Dispute over Métis rights escalates as new paper attacks evidence underpinning provincial recognition

By Alan S. Hale September 15, 2022

The conflict between First Nations and the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is escalating, with at least one First Nations group commissioning an academic research paper to undermine the Métis’ claims to Indigenous identity, which the province agreed to recognize in 2017.

First Nations chiefs across Ontario met virtually last week to discuss the ongoing dispute over whether Métis people should enjoy the same Indigenous rights as First Nations, even within treaty territories where the Métis are not signatories — a dispute that Premier Doug Ford promised Indigenous leaders his government would handle.

The issue featured heavily during the Chiefs of Ontario’s annual assembly in June, with the chiefs agreeing to meet again in September to discuss the matter. But the organization declined to tell Queen’s Park Today what was said or decided during last week’s meeting, as such gatherings are considered confidential.

In his latest research paper, former St. Mary’s University professor Darryl Leroux sets out six criteria he argues must be met for the Abitibi-Inland Métis community to reach “the minimum threshold for a distinctive community,” all of which he argued the evidence provided by the MNO had failed to meet. (Twitter/@DarrylLeroux)

The research paper was commissioned by the Wabun Tribal Council (a confederation of six First Nations in northern Ontario) and written by Darryl Leroux, a former professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, who has penned books and papers over the years arguing that Métis people in eastern Canada are essentially just white settlers falsely claiming an Indigenous identity, and then using that identity against the interests of First Nations people.

“The so-called ‘Eastern Métis’ are instead an example of what is referred to as race-shifting or self-indigenization, a process that … involves white French-descendants inventing and claiming an ‘Indigenous’ identity, often in opposition to actual Indigenous peoples,” writes Leroux on his website.

In his latest research paper, Leroux specifically examines the Abitibi-Inland Métis community, one of the six “historic Métis communities” that the Liberals under then-premier Kathleen Wynne recognized as having Indigenous rights in a framework agreement signed with the federal government and the MNO in 2017.

After picking apart several provincial and MNO documents for inconsistencies and comparing their arguments to supposedly current academic thinking on the subject of “ethnogenesis” (the process of a mixed-race community becoming its own distinct ethnicity), the paper concludes that “the MNO has not demonstrated the existence of a distinctive collective identity for its Abitibi-Inland Historic Métis Community.”

The implication of the paper is that the Abitibi-Inland Métis community’s assertion that it has Indigenous harvesting rights within the territory of Wabun Tribal Council member nations is not backed by historical evidence, which the agreement with the province for recognition of those rights presupposes.

“Dr. Leroux’s paper confirms the Wabun Tribal Council’s position that there was never any historical Métis community in our territory,” Jason Batise, executive director of the Wabun Tribal Council, told Postmedia earlier this month.

“The Wabun Tribal Council strongly supports the recognition by all governments of legitimate Indigenous claims to traditional land and other rights. In the case of our First Nations, those rights are anchored in our treaty with the Crown, which to this day constitutes the foundation of our relationship with Canadians and their governments.”

In a statement to Queen’s Park Today, the MNO dismissed the report’s findings.

“The Abitibi-Inland Métis Community is a well-known and well-documented Métis community that emerged in that region of what is now Ontario prior to Treaty 9 being negotiated,” it said. “Notably, during the Crown’s negotiations of Treaty 9 with First Nations [in 1906], Métis petitioned to have their land rights recognized, but were excluded from the treaty.”

The MNO maintains the evidence for the historical basis of Métis rights in the region was the result of an “extensive” six-year review of various reports by “qualified experts, not consultants paid for by an organization to arrive at a certain result.”

“Mr. Leroux has been selling his services to various organizations to self-promote his books and services as well as advance his views about who the Métis are,” said the MNO.

“Mr. Leroux advances an argument that the only real ‘Métis’ come from the Red River in Manitoba. Many Métis, including Ontario Métis and Métis in the Prairie provinces … do not agree with this singular view. Neither does the Supreme Court of Canada.”

MNO says it ‘will not be bothering’ to refute Leroux’s findings

In his paper, Leroux sets out six criteria he argues must be met for the Abitibi-Inland Métis community to reach “the minimum threshold for a distinctive community,” all of which he argued the evidence provided by the MNO had failed to meet.

These criteria included a practice of intermarriage among the group, possession of “considerable demographic weight,” relatively clear territorial boundaries, distinctive political institutions, a sense of self-consciousness as a distinct group, and recognition by other Indigenous people.

“There is no indication in the MNO documentation … Indigenous peoples in the territory ever recognized their mixed-race kin as a distinctive community,” concluded Leroux.

Although the paper seems to be striking at the legitimacy of the evidence that underpins the agreement with the province, the MNO says its conclusions are moot and cannot undo the Supreme Court’s recognition of Métis possessing Indigenous rights.

“This is why the MNO does not expect much will be made of this recent report and will not be bothering to refute Mr. Leroux’s work,” said the MNO in its statement. “We are sure there will be more of these reports to come for those willing to pay to get certain results.”