There’s unfortunate long-held misunderstanding of what being “Metis” means. That confusion has only grown messier in the last few years by increased numbers of various groups looking for recognized Metis identity, if not as entirely new nations altogether.
The misperceptions have lead to outright strife throughout communities, acted out in mild contentious chats to vicious trolling attacks on social media to threatening job losses and lawsuits.
Canada didn’t help this confusion when it formally recognized the western Metis Nation without clearly spelling out that following the steps to ‘self-identification as Metis’ also requires proving that you’re related to this nation. In other words, your relations must be of the known Metis ancestral names on record from within this western Metis community. Thus, I could not put my Cree or other mixed relations on my Metis application.
Canada’s not clearly stating that serves to inspire some to claim their Indigeneity by choosing to be Metis, likely in the mistaken belief it’s less daunting than having to provide records for their original First Nations families.
People of no Indigenous ancestry have also been re-inventing their heritage in order to apply themselves, unchecked & un-vetted, to positions meant for the Indigenous in work & arts opportunities, education grants, and governance. Several of these interlopers have been uncovered within the last decade.
From there, groups work by literally re-writing history to usurp harvesting rights from First Nations and to demand retailers provide them rights that even the recognized Metis Nation don’t have – tax free gas & merchandise. Copies of meeting minutes from the “Eastern Metis”, detailed concern mainly for those ‘goodies’ and did not address a single issue plaguing the Indigenous in Canada today.
These groups are prolific, overwhelmingly white, many racist-based including three that merged and changed their name from the “Association for White Rights” to the “Eastern Metis”. They claim well over 20,000 members in Nova Scotia, amazingly outnumbering the original First Nation, the Mi’kmaw on their home territory. The Mi’kmaw vehemently and justifiably opposes those claims.
Currently most people, even some indigenous people, believe ‘Metis” simply means a mix of any Indigenous with non-Indigenous ancestry – generally something European. While the word ‘metis’ is French for mixed, this is not what is meant when it comes to defining the formally recognized Metis Nation.
This nation was formed in the 1600s, early 1700s by marriages between a relatively small group of well-documented Indigenous women, generally from the Cree & Anishinaabe nations and their generally French, Scottish, or British men. Their following generations went onto marry other members of this Metis grouping or their original First Nation tribes. It was not the simple work of dividing each generation by another half with white people.
That ancestry is currently known as mixed or “non-status First Nations” people. I understand why many want to identify as Metis because of the western Metis Nation recognition, but wanting it and being it is not the same thing. I do however, strongly believe verifiable mixed and non-status First Nations fully deserve the sorely lacking recognition and representation.
I’m not entering into the role of declaring who is or isn’t Indigenous. That’s not my fight. My personal expectation is that any individual or group looking for formal Indigenous recognition have to meet the standards of nationhood that the western Metis Nation did: a distinct language, unique & established customs and traditions. If there are other Metis groups throughout Canada meeting the standards, by all means pursue it, but without denigrating the western Metis Nation for having achieved it. Your fight is with Canada.
I’m very aware of the difficulties some of us have in finding our roots, however most indigenous families were well-documented by Canada for its own nefarious purposes. It’s not as easy to ‘cheat’ one’s way through Indigenous ancestry as one might think. To those who try, I can only say – shame. Shame on you for stealing the only thing any one person undeniably has a right to – their inherent identity.
If one is only seeking status in the hopes of attaining the mythical understandings of Indigenous rights, I’ve little sympathy for that. If you haven’t lived a day as an average Indigenous person in Canada, you are far removed from rights still being ferociously fought for, even as they are being actively reduced in Canada.
For those genuinely feeling the call of their Indigenous grandmothers in their hearts, do seek the home fires of your true nations. Honest peace and celebration is found within the real teachings of our culture(s). Programs dedicated to these efforts prove that.
We all want to resolve the issue, but despite how some want to define Metis, there is more to it than simply throwing any and every nation into the mix.