OTTAWA -- Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan said the federal government has no intention of deciding who is and isn't Métis.
Duncan was trying to calm fears among Métis leaders after it came to light Ottawa intends to hire the Canadian Standards Association to develop a verification strategy for Métis identification systems.
Duncan said the contract isn't to decide who is Métis, but to give the government a way to ensure the registration systems in place in the five Métis provinces are satisfactory.
"We're not asking them to determine who's a Métis," Duncan said.
But Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand said the contract with the standards association was never discussed with Métis leaders and it has caused fear the government plans to step in and make changes to how the Métis nations in Canada define their membership.
The issue stems from a 2003 Supreme Court of Canada decision confirming the constitutional rights of the Métis, including hunting rights. The decision, known as the Powley decision, identified the need to determine who would be recognized as Métis. Since then, the federal government has provided funding to the Métis National Council and its five member organizations in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario to develop registration systems.
Chartrand said the organizations spent the last several years negotiating terms of membership and have now amended their constitutions to reflect a common standard. To be considered Métis, you have to prove ancestral ties to the "historic homeland."
The organizations are now in the midst of determining the geographic boundaries of that homeland. Discussions on the subject will continue in Edmonton this coming weekend.
Duncan said the Canadian Standards Council contract is intended to ensure the five different systems work together, have measurable objectives that can be verified and are consistent with the Powley decision.
"It is important that we know that the integrity of the system is there in order to determine who has those special access rights," Duncan said.
Manitoba Conservative MP Shelly Glover, herself Métis, said she is offended by any insinuation the government is going to decide who is and isn't Métis.
She said the media are twisting the government's intentions and trying to drive a wedge in the Métis community. "It's disrespectful, it's divisive," she said.
She said she would call Chartrand to allay his fears.
But the Métis leader said the government snuck this contract in without any prior notice to the Métis federations, which makes him suspicious.
"If they were sincere... don't you think they would sit down with us first?" he asked. "What is their agenda here?"
He said the only way the MMF and other Métis organizations found out about the Canadian Standards Association contract was by fluke last week when a member was searching the MERX system for information on the government procurement process.