Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ottawa to define who's Métis

Leaders outraged over federal decision

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The federal government wants the same organization that sets standards for common household products to be in charge of creating a standardized membership system for Canada's Métis people.

Métis leaders are angry the federal government is planning to award a contract to the Canadian Standards Association to determine a standardized procedure for defining Métis status, without consulting with them first.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has tendered an offer for an organization to come up with a "satisfactory membership system" for Métis people.

According to a posting on the MERX website that tenders public-sector business opportunities, the government has expressed its intent to award the contract to the Canadian Standards Association, which is in charge of setting standards for products such as smoke detectors, bike helmets, extension cords and playground equipment.

Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand is flabbergasted the government chose to go this route without consulting Métis groups.

"Who are they, the Canadian Standards Association, that doesn't have a clue about us, to determine what we are? Who is the Government of Canada, to determine what we are?"

Chartrand is concerned the move will undo years of work between government and Métis groups crafting the complicated qualification process for defining Métis status, which includes tracing lineage to prove a historical connection to the Métis culture and ancestral lands, as well as acceptance by the Métis community.

Chartrand said changing the process for obtaining Métis status could undermine Supreme Court rulings and complicate several natural resource negotiations in progress. He is concerned the government's plan may water down the requirements to qualify as Métis. Currently, the Métis Nation in Canada does not extend east past Ontario.

More than 70,000 Manitobans identified themselves as Métis in the 2006 census.

"It has big effects. It truly is something that worries us," Chartrand said. "It could open up a can of worms that didn't exist. Years of work could change overnight."

Chartrand said while officials have expressed openness to hearing his concerns, he feels this is only due to media backlash.

"We are writing a letter to the minister expressing our clear frustration and asking why they are taking this approach when they could be sitting down with us and working with us."

sandy.klowak@freepress,mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2011 A3

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