One of the most ironic tweets in Indigenous and Canadian history recently appeared on the Métis National Council’s Twitter page.
"The Métis National Council would like to advise all visitors to the offices located at 340 MacLaren Street in Ottawa that we are no longer available," the statement May 12 read. "The Louis Riel Capital Corporation (our landlords) have demanded we vacate our offices."
Louis Riel kicking Métis out of their home. I can’t make this up.
It’s another chapter in the two-decade war between the Manitoba Métis Federation and other Métis over the future of governance in Canada.
This is the stuff history textbooks are written about, so buckle in.
In 2002 — after much controversy over who had the authority to issue Métis citizenship — provincial Métis authorities who make up the national council agreed to re-register members under a new national definition.
Of concern was the fact some groups claim to be Métis when they have little-to-no ties to the Métis nation birthed amongst communities on the Red River.
The Métis of the Red River, of course, is a recognizable, historical, and legal entity that formed the basis for Manitoba’s first government. After Canada’s theft of their lands after confederation, many of its peoples were scattered into other eastern and western settlements.
At the same time, "métis" came into the Canadian lexicon (from the French "métissage" meaning "mixed-blood") to generally describe individuals who came from Indigenous and settler lineages and did not qualify to be an Indian under the Indian Act.
Most Métis communities west of Manitoba can draw their ancestral ties to the Red River but many "métis" in the east cannot.
This led to arguments at the national council level, primarily between the MMF and Métis Nation of Ontario, over who could legitimately claim Métis citizenship.
This extended into annual battles over funding, drawing up the "official" Métis nation map, and the MNO refusing to implement the council’s national definition of Métis citizenship.
As a result, then-council president Clément Chartier suspended the MNO, with the MMF backing the decision. He also refused to hold meetings (or elections) with the Ontario group present.
In an effort to keep the peace, Métis Nation Saskatchewan and the Métis Nation of Alberta came to the aid of MNO, sparking a court battle over the leadership of the national council.
In 2019, Chartier resigned, leaving MMF president David Chartrand in charge of the council.
Soon after, a judge ordered the council reinstate the MNO and hold an election, a decision that resulted in the MMF withdrawing from the council.
In September 2021, Cassidy Caron from the Métis Nation British Columbia was elected council president.
Then, stuff got nasty.
Four months later, Caron announced an audit had found Chartier, Chartrand and a number of other contractors and employees had perpetrated a "scorched earth policy scheme" to ruin the national council.
It filed a $15-million lawsuit, primarily accusing Chartier and Chartrand of funnelling money to the MMF — including tying up the organization in an expensive rental contract to house the national council headquarters in a building run by the Louis Riel Capital Corp. (an economic development arm of the MMF).
Chartrand and the MMF called the lawsuit "a publicity stunt," full of "scandalous, vexatious and baseless allegations."
Hence, the MMF-led eviction of the national council on May 13.
This could just be chalked up to an internal political fight amongst Métis if not for the fact they are dragging the rest of us into their fight.
For a year, the MMF has made billboards and sent letters to organizations throughout Manitoba demanding territorial acknowledgements only use the words "homeland of the Red River Métis" when acknowledging Métis people.
During the recent papal visit to Rome, both the national council and MMF travelled in separate delegations to receive apologies over the church’s role in residential schools.
The MMF now posts on its website it is "the only officially recognized Métis government in Canada" — a position that frames the national council as irrelevant and tells the federal government it is above any other Métis organization.
A Métis dispute over who represents Métis people has become a vicious, toxic and confusing court battle, built on accusations of corruption and personal attacks.
Oh yeah, with non-Métis making the ultimate decision on what to do.
It’s a terrible, embarrassing and damaging look for everyone involved — particularly for community-based, grassroots Métis people.
The rancour is drowning out the good stuff.
In the past week, the Pope announced he would be visiting parts of the Métis homeland in Alberta, while the MMF announced a $15-million plan for a 45-housing unit retrofit for the decaying former Roxy Lanes building on Henderson Highway in Winnipeg.
In a war, though, no one wins — especially those on the front lines.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.