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Metis Nation of Ontario votes to remove members with incomplete citizenship files

People walk past a tipi during the National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at Mādahòkì Farm in Ottawa, Ontario on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

The Metis Nation of Ontario has voted to remove members who do not provide full documentation of a Metis connection or ancestry.

The organization, which represents Metis people in the province, said its members voted over nearly three months on the issue and while removals won’t be immediate, the results provide direction for the future.

“The results are clear that MNO citizens want to ensure that the MNO can verify that all of its citizens are Metis rights-holders,” the organization’s president Margaret Froh wrote in a statement. “We will move forward on this basis.”

The Metis Nation of Ontario made the decision to conduct the vote after holding its annual general assembly last August.

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That came after it began assessing the completeness of its citizenship files in 2017, as part of its negotiations with Canada and Ontario on Metis self-governance.

Work over the last six years has indicated approximately 18 per cent of its membership– or 5,400 members — could not be verified as Metis rights-holders due to missing documentation, the organization said.

Seventy-one per cent of members who cast ballots between early December and late February voted to remove members with incomplete citizenship files from the organization’s registry.

A special meeting will be called to amend bylaws and policy to remove citizens with incomplete files, the organization said.

Issues to be considered will include the need for a reasonable notice period for removal, an appeals process and clarity that removed citizens can re-apply at any time for membership if proper documentation is provided, the Metis Nation of Ontario said.

The organization said it recognizes that the issue of Metis ancestry is a sensitive and significant one and noted that it spent years offering support to citizens trying to “complete” their citizenship files.

“The MNO wants to acknowledge how sensitive of an issue this is for many,” chair Hank Rowlinson wrote in a statement.

“We will continue to be transparent and sensitive, while also respecting the collective will of Metis rights-holders and rights-bearing Metis communities in Ontario.”

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Lynn Lavallee, the strategic lead of Indigenous resurgence at Toronto Metropolitan University’s community services department, said the Metis Nation of Ontario — of which she is a member — has been under scrutiny for giving out membership cards too easily.

She said she believes the organization has gone “above and beyond” by making their registry review public.

Lavallee said, however, that certain individuals with genuine Metis ancestry may not have supporting documentation for a variety of complex reasons.

“People may have found out about their Metis ancestry much later because of people trying to withhold the fact that they were Indigenous,” said Lavallee.

Some could also be reconnecting with their Indigenous identity or unable to afford or even locate documentation, like relatives’ birth or death certificates.

“It would be good if the MNO could support citizens whose files are not complete where clearly there’s a strong suspicion that they are Metis,” she said.

Members who could lose their Metis citizenship status could lose out on rights and benefits such as federal funding dispersed amongst members by Metis nations, she said.

“The greatest impact will be for people who would benefit from the financial support, educational supports,” said Lavallee.

But what could also deeply affect removed members — which Lavallee said is just as valuable as financial support — is a sense of identity and belonging.

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“If people know that they’re Metis and then all of a sudden a political body is saying, ‘No, you’re not’ or ‘You don’t have enough information … there might be an impact to people who really need those supports.”

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