‘Kill the bill on the hill’: First Nations in Ontario voice their opposition to Métis self government bill

Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda wasted no time letting the small gathering know what she thought about Bill C-53.

“Kill the bill on the hill,” said Commanda, an Elder from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg north of Ottawa.

First Nations in Ontario are united in their opposition to a new piece of federal legislation that formally recognizes a Métis government in the province.

“It recognizes a Métis presence in our territories that historically has never been there,” said Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod. “And really when you dig deep the due diligence for determining who is a Metis person has not been done.”

A number of First Nations gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday to let their views on the proposed law – known in political circles as Bill C-53 – be known.

The bill also recognizes Métis governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan but the First Nations only take issue with the recognition of the Métis Nation of Ontario which they say represents communities with no historical basis that do not meet the legal threshold of having Indigenous rights.

“Absolutely the government has made a major error,” Temagami First Nation Chief Shelly Moore-Frappier said. “There has been no consultation with First Nations. As a Temagami-Anishinabe, in a document of our homeland, we know that we are the only sole bearing Indigenous rights holders in our homeland.”

Onigaming Chief Jeffrey Copenance also questioned the legislation’s legitimacy.

“Métis have no rights in Treaty 3,” he said. The Ojibway chief has been vocal about the struggles his community is facing including addictions and suicides. He sees Bill C-53 as wrong.

“We come here to beg. We come here to beg and to fight for our people for help. As we do that we find our treaty partner, the Crown government, focused on the wrong people. Focused on the communities not in need. The Ojibways of Onigaming are here to oppose Bill C-53 but we’re also here to fight for our children’s lives and to tell people back home your lives matter.”

Edmonton NDP MP Blake Desjarlais, who himself is Métis, said the way the Liberals drafted the bill is problematic.

“Before we get to the legislation there’s actually a process discussion,” he said. “How the government has absorbed or listened to claims of Indigenous groups. That process is flawed and it’s really a brutal one. It’s one that says we’ll recognize this group over this group and we’ll pick winners and losers.”

Métis Nation of Ontario President Margaret Froh said the legislation only affirms rights Métis people already have and really doesn’t change much.

“Bill C-53 is really clear,” she said. “It does not have any impact on anyone other than our Métis governments and our citizens. So, we are continuing to reach out to provide accurate information about self-government agreements and the legislation.”

However, McLeod said this is not the exactly true.

“To say that it’s (Bill C-53) only dealing with governance is also misleading. If you go to their website they talk about land, they talk about resources, they’re already lobbying industry for impact benefits agreements in our territories.”

Moore-Frappier said if the Liberals continue to push ahead with legislation, it will pose problems for the government’s relations with First Nations people moving forward.

“I think that they are going to be setting reconciliation back 100 years. They need to consult First Nations. Really what we are looking at is established rights being subordinate to assertions.”

Bill C-53 passed first and second reading before the House of Commons adjourned in June and heads to committee this fall.

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