To Members of the General Assembly of the Métis National Council
A Statement on Métis Nation Identity, Citizenship and Homeland
By David Chartrand
Métis National Council
Recently the presidents of the Métis Nation of Ontario, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and Métis Nation of Alberta issued a press release following a “tri-council” meeting of the three Governing Members. The tri-council presidents signed a number of documents asserting the sole authority of Governing Members, not the MNC, to conduct self-government negotiations with Canada and to deliver programs and services to Métis Nation citizens. They also called for more transparency and accountability from the MNC and the creation of a working group to explore potential reform of the MNC or its replacement by a new national body. They have now written to Minister Bennett seeking her intervention in the internal affairs of the Métis Nation.
As National Spokesperson of MNC as well as President of the MMF, I believe I am in a unique position to address these matters and set the record straight for an honest assessment of where the Métis Nation stands today. First, let’s be clear on what the MNC is and what it isn’t.
Contrary to the three presidents’ expressed concerns over MNC involvement in self-government talks or service delivery, the MNC has no role in either of these matters. The only self-government negotiations with Canada are those between Canada and Governing Members. Moreover, the MNC has no role in the delivery of programs and services. The MNC did play an important role in securing more than $2 billion in funding for Métis Nation programs and services from recent federal budgets but the agreements covering these federal investments all make it clear that the Governing Members are solely responsible for the delivery of these programs. So why make an issue of something that doesn’t exist?
The real issue is the failure of the MNO to comply with the Métis Nation’s citizenship rules embodied in the National Definition and the failure of the three presidents to fulfil their fiduciary duties as members of the MNC Board of Governors to enforce its bylaws and resolutions of the General Assembly. The importance of our National Definition and citizenship rules cannot be overstated. They are the glue that holds our nation together and the MNC most definitely has an important role to play in their enforcement.
The Métis Nation created the MNC in 1983 to protect and strengthen the integrity of our identity as a distinct people and nation. This action marked the determination of the Métis Nation to represent ourselves in the pursuit of self-determination and self-government and never again be grouped within pan-Aboriginal political bodies. Toward this end, the MNC General Assembly, comprised of elected representative from all Governing Members, adopted important resolutions over the decades, establishing the National Definition in 2002 that is entrenched in each Governing Member’s Constitution, and defining the boundaries of our historic Homeland.
The General Assembly also adopted a resolution suspending the MNO for its failure to adhere to the National Definition unless it complied with certain conditions by the end of November 2019 which it failed to do. One would think that the three presidents at the tri-council meeting, with its expressed purpose of identifying common priorities for moving ahead on self-government, would have addressed MNO’s serious breach of our citizenship, the cornerstone of a self-government system.
Instead, they studiously avoided it, with the exception of a casual claim in a “Whereas” clause that they all have “objectively verifiable registry systems that identify legitimate Métis rights-holders and citizens of the Métis Nation”. How would they know that in view of MNO’s longstanding policy of grandfathering its members from the application of the National Definition? If President Froh is convinced she has a verifiable registry system, why did she refuse to permit a review of her registry as required by the General Assembly?
The documents signed by the presidents are replete with nationalist rhetoric but this should be no cover for what is really happening. It has long been evident to historic Métis Nation citizens in western Canada that the MNO is largely a non-Métis Nation body, in other words a pan-Aboriginal organization. We know that in our hearts and minds. MNO representatives themselves have admitted a large part of their membership would not meet the National Definition. This is why MNO has refused to open its registry for review as required by the General Assembly.
In the year since the adoption of the suspension resolution by the General Assembly, President Froh and the two other presidents have pressed repeatedly for Board meetings where they could, behind closed doors, reverse the decision of the General Assembly and undermine the will of the Métis Nation to protect its citizenship. How does this fit with their call for more transparency and accountability at the MNC? Instead of fulfilling their duties as MNC executive members to implement the resolution of the General Assembly on the most critically important function of our governance system, they have collaborated in a way that undermines our national identity.
President Poitras may have found a reliable ally in MNO in her battles with MNC leadership since her defeat in MNC presidential elections but how does she reconcile that with her responsibilities to Métis Nation citizens in Alberta? How can she justify denial of citizenship to those in Alberta who do not meet the National Definition including many long-time members and then turn a blind eye to another Governing Member admitting thousands of non-Métis into our governance system? How can the President and Vice-President of MN-S, both passionate co-sponsors of the MNO suspension resolution, keep a straight face when explaining their reversal of position? Will they come clean on the backroom deal that made this possible?
The MMF has watched these developments with growing concern. In fact, the MMF Cabinet and Annual General Assembly of 3,000 delegates adopted a resolution mandating the withdrawal of MMF from MNC if it fails to take the steps needed to protect the citizenship and boundaries of the historic Métis Nation. Let’s again be clear on this matter.
The MMF waged a 32 year court battle to secure the land rights guaranteed by the Manitoba Act 1870 to the Métis of the Red River Settlement who at that time were the vast majority of the population in the new Province of Manitoba and of the Métis population in the entire Northwest. Red River is where the Métis Nation was conceived, where our flag was first unfurled in the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816, and where Riel’s Métis Provisional Government was established in 1869 to negotiate our admission into Canada. As successor to Riel’s provisional government in Red River, the MMF has the historical duty to ensure that the integrity of our nation is not compromised.
Further to the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013 upholding our land claim, we are negotiating a settlement with Canada including self-government. We did not support the Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreements approach adopted by the tri-council members and Canada for a number of reasons. Contrary to the claims of the tri-council presidents, their agreements do not recognize the three as governments but establish a process to do so and even then limits the law making authority to be recognized to internal governance matters such as electoral matters and internal structures.
Moreover, the agreements allow each Governing Member to establish its own citizenship rules in flagrant violation of our commitment to a common citizenship as one people and one nation. The willingness of the tri-council presidents to accept these terms, together with their refusal to take action against the MNO, has reinforced our concern. The presidents increasingly speak of their governance bodies as distinct nations unto themselves, forgetting that we are one people and one nation. After all their backroom deals and betrayals, they have forgotten who they are.
After the dispatch of federal troops to Red River in 1870 and the Saskatchewan valley in 1885, we are now faced with a third invasion from the east, this time by self-styled “Métis” groups springing up all over Atlantic Canada, Québec and Ontario. They have no connection historically, culturally or politically with the Métis Nation in western Canada but seek to usurp our hard won rights. We will not allow the MNO to become the gateway for this new eastern invasion.
The tri-council presidents’ proposal to reform the MNC or create a new national structure should be seen for what it is: an attempt to go back to a pan-Aboriginal national organization. Neither the MMF nor Métis nationalists in the rest of western Canada will ever support going back to what we left behind in 1983. And if change is to occur at the national level, it will be through the will of the General Assembly.
It is time to rally all patriots of the Métis Nation in defence of our Homeland. Toward that end, the MNC will hold a gathering on Identity, Citizenship and Homeland in Saskatoon on March 9 and 10, 2020. I am asking all elected leaders from the four western provinces including Presidents Poitras, McCallum and Dal Col and their respective Boards to join me and the MMF Cabinet at the event. I encourage all members of the General Assembly and indeed all Métis Nation citizens to participate. The stakes have never been higher.