Ottawa. On the left is the centre’s cultural exhibit where items aren’t for sale. On the right is art that is. (Brett Forester/CBC)

Veldon Coburn, an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal, said the group draws on a pan-Indigenous potpourri to mask a colonial attitude that attempts to displace Indigenous peoples on their own territories.

“It’s a caricature of things, it’s exaggerations, and the damage it does is real,” said Coburn, a member of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn, 130 kilometres west of Ottawa. He said the Algonquin Nation does not recognize MNOC, or any other people, as having a claim to Algonquin territory, which includes Ottawa.

“This is not the Indigenous people of the Algonquin territory,” he said, urging Canadians heading into the shop to do their research first. “They’re doing themselves a disservice by buying snake oil from charlatans.”

A sign and blanket display the MNOC logo.
The Métis Nation of Canada was founded in 2009 by Bryce Fequet and merged with Dumont’s Council of the First Métis People of Canada in 2018. (Brett Forester/CBC)

Dumont, however, was keen to address her critics and spoke to CBC Indigenous for more than an hour, saying her members are only driven by an honest desire to claim an identity that ought to be their birthright.

The group has begun to access public money, including a $30,100 grant from the provincial government’s Ontario Trillium Foundation in 2021-22. Dumont said the grant was for pandemic-era support and that none of it went to the opening of the cultural centre.

The foundation said in an email that MNOC met eligibility requirements as a not-for-profit corporation without share capital in a Canadian jurisdiction, adding that the foundation does monitor grantees to ensure compliance with their application.

Dumont said the group is not interested in federal funding, calling it “a road to corruption.” MNOC is listed in the federal lobbying registry as having received $15,000 from Canadian Heritage in 2020-21. 

Meanwhile, the MNOC’s original founder Bryce Fequet is currently in Federal Court seeking recognition as an Indigenous person, “access to all services and programs” available to Indigenous people, and financial compensation for the past refusal of recognition. 

Métis ‘of recent vintage’

Fequet, a stonemason by trade, founded the MNOC in 2009, and was later that year elected mayor of the tiny municipality of Bonne-Espérance, in the Côte-Nord region of Quebec near the Labrador border. Fequet, 65, identifies as Inuit-Métis. He is a descendant of Louis L’Esquimau, his great-great-great-great grandfather, who was Inuit, according to his statement of claim.

Fequet is representing himself in court where the Canadian government opposes him, saying his self-identification “must not be of recent vintage or made belatedly” to meet the relevant legal test. “Mr. Fequet pleads that he has identified as ‘Inuit Métis’ since discovering his genealogy 23 years ago,” reads Canada’s defence. “Mr. Fequet’s self-identification as ‘Inuit Métis’ is recent and made belatedly.”

Bryce Fequet answers questions from the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples

WATCH | Bryce Fequet on how he defines Métis: Duration 0:57

Bryce Fequet, who founded the Métis Nation of Canada in 2009, addressed the standing Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples on Nov. 21, 2012.

Click on the following link to view the video:

The government also argued that Fequet applied in May 2017 to Crown-Indigenous Relations’s basic organizational capacity program, which offers core funding for Indigenous organizations, but was denied. The department told CBC Indigenous the program’s terms and conditions required the group to clearly demonstrate it is a “recognized representative Aboriginal organization” whose membership is restricted to “a defined or identifiable group” for which it advocates.

“The MNOC did not clearly demonstrate these particular terms and conditions,” said department spokesperson Anis Piragasanathar. 

Two man pose for a photo, one holding a book called "In a Breaking Wave."
Fequet continues to advocate for his cause. Before declining to be interviewed, he provided CBC Indigenous with this photo following a meeting with Conservative MP Jamie Schmale in Ottawa in late October. (Submitted by Bryce Fequet)

Fequet is undeterred. He wants the government to adopt a single central registry to “unite all Indigenous people under one tent.” “This would better serve a majority of Indigenous people, cut cost to [the] Canadian state and piss off some Indigenous leaders who have gotten used to their colonial funded paychecks,” he wrote in a statement to CBC Indigenous.

From ‘first defender of white rights’ to Métis activist

Fequet had agreed to an interview but then withdrew, explaining in an email that Dumont told him CBC Indigenous might ask about MNOC’s ambassador for the Côte-Nord region, André Forbes, which Fequet felt would “not be productive.” Forbes is the former spokesman for the area’s Association des Droits des Blancs (Association for White Rights), who was dubbed “the first defender of white rights” by Le Soleil newspaper in the early 2000s.

A newspaper clipping in French reads: "Association for White Rights threatens to block roads."
André Forbes’s group in 2002 threatened to block roads to protest Innu land claim talks. “My country is not a country, it’s hell,” he is quoted saying. (Le Soleil)

Forbes was a lead figure in the association’s protest campaign against government land claims negotiations with the Innu. Forbes is credited with coining the phrase “Red Taliban” to describe First Nations, something Innu chief Rosario Pinette told Le Soleil he found personally irritating to hear at a 2002 rally.

“Welcome to Péquistan, the Innu new republic,” Forbes declared at one such rally, before referring derisively to the prime minister, Quebec premier and Quebec opposition leader as “Sadam Chrétien, Osama bin Landry and Mullah Omar Charest.” 

Multiple attempts to reach Forbes for comment were unsuccessful.

A clipping of a newspaper article.
As he publicly denied allegations of racism, Forbes was dubbed “le premier des défenseurs des droits des Blancs” — first defender of white rights. MNOC leaders say one member’s comments don’t reflect the organization as a whole. (Le Soleil)

Forbes’s MNOC biography said he co-founded the Côte-Nord Métis Association with friends a few years later, in 2005. His past caught up with him in 2011, when he was a federal election candidate in Manicouagan for Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals.

The NDP pounced, gathering a selection of Forbes’s remarks and circulating them in a news release. The release quoted Forbes calling First Nations “featherheads” among other things, and quoted a 2009 letter, for which Forbes was the contact, where the Côte-Nord Métis wrote: “If our Métis Community was made of Muslims, homosexuals or of an association of old ladies making moccasins out of caribou skin, would Hydro-Québéc consult with us? Yes.” 

A screenshot of a website with a tile and multiple photos.
Forbes on the Métis Nation of Canada website in 2023, where he was listed as an ambassador for the group.(MNOC)

Ignatieff quickly dropped him

Though the idea of a Métis white rights activist proved puzzling to some, the case of the Côte-Nord Métis has been cited by researchers as self-Indigenization, or “race-shifting.”

Allegations denied

When asked about Forbes’s past, Dumont said she doesn’t condone such language and wasn’t aware of his exact comments. Dumont argued Forbes had made amends for his remarks, while she and Fequet said one member’s 20-year-old comments don’t reflect the organization as a whole.

Dumont suggested they were made in a fit of anger in response to outside criticism. “They push and push and push. They got him really angry, and he tends to say things he shouldn’t say. He blew up and he said something,” she said. “Those comments I had never heard of.”

After CBC Indigenous provided Dumont with samples of his past remarks in an email, she replied that he had been removed from the website. She denied her movement is rooted in race-shifting or racism. “I’m fifth generation Ojibway, so when people call me a pretendian, I take serious offence to that,” she said, using a colloquial term commonly used to describe false Indigenous identity claims. “I have zero tolerance for injustice, racism.”

A wide variety of items like moccasins, birch-bark baskets and clothing are on display.
The Métis cultural exhibit on display. The items here are not for sale, Dumont said. (Brett Forester/CBC)

Not everyone is convinced. Crystal Semaganis, a Plains Cree activist from Saskatchewan who now lives in Temagami, Ont., was among those questioning the group when the Place d’Orléans announced the opening on Facebook on Sept. 5.

“Just because you all have money and bought a laminator doesn’t make you remotely Indigenous, and you’re certainly NOT Metis,” she wrote on Facebook. “Y’all are delusional!  FRAUDS!” Dumont replied: “No, little girl, YOU are the ones taking all the money, including our hard-earned tax money to get everything for free. You are the fraud … not us.”

In an interview, Semaganis said the comment struck her as racist. It is a stereotype that First Nations don’t pay taxes and “get everything for free” in Canada, and Dumont acknowledged that to CBC Indigenous. “It is,” said Dumont. “It’s not my best time. I admit it.”

Dumont said the comment wasn’t a jab at First Nations but a personal insult, explaining her remark along the same lines as she did Forbes’s. “She got me very angry when she said that laminator thing, calling us frauds and telling us that we are identity thieves, that we’re pretendians,” said Dumont. “Everybody has a limit.”

Semaganis said “an Indigenous person would never come out with that narrative.” She said she believes the group is commodifying Indigenous identity and agrees there should be a business verification system in place. “It’s hurting us. It’s hurting the public. It’s hurting an unsuspecting public that thinks that they can get rights because a website tells them so,” she said.

“It’s just theft and fraud all around.”

Dumont said the items for sale in her store are made largely by her own members, vetted by herself, while some items are not for sale at all.

A rack of bright orange shirts.
Every Child Matters shirts for sale inside “The Métis Place.” Dumont says the shirts are made by an MNOC member. (Brett Forester/CBC)

Her members are the ones hurting under these constant attacks, she countered, as she promised to keep battling on their behalf. “I’ll fight to my last breath,” she said.  “The lowest of the low that you can do to a human being is to deny who they are.”

Dumont did acknowledge the Powley ruling is a major obstacle. 

A Quebec judge for example said famously in 2016 “it would be easier to nail Jell-O to a wall” than find the ins and outs of the “remarkably vague and elusive allegations” about the existence of a Métis community in Maniwaki, Que., about 130 kilometres north of Ottawa.

Both Coburn and Goodon warn of a colonial aspect to the group’s press for recognition. “Some people have said that the final act of colonization is to actually take over the identity of the Indigenous people on the land,” said Goodon, “and that’s what we’re seeing here.” “It’s a move to Indigeneity through settler colonial attitudes and white supremacy,” added Coburn.

Surrounded by her store’s impressive exhibit, Dumont brushed all the rejection aside. Despite all the obstacles and opposition, she believes her movement is on the slow road to recognition.

After all, it’s not Jell-O nailed to the wall inside “The Métis Place” — it’s art.  And it’s for sale.


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.