There are a lot of changes at the Métis National Council (MNC) following the court-ordered, special sitting of the organization’s general assembly in late September.
A 24-hour period saw Clément Chartier step aside as president after 18 years at the helm; the Manitoba Métis Federation withdraw from the national organization; the Métis Nation of Ontario, previously on probation over registry concerns, was back in the fold; and Cassidy Caron becomes the first woman elected to head up the MNC.
Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, served as an interim president of the MNC in 2003.
In her acceptance speech in Saskatoon, Caron said the decades-old organization was turning a page and beginning a new era, “one of accountability, of transparency and of governing on behalf of the entire Métis Nation.”
In an interview on this week’s episode of Face to Face, Caron said “in the last few years, there has been, not a lot of dialogue, not a lot of transparency with the Métis governments who make up the Métis National Council.
“For example, there was not a sitting of the general assembly and there was not any board of governors meetings that had been called in quite some time. So, my approach to being president of the Métis National Council is I am here to advocate and advance the voices of those Métis governments and I can’t do that without their voices.”
Caron said the governing members of the MNC have already held four meetings and everyone is respectful of each other’s priorities.
“So, I do believe we’ve turned a page and stepping into a new era,” said Caron who adds she is “hearing messages of hope and renewed relationships.”
Not involved in those meetings are representatives from the Manitoba Metis Federation who walked away from the MNC the day of Caron’s election.
In a letter from MMF President David Chartrand to then MNC president Chartier, Chartrand wrote, “we view this not as MMF leaving MNC. Rather, it is the MNC that has abandoned the MMF and the true Métis Nation.
Caron says she wasn’t surprised.
“The Manitoba Metis Federation, they are our family and I’m sure you know Dennis, families squabble,” said Caron.
“My position throughout this is that the Manitoba Metis Federation, they will always have a seat at the table should they wish to come back. I am open to respectful conversation and dialogue with the Manitoba Metis Federation and I’m just looking to move forward and continue to be the voice and the one who advocates on behalf of the four Métis governments who still belong to the Métis National Council.”
Over the last few years, both Chartrand and Chartier have been warning that MNO is opening the floodgates to an “eastern invasion” and granting Métis citizenship to thousands of people living in eastern Ontario.
At the special sitting of the general assembly, the status of the MNO, previously on probation was revisited and a resolution was passed that will establish an expert panel with a mandate to review the history of seven Ontario communities that have been in question and the MNO’s ongoing registry review process.
“What’s really not up for debate is that these communities have already been recognized as Section 35, rights-bearing communities through the Powley case,” said Caron. “Our task now is to understand, if and how these communities are related to the Métis Nation. So, that’s going to be the work that’s taking place within the next 12 months. That panel will be established, they will be going out and having the conversations.
“They will be doing the research and they will be bringing back recommendations and an action plan to the board of governors and the general assembly where it will be presented to us for a decision on that.”
Caron said she is concerned with a number of high profile cases of people who say they’re Indigenous and then reporting reveals that may not be the case. In many of these incidents, those claiming to be Indigenous say they’re Métis.
“A lot of our people across Turtle Island have had their roots broken, through the processes of colonization, through inter-generational trauma and a lot of people are trying to find their way back to understand where they come from. For some, they try to claim Métis first and then they understand that it is so much more,” said Caron.
“And I think a large part of that has to do with educating the public about who the Métis nation is, who are Métis citizens and what is our process for identifying who Métis citizens are.”
Caron said she will draw the same hard-line as her predecessor when it comes to people claiming Métis identity.
“If you don’t connect into the Métis Nation, in the ways that our governments determine that you connect into the Métis Nation then it is not appropriate to be claiming Métis identity,” said Caron.