Expectation of self-government attracts more citizens to the Métis Nation of Ontario

By Shari Narine

Journalism Initiative local reporter,

Margaret Froh Métis Nation President of Ontario

It’s a “very exciting time” to be Métis in Canada and Ontario, says Margaret Froh, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

With Métis self-government on the horizon, the number of Métis in Ontario registering their citizenship with the MNO is increasing, she says.

People “want to be a part of Métis history, as well as access to the variety of services we offer that will only grow and expand as we move forward, especially under self-government,” said said Froh in an exclusive interview with Windspeaker. com.

In 2019, the MNO signed a Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement with Canada. It outlines the steps to be taken for the federal government to recognize the inherent self-government rights held by the Métis communities represented by the MNO and authorize the MNO to implement those rights on behalf of these communities.

Similar agreements have been signed by the federal government with the Métis nations of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In 2017, the MNO and the Ontario government announced that there were seven “historic Métis communities in the province that meet the Powley test criteria”. Powley is the name of the defendants in a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision on Métis hunting rights. The court established a set of criteria that the Metis must meet in order to have these hunting rights.

“We represent Métis who are historically connected to historic Métis communities in Ontario, such as the Powley community (in Sault Ste. Marie) and we also represent Métis who are connected to the Métis Nation homeland west of Ontario,” said Froh.

MNO’s most recent registry numbers sit at around 28,000 citizens.

“The new Métis government will have recognized law-making powers in the areas of citizenship, leadership selection and internal operations. The Self-Government Agreement has “locked in” these steps so that they cannot be swept away by changing winds or political circumstances. In this way, the Self-Government Agreement ‘sets the table’ for the next steps the MNO will take to implement the agreement,” reads the MNO’s website.

The progress of meetings needed to take those next steps has been affected by the coronavirus, Froh says, noting that public gatherings were banned in early 2020 as a way to combat COVID-19. It was therefore difficult, but not impossible, to reach regional and local leaders.

“One of the most important things we have to do is we have to build our constitution through dialogue with citizens across the province working from the bottom up,” Froh said.

The constitution will address issues such as who the Métis are, the governance structure, how to elect leaders, and how to resolve disputes.

Now that most COVID restrictions have been recalled or lifted, Froh said they will move forward with a “deep level of engagement” to hear from people around what they want to see in terms of our Métis government 30, 50, 70 years into the future. It’s a really exciting process. It’s really engaging people.

She adds that the interest comes from both young people and elders.

While this larger work is underway, the MNO is also working on policy. Two of his new policies ensure that MNO resources, programs, services and appointments go where they are supposed to go.

“Our concern is that when we negotiate benefits on behalf of Métis rights holders, they go to Métis rights holders and we deal with that,” Froh said.

The Eligibility Policy for Direct Benefits Programs and Services now requires full MNO citizenship record status to be eligible.

These programs and services include early learning and child care programs, post-secondary education, MNO COVID relief programs, home improvement, and housing stabilization.

The MNO is also tackling the issue of people claiming to be Métis and receiving post-secondary appointments. These false claims have come to the fore over the past year.

The MNO has adopted a policy of verifying the status of the MNO’s citizenship file with other governments and third-party institutions. It provides a mechanism for a government or third-party institution (such as a university) to verify the citizenship record status of an MNO citizen applying to receive an award, benefit or recognition, where proof that an individual is a Métis rights holder is a factor in the decision.

Froh says such a check only works if a Metis from Ontario is on the MNO’s registration list. However, not being on this list does not mean that someone is not Métis.

“In this case, it is a little more difficult for you to be able to demonstrate to any institution,” she pointed out.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples also represents Métis, as well as off-reserve status and non-status First Nations, and southern Inuit.

Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works at Windspeaker.Com. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera