As Indigenous leaders engage in heated debate over a federal bill that would formalize several Métis self-government agreements, the Liberal minister responsible for Crown-Indigenous relations is expected to face tough questions.
Leaders of Métis groups in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario say the law would open up new opportunities and foster a new relationship with Ottawa.
Conversely, prominent First Nations voices are raising concerns about irreparable harm to treaty rights. They say that with this law, the federal government is essentially giving Métis organizations a blank sheet of paper on which to write contracts without oversight.
Now it is the turn of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree to answer questions from the House of Commons Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee, which has been considering Bill C-53 for more than a month.
His appearance comes after weeks of bitter testimony.
Opposition and consultation
The Chiefs of Ontario, a group representing Ontario’s First Nations chiefs, have gone so far as to say that some Métis communities in this province have no historical livelihood and do not meet the legal threshold to be recognized as having rights .
When Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod was asked earlier this month what would make the bill more acceptable, he said the government should do it
DELETE the Métis Nation of Ontario.
The Assembly of First Nations, which represents some 630 First Nations across Canada, unanimously passed a resolution at its annual general meeting in July to protect First Nations from what it calls
the unfounded rights of the Métis.
It also included a demand that Canada end all negotiations with the Métis Nation of Ontario until First Nations had been meaningfully consulted.
The Assembly’s acting national chair, Joanna Bernard, told the committee on Tuesday
First Nations have expressed serious and credible concerns about the potential impact if Bill C-53 moves forward without proper consultation.
The Métis Nation of Ontario said First Nations do not need to be consulted at this time because nothing in the bill as currently written will affect First Nations rights.
The bill is a positive step forward that does not harm other Indigenous groups, the group stressed, arguing that the idea that land and resource rights could come to the table later is a good thing, despite First Nations opposition to a potential bill be .
Mr. Anandasangaree told The Canadian Press last month that the federal government could later enter into treaties with the Métis nations
At some point we will reach this point. Further consultation would need to take place at this point, he said.
At the committee, Liberal MP Jaime Battiste pushed back against First Nations leaders sounding the alarm about possible treaties, stressing that some existing treaties are more about peace and friendship than land.
It also sparked much discussion about a 2003 Supreme Court decision that established a set of criteria to determine who is entitled to Métis rights.
However, other Métis organizations have also raised concerns about the Ontario group, including the Manitoba Métis Federation, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and Métis Nation British Columbia.
The concerns revolve in part around six new nations that the Métis Nation of Ontario wants to recognize and which Ontario leaders say have no historical basis for their existence.
Further review is needed, the Saskatchewan group said in a July letter to Ontario group President Margaret Froh.
The group called on its organization to comply with a resolution from the Métis National Council General Assembly and conduct a review of the six new historic communities.
Until this problem was solved by a group of independent expertsThe letter says the Saskatchewan group will not be able to do so
Advocate in good faith for the inclusion of these communities in any negotiations with the federal government.
Will Goodon of the Manitoba Metis Federation testified earlier this month that Canada needs to ask itself who it is dealing with.
It is not the historic Métis Nation, he said. People who call themselves Métis in Ontario wrap themselves in the Red River Métis flag. It is our flag that flew at Seven Oaks on the Red River [au Manitoba].
Froh told the committee that her organization has worked hard to dispel widespread myths and misinformation about the bill, including about new historic communities.
A young member of the Métis Nation of Ontario, Hayden Stenlund, testified before the committee that it was frustrating for him and his mother, who is a councilor for the group
constantly standing up and defending their community and its members.
I firmly believe that Métis self-government will help us maintain our way of life and allow us to govern ourselves the Métis way for all of our future descendantssaid the 17 year old young man.
Despite her resolution on Ontario lands, Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron told the committee last week that she supports the bill.
The same goes for Métis Nation of Alberta President Andrea Sandmaier, who told MPs:
We know that the progress of a nation paves the way for all to move forward.
Ms. Sandmaier insisted that the passage of the bill would not affect anyone outside of the three organizations included in the text.
But if Bill C-53 does not pass, it will harm Métis people and the advancement of Indigenous rights at all levelsShe said.
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