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Governance deal puts Métis, First Nations communities at odds

Métis Nation says it is a distinct entity worthy of self-governance, while First Nations accuse the federal government of attempting to undermine the authority of Indigenous communities
MVT Metis Nation flag
The flag of the Métis Nation. (Image: Métis Nation of Alberta)

A self-governance agreement signed in February by the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) and the federal government has created friction between the Métis Nation and the Robinson Huron Waawiindamaagewin (RHW), who say the government and MNO are negotiating for rights that do not belong to them, and have based their claims on flawed research.

The MNO was founded in 1993 and represents the “collective aspirations, rights and interests of Métis people and communities” throughout Ontario, the group states. The governance agreement has been in the works since 2017.

Under the deal, the federal government recognizes that Métis communities represented by the MNO “hold the inherent right to self-government and self-determination.” It’s a path for the MNO to become a recognized public Indigenous government, with law-making powers in the areas of citizenship, leadership selection, and internal operations. 

A brief history of Métis self-governance

The journey to this agreement began with a research project aiming to identify Métis citizens across Ontario. 

From this project, the Ontario government and the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) identified six “historic Métis communities” in Ontario. Of these six, three communities are on the lands included in the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850: the Georgian Bay Métis community, Killarney Métis community and the Mattawa-Ottawa river community.

A fourth community on treaty land, the Sault Ste. Marie historic Métis community, was officially identified two decades ago as part of R v. Powley, a legal case concerning Métis hunting rights that is central to this dispute.

In 1993, the province of Ontario charged Steve and Roddy Powley with illegal hunting near Sault Ste. Marie. The Powleys disputed their conviction, arguing that as Métis people, their rights were enshrined in Section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982), detailing the rights of First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The case concluded in 2003, when the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the Powleys, with the case’s precedent establishing the criteria for who can legally qualify for Métis rights. 

In a statement to, Mitch Case, MNO regional councillor and resident of the Sault Ste. Marie historic Métis community said to him, the Powley ruling is clear. 

“There was — and is — a Métis community in Sault Ste. Marie that exists within the Robinson Huron Treaty territory,” he said. “It was here before that treaty was signed in 1850. It continues to be here today, and it has rights that co-exist with treaty rights.”

What’s more, he said, those rights don’t make Métis communities distinct from First Nations.

”Our rights are rooted in our existence as a people and distinct community, not as derivatives of our First Nations relatives who require their consent,” Case said.

The Powley precedent has 10 requirements for establishing Métis rights, one of which is the need to provide identifiable ties to a historic Mètis community — that is, a community with a distinctive collective identity, living in the same geographic area and sharing a common way of life prior to what’s known as ‘effective control’ — that is to say after European settlers had fully established political and legal control in a particular geographic area.

Robinson Huron treaty signatories’ concern

The timeline is the sticking point for RHW, who assert there were no Métis communities established on treaty territory prior to effective control being established. 

The RHW represents the 21 Anishinaabek nations inhabiting the shores of Lake Huron, considered Robinson Huron Treaty territory. They say these Métis communities are neither historical nor distinct, and as such, do not meet the requirements under Powley. RHW believes the only rights holders in the area are the Robinson Huron Treaty people, and that the two other parties have no claim to them.

Scott McLeod, chief of Nipissing First Nation (member nation of the RHW), told he believes the agreement could, in essence, circumvent the original Treaty of 1850. 

“It’s purely a plan by the government to undermine our authority as Indigenous people of this land, and put aside the treaties that were signed,” he said. “And they (the MNO) are taking advantage of this by going to the colonial government to seek recognition of those rights.”

In a release on May 8, RHW called for the federal government to cease action immediately relating to the MNO self-government agreement based on a report commissioned by the RHW. It cites “poor research practices” and claims the MNO “actively omitted historical data,” which the RHW says calls into question the MNO interpretation of verified Métis family lines used to prove the existence of the historic communities.

The study was completed by Dr. Celeste Pedri-Spade (McGill University) and Dr. Darryl Leroux (University of Ottawa). It claims the MNO membership has gone up 55 per cent since 2020, reaching a total of 31,000 members. Of these new members, the report claims that 20,000 are from the four historic communities on treaty land and “we estimate that another 20,000 individuals are falsely claiming to be Métis.”

After the study’s publication, RHW issued a media release stating they believe the MNO engaged in misleading practices, neglected to consult First Nations in the area and have not been transparent in their methods or “recognition process.”

The report states that “First Nations have indicated” provincial authorities are now requiring area First Nations to consult with MNO on issues that fall outside of Section 35 rights, “including economic development, mining and infrastructure licensing,” and that the government has provided MNO with “de facto veto power over land-based projects and territorial negotiations with First Nations.” They accuse the MNO of charging “exorbitant fees” for mandatory consultations and “demand various concessions in return for even a basic level of support for First Nation treaty rights.”

The report also claims that prior to 2017, “First Nations have never heard of nor encountered any of the local MNO entities with whom they are now required to consult.”

In the release, Chief Adam Pawis of Shawanaga First Nation said the data Métis family lines are, in fact, Anishinaabe family lines.

“The research utilized by the MNO for the McLeod-Riel Métis family line (one of the verified Mètis family lines used to establish these historic communities) claims an Ansihinaabe family as a basis for Métis membership. All the evidence surrounding this family points to their identity as Ansihinaabe, not Métis.”

Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation states that the agreement is a “fast-tracked push” and is an “affront to the unextinguished rights and jurisdictions” of RHW.

“We cannot sit idly by while the settler government continues to discuss and deal with groups claiming Indigenous ancestry without our consent,” he said. 

The Wabun Tribal Council agrees with RHW and says that the research done by MNO is faulty. The tribal council is a non-profit regional Chief’s Council that represents six First Nations (Beaverhouse, Brunswick House, Chapleau Ojibwe, Flying Post, Matachewan and Mattagami). In 2022, they commissioned an independent review, also completed by researcher Leroux, which challenged MNO's conclusions.

In March, Wabun applied for full judicial review of the MNO agreement, stating that the MNO recognizes communities that are unable to pass the ‘Powley test’ for Métis rights. 

The Chiefs of Ontario, led by Chief Glen Hare, have also said they support the RHW, stating they reject the existence of the “so-called historic Métis communities” in the Ontario region and are “of the position that the MNO is claiming a false history in our First Nations territories.”

Case states that in 2004, the MNO and the Chiefs of Ontario signed a political protocol which promised “to affirm mutual respect, recognition and support for the respective rights, interests and aspirations of First Nations and the Métis Nation within Ontario.” 

McLeod said that he feels the MNO agreement is another effort to eliminate Anishinaabe culture. “The Indian Act was designed to eliminate us and we've been fighting the government on that front, fighting for our mere existence,” he said. “And then they (the government) turn around, and openly accept Métis claims without any kind of challenge or process to determine legitimacy of their claims.” 

McLeod said those who believe they have an Indigenous ancestor should visit and learn from that ancestor's community, rather than claim Métis. 

“That's what nationhood is about,” he said. “It's not just about having one person somewhere down your family line that's going to make you Indigenous, or magically make you into a Métis,” he said. “I mean, it would be silly to think if you had a Black person in your family tree, back from the 1700s, that now you can identify as a black person.”

But Case counters that, stating that the Mètis people are not First Nations and are not claiming one ancestor, but their own culture. 

“Let me be clear: we are not Anishinaabe,” said Case. “Nor are we anyone’s leftovers or subordinates. We are also no one’s poor cousins, beholden or subservient to anyone else’s recognition or acceptance.”

Case said that he rejects any suggestion that Métis communities need anyone else’s permission to exist, stating it is rooted in their own culture, identity and inherent rights.

“My heart goes out to my Métis relatives as well as our First Nation relations, many who do not agree with the public attacks being made by some Chiefs,” said Case. “These attacks are ill-informed, ugly, misguided, hurtful and distasteful. To my Métis family, friends and community: be proud, hold your head up high, and know that our Métis communities are not going anywhere.”

The RHW finishes their statement with “Canada must cease this practice and directly deal with the original rights-holders of this land.”  

Jenny Lamothe covers vulnerable and marginalized populations for 


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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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