What does it take to be Métis in Saskatchewan?
Getting Métis citizenship can take several months, but registration important, says Métis Nation-Saskatchewan
The government that represents Métis citizens in Saskatchewan is reiterating that Indigenous self-identification is not enough and is encouraging eligible Métis people to apply to become official citizens through its provincial citizenship registry.
The call comes following CBC's investigation showing that prominent academic Carrie Bourassa's claims to Indigenous ancestry are spurious.
Bourassa is a University of Saskatchewan professor and the scientific director of the Indigenous health arm of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). She was put on leave from both institutions on Monday.
Without offering any genealogical evidence, Bourassa claimed Métis and Anishinaabe heritage, and asserted that she's a descendant of the Tlingit, a small group of Indigenous people from Yukon and British Columbia.
"To be able to have a solid foundation in regards to how we move forward as a Métis nation is very important," said Glen McCallum, president of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S).
MN-S has a constitutionally protected right to self-government. In 2019, it signed a self-government agreement with the federal government recognizing this. Its provincial citizenship registry was developed a decade earlier than that, in 2009.
"In Saskatchewan, determining 'Who is a Métis citizen?' is the sole determination of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and no one else," McCallum said in a statement last Thursday.
During a 2012 address to a House of Commons committee examining Métis identity, Bourassa acknowledged she didn't qualify for the registry.
MN-S requires people to have Métis citizenship registration in order to access any of the government's program-based benefits and services.
The process to prove a person is Métis and get the citizenship card requires many documents and can take up to several months, according to MN-S registrar Tammy Vallee.
"I think people sometimes are a little intimidated about the process," she said. "We really are here to help and we have gathered a lot of resources and partnerships over the last decade that can make the process really easy for people."
Self-declaration 'not enough'
Applicants have to fill out a form that coincides with MN-S's four-part definition of who is a Métis person — with self-identification just the first step.
"It's not enough to just self-declare to get your citizenship card," Vallee said.
According to MN-S, "Métis means a person, who self identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation ancestry and is accepted by the Métis Nation."
MN-S has a partnership with the Indian Register, the official record of people registered under the Indian Act of Canada, to cross-reference applicants and make sure they're not registered there. To satisfy the aspect of the MN-S definition stating that Métis people must be distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, a person who is registered under the Indian Act cannot be registered with the MN-S.
Applicants have to show that their genealogy connects back to somebody who was a historically recognized Métis person. Vallee says MN-S generally traces a person's lineage back about 100 years.
MN-S has partnerships with eHealth in Saskatchewan and Alberta that allows it to access birth, marriage or change of name records and has gathered a vast genealogy collection over the years that includes government, church and fur trade records, according to Vallee.
"No family tree is the same and sometimes they're a little bit more challenging and we really try to work with the applicant to find alternative sources or help them figure out what other records that they can use."
Vallee said people should hear from the registry within four months of submitting an application.
"From there, it just depends on how complicated the process is for somebody," she said, citing factors such as if a person was adopted, has had multiple name changes or has any discrepancies in their family tree.
There are more than 18,500 Métis people registered with the MN-S and about 6,000 people currently in the application process, according to Vallee. However, she said MN-S estimates there are roughly 80,000 people in Saskatchewan who are Métis.
Definition of Métis citizenship
MN-S is once again calling on all post-secondary institutions in the province to stop relying on Indigenous self-identification and adopt its definition of Métis citizenship when hiring people or granting scholarships.
MN-S first asked institutions to adopt the definition in June 2020, "to help prevent the wrongful appropriation of the designation 'Métis,' " but so far none have done so.
"It takes a lot of work. That's why reconciliation is such a hard word. Indigenization is a hard word," McCallum said. "It takes a lot of hard work to be able to be on the same page and have common sense about us working together."
Darryl Leroux, a non-Indigenous professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, has written extensively on issues of so-called race-shifting, which he defines as when white people claim Indigenous identity. He said it's stunning that Canadian institutions continue to think self-identification is sufficient.
"Self-identification can no longer be used as a sole basis of claims to Indigenous identity because of the rampant fraud that is going on right now."
An internal email sent to all Indigenous staff and faculty at the University of Saskatchewan last Thursday and obtained by CBC News appears to acknowledge the limitations of self-identification.
"It is apparent that self-identification is no longer sufficient for Indigenous-specific appointments and roles," the email read.
With files from Geoff Leo