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COLUMN: Métis 'threat' causing angst among First Nations community

'In Métis self-declaration laws, one need only claim an Indigenous ancestor from centuries ago and they receive instant recognition as an Indigenous person'
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Last weekend, the historic alliance that is the Chippewa Tri-Council was brought together once more to restart the fire, to rekindle the relationship that was started by the ancestors thousands of years prior to the establishment of Canada.

The Tri-Council consists of the First Nation communities of Beausoleil First Nation (Christian Island), the Chippewas of Rama, and the Chippewas of Georgina Island, and it is the oldest form of governance by any political entity within this region.

The weekend gathering was to bring together young and old at a hockey tournament in a series of friendly hockey games, where athletes from all three communities were mixed to create teams. These teams included men and women of various ages, and the stands were filled with spectators.

It was a time to watch our own talented youth as they showcased their hockey prowess. It was a time to meet with old friends and relatives we hadn’t seen for some time — alliances that were made and nurtured through the years of our shared relationship as the Chippewa Tri-Council.

Just as our ancestors did, we were rekindling a fire that has burned here for thousands of years, when we gathered for political purposes, defence purposes, or simply for camaraderie, sports, and feasting together.

While much of the talk in the stands was about the enormous amount of hockey talent we possess, there was also much talk about continued threats to our people’s existence.

Tri-Council community members are genuinely and rightly in fear of the ongoing erasure that is being driven by the provincial and federal governments. These are the same governments that apologized publicly in Rama on Nov. 17, 2018, for wrongs committed against the people of the Williams Treaties, which includes the Chippewa Tri-Council.

In the stands during the hockey games were whispers of a new threat, the federal government’s Bill C-53, an omnibus bill that bundles legislation that will allow the Métis Nation to lay claim to the very hunting and fishing territories the feds acknowledged we had been wrongly removed from using. Now, they are granting rights to those same territories to a people they have never signed a treaty with.

Ontario recently provided documentation/maps whereby the Williams Treaty Territories had now become Métis hunting territory, without consultation. This is in stark contrast to the flowery apology that fell upon our ears at Rama in 2018. There is so much wrong here that it may take years of litigation before we can safely protect our rights to this territory. Canada and Ontario have been wilful, once more, in their deceit.

Each of these governments employs a tactic that has been used countless times in the past and, for them, it is a tried-and-true method: Mix the First Nations (the treaty and rights holders) of this land with the Métis settler communities. Gain their trust and give hope to each. Shake, stir, create division, create crisis, step back, swoop in at the last second as a crowning saviour with your intended plan — erasure. Mission accomplished.

The legal precedents being set here are dangerous for Ontario and Canada, and the resulting damages could cripple them financially. They need to reverse their decision and live up to the language and tone they used to apologize for a century of a loss of land use and culture.

All of this comes at a time when we face the threat of erasure by individuals — non-Natives, who need only self-identify as Native without ever having to provide proof of ancestry. They are granted recognition by the federal government as they become “instant Indians.”

Many of these same individuals are forming groups of non-Indigenous people who self-declare as First Nations, giving themselves stereotypical names like Woodland Tribal Council or Assembly of Kawartha First Nations. This is a dangerous game and one that is sanctioned throughout Canada by the federal government, which is giving recognition to these non-Native entities.

In Métis self-declaration laws upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada and recognized through Section 35 of the Constitution, one need only claim an Indigenous ancestor from centuries ago and they receive instant recognition as an Indigenous person. This runs counter to Canada’s Indian Act policies of blood quantum for status Indians.

Also, in the past, Native people in Canada lost their Indigenous rights and citizenship to their home community by simply being away from the reserve during roll call. Many of those who lost their rights as a Native person were veterans who fought for Canada during the First and Second World Wars. Would Canada reinstate their families to full status as they should, given how they recognize Métis citizenship? I believe the precedent has already been established with the Métis citizenship laws. This would make for an interesting court challenge.

It is a known fact that places like the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario remain under threat because Ontario wishes to mine those lands. Standing in the way are the First Nations who have treaty rights in that territory.

Governments understand access to those resources would be uncomplicated if they only needed to consult a more willing brand of Indigenous people. Is this why they’re being manufactured? So Canada and Ontario can receive a more welcoming response? So the road to our natural resources can be more readily paved through our traditional territories?

There is an irony in that, while we are busy watching a game of hockey, there are non-Native Canadians in co-operation with governments who are out there playing a sinister game as they greedily fall all over themselves assuming our identities so they may satisfy a centuries-old addiction, and have unfettered access to our land and resources.

But pay heed: We are watching that game as well.

Jeff Monague is a former chief of the Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, former treaty research director with the Anishnabek (Union of Ontario Indians), and veteran of the Canadian Forces. Monague, who taught the Ojibwe language with the Simcoe County District School Board and Georgian College, is currently the manager of Springwater Provincial Park. His column appears regularly.