Ontario Métis commission has clear vision for self-governance talks
Some Métis still fearful of self-identifying because of prejudice, say officials from provincial commission
Ontario Métis leaders say they have a clear mandate from communities across the province when it comes to negotiating for self-governance with the Canadian government.
Officials from the Métis Nation of Ontario Commission stopped in Windsor on Tuesday, wrapping up a three-month province-wide tour of 29 communities.
The commission's goal was to discuss self-governance and other issues that focussed on preserving Métis identity and culture, and re-establishing traditional hunting, fishing and forestry rights.
The timing of the commission's tour couldn't be better, say Métis officials, who now have the ear of the federal government after a landmark decision from the Supreme Court of Canada last year determined Ottawa is responsible for Métis and non-status Indians.
"We're at a point now where we can think about (self-governance)," said France Picotte, chairperson for Métis Nation of Ontario. "It's so important right now. We're at a crucial point to move forward ... in leaps and bounds."
Historically, status Indians were the only group that qualified for certain rights and payments from the federal government. Non-status Indians and Métis were either never registered or were considered ineligible to register.
That all changed with the Daniels vs. Canada ruling that gave those same constitutional rights to the country's 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Indigenous people.
Even with the landmark decision, though, many Métis are still reluctant to identify because of long-standing prejudice and stigma, Picotte explained.
Identifying as Métis in Ontario was often too dangerous more than 130 years ago, which forced many people into hiding.
"Our ancestors took us and hid us as far as they could," Picotte said. "Some people are still very afraid because it's ingrained into them — don't identify."