Federal officials met with controversial N.S. Métis group 'to advance reconciliation'
Métis Nation president says meeting with self-identified eastern Métis 'opening a can of worms'
Federal officials met recently in the name of "reconciliation" with a controversial Nova Scotia Métis group, an organization that just days later would be the centre of an investigation by another federal department into allegations some members were trying to avoid paying HST.
On June 11 and 12, officials with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada met with seven Nova Scotia Métis groups — including Eastern Woodland Métis Nation Nova Scotia, according to a department spokesperson.
The Council of First Métis People of Canada, which is based in Ontario, was also at one of the meetings.
The Eastern Woodland Métis has been criticized publicly after it was revealed some members had claimed they could use their membership cards to get tax breaks on everything from gas to cars.
The growing number of self-identified Métis in Eastern Canada has been controversial. The groups are comprised of members who identify as mixed European and Indigenous heritage.
The decision by Crown-Indigenous Relations to meet with the groups is being criticized by the head of the Métis Nation, which is based in Western Canada and last year signed a nation-to-nation accord with the federal government.
"I don't think they're being helpful," said president Clement Chartier. "I think they're opening up a can of worms that I'm not sure where it's going to take them."
He said those who claim to be Nova Scotia Métis aren't Métis at all. While they fit the "dictionary definition" of someone of Indigenous and European ancestry, he said they do not meet the political, cultural, historic and geographic standard of the Métis Nation.
The Métis Nation counts 400,000 members, has its own historic leader, Louis Riel, and its own identity, culture, flag, and even language — Michif, whose origins are Cree and French.
Chartier is also unhappy that some Eastern Woodland Métis members have been trying to not pay HST. He said that harms the reputation of the Métis Nation, which is not seeking tax exemptions.
Only people who are registered as Indians, hold a federal-government issued Indian status card, and live on a reserve are entitled to HST breaks on purchases.
But Mary Lou Parker, the grand chief of the Eastern Woodland Métis, has acknowledged she's told members to show their "Métis cards" when making purchases. If businesses give a tax break, she said, that's their problem.
Earlier this month, Indigenous Services Canada said it was investigating whether the group was "mistakenly advising" its members to seek tax exemptions intended for those with Indian status.
Ottawa 'does not define who is Métis'
The other six Métis groups that Crown-Indigenous Relations met with earlier this month are: Bras D'or Lake/Unama'ki Voyageurs Métis Nation; Highlands Métis Nation Association; Eastern Shore Métis Nation Association; Association des Acadiens-Métis Souriquois; Sou'West Nova Métis Council; and Kespu'kwitk Métis Council.
The federal government "does not define who is Métis," Stephanie Palma, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, said in an email.
She said the department's work includes "ongoing dialogue with Métis and Non-Status Indian groups across Canada, including in Nova Scotia, to advance reconciliation."
She said a number of meetings have taken place, and progress has been made on "finding ways to better work together." Department officials are willing to speak to "any interested organizations," she said.
Those who consider themselves eastern Métis have argued they are a distinct mixed-race people with a shared history and culture.
Parker has said many like her were forced to assimilate with white people and are only recently reclaiming their Aboriginal heritage. Her group now counts 30,000 members.
Harvey Morrison, a Halifax lawyer whose practice includes Aboriginal law, said there's no harm in talking to the self-named Métis groups to check them out and analyze their claims. He said that's preferable to pre-judging the groups.
He said it's not necessarily contradictory for one federal department to be probing a group's activities while another department is having conversations with it, he said.
"An investigation is trying to acquire information, and sitting down with the groups is just another way of getting information with respect to another aspect," said Morrison.
He believes the federal government may be figuring out how "they're going to deal with these groups. It's a complex issue that is relatively new for them to explore."
But Patti Doyle-Bedwell, a Dalhousie University associate professor of Indigenous studies and Potlolek First Nation member, said the department's meetings harm reconciliation efforts.
She said the groups are using the meetings to strive toward "legitimacy," which the federal government should not be a part of.
Doyle-Bedwell said these Métis groups are not allies of Indigenous people, and are "putting us down" and "diluting the whole effort" toward Indigenous self-determination.
"Where were all these people when we were fighting for our treaty rights in 1985 and in 1999? Not there," she said.
Her message to the federal government is to talk to the Mi'kmaq leadership first, because "this is not their territory, this is our territory. It's always been Mi'kmaqi."
"Are they going to negotiate with anybody across Canada that just creates a society and says they're Aboriginal or Métis? I don't think so," she said.
Nova Scotia's Office of Aboriginal Affairs said in a statement there "are currently no recognized rights-bearing Métis groups in the province."
But the statement also said "the province encourages all Nova Scotians to continue to celebrate their heritage, including those who self-identify as Métis."