The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Metis group wants to meet minister to raise concerns about provincial rival

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OTTAWA - British Columbia Metis representatives say they will raise concerns about a rival organization's purported misconduct during a meeting this week with officials at Aboriginal Affairs headquarters.

The B.C. Metis Federation requested the meeting after The Canadian Press first reported that a national Metis organization and its provincial affiliates had come under scrutiny for their management practices and financial controls.

Federation president Keith Henry and some of his staff are scheduled to meet Aboriginal Affairs officials on Thursday.

Henry has also written to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt asking for a meeting that day or the next morning, but he says the minister's office won't return his calls or emails.

"The appropriate minister's representative will be available to meet with the B.C. Metis Federation," Erica Meekes, a spokeswoman for Valcourt, said Friday.

The B.C. Metis Federation and the Metis Nation British Columbia are the two main aboriginal organizations representing Metis people in the province.

The Metis Nation British Columbia says it represents more than 9,500 provincially registered Metis citizens, while the federation says it represents about 6,300 people.

The federation has been highly critical of its provincial rival since questions arose about the Metis Nation British Columbia's management and finances.

An auditor found apparent conflicts of interest and expenses that should have been ineligible for federal funding under the terms of their contribution agreements with the government.

Metis Nation British Columbia president Bruce Dumont declined to comment.

"We reconciled the MNBC (audit) with (the department) which was favourable to Metis Nation BC," he wrote in an email.

In a May 26 email to Valcourt, a copy of which is posted on the federation's website, Henry said the Metis Nation British Columbia has not been open or accountable.

"The ongoing financial mismanagement has fostered considerable discord among Metis people in British Columbia," he wrote.

"Furthermore, MNBC's actions have led to a loss of credibility for the organization and widespread disillusionment among Metis people in B.C."

He also questioned why further action has not been taken.

"Why has this matter not been referred to the proper authorities for investigation?"

Officials in Valcourt's office say the matter has already been dealt with through the signing in April 2013 of a renewed Metis protocol and a new governance and financial accountability accord.

But that was before details of the audits became public and an open rift emerged among the board members of the Metis National Council.

Valcourt's office has also not indicated whether it plans to look into new revelations that the council enlisted a convicted sex offender in 2011 to work with residential school survivors.

All of this comes at a crucial moment for the Metis people. A Federal Court ruling last year brought Metis and non-status Indians into the ranks of people considered "Indians" under the Constitution. The Conservative government is now appealing that decision, which — if left to stand — would vastly expand Ottawa's responsibilities for aboriginal peoples.

Meanwhile, the ranks of people who identify themselves as Metis is swelling. The number of people who say they are Metis has shot up from 291,000 in the 2001 census to 451,795 a decade later.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples estimates the number is actually closer to 600,000.

Follow @steve_rennie on Twitter

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