First Nations chiefs from northern Ontario were in Ottawa this week for hearings related to legislation that will give Métis in Ontario self-government rights.
They were united in their opinion of what is called Bill C-53.
“This whole approach has been, recognize first and verify later,” said Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod. “What we’re saying is that we want to be at the table to look at who exactly we’re speaking to when we talk about this legislation because from our standpoint, there’s a facade of who these people represent, and some of them are in fact, our own people, they’re using our own history to basically hijack an identity of a nation that never existed.”
McLeod said that until Canada does its due diligence, to determine which communities being claimed by the Métis Nation of Ontario were truly historical, the MNO can not be recognized as being section 35 rights holders.
“Bill C-53 would do nothing but damage First Nations rights for generations to come and likely cause damage to the relationship with the federal government,” said Chief Alvin Fiddler in his opening statement to the committee.
Liberal MP Jaime Battiste, who is Mi’kmaw, asked if they would be satisfied if a clause was included that says that nothing in the act would abrogate or derogate away from First Nations treaties.
Fiddler swiftly responded, “I would be satisfied if you killed the bill. If you proceed with this bill, it will make things even more complicated, even more messy, and I didn’t ask to be part of this hearing today.
“I was asked to come here. Well, I should’ve been asked a year ago, I should’ve been asked maybe six months ago and I talked about how colonial this exercise is, well, that’s exactly what it is.”
According to the executive director of the Wabun Tribal Council, Jason Batise, the bill opens the door to a wave of illegitimate Métis claims.
The organization represents six First Nations in the Timmins region.
Batise said illegitimate groups are already demanding that industry pay them for impacts on the land. He said there’s been no consultation, and when the tribal council tried to get information through the access to information act, it was denied.
“We’ve spent a half million [dollars] through our little tribal council, trying to get what this bill is and nobody wants to tell us anything,” he said. “The government is protecting information out of cabinet privilege, imagine that, treaty partners. Why is it so secret, what’s the gig?”
The federal legislation formally recognizes the status of Métis Governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
The Métis Nation of Ontario and the Métis Nation of Alberta met with the committee last week.
MNO President Margaret Froh told reporters there is no mention of lands or resources, but Bill c-53 is the legislative cradle for future agreements.
The committee continues its study on the bill next week, with the Manitoba Métis Federation and other Métis groups from the western provinces as witnesses.