Indigenous Identity Fraud Summit opens with denunciations, statements of solidarity

Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare, left, with Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand in Winnipeg on May 14, 2024.  (Corentin Mittet-Magnan/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare, left, with Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand in Winnipeg on May 14, 2024. (Corentin Mittet-Magnan/Radio-Canada - image credit)

First Nations, Inuit and Red River Métis leadership united Tuesday morning in Winnipeg to cement their alliance against what they call Indigenous identity fraud, which they say threatens their very existence as distinct peoples.

The two-day summit co-hosted by Chiefs of Ontario (COO) and Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) opened with denunciations and solidarity at the Fort Garry Hotel in Manitoba's capital.

David Chartrand, president of MMF, said in an opening statement on Tuesday, "We will stand with you, we will fight with you, and we'll defend with you your home — as we hope you defend ours."

The summit is part of a push to call out the alleged collective misappropriation of their identities. The meeting is expected to yield at least one resolution concerning the phenomenon, sometimes also called ethnic fraud or race shifting.

Delegates described themselves as inhabiting a new era where their Indigenous identities are no longer persecuted and ridiculed, but celebrated and aggressively pursued by settlers who stand to gain.

"It was not that long ago that Canada told us that being a First Nations person is a bad thing," said Glen Hare, Ontario regional chief elected by COO, which advocates for 133 First Nations in Ontario.

"Now that the tables have turned, this identity theft is becoming more and more common. We are seeing politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, academics, artists and many others suddenly identifying as Indigenous, Algonquin, Métis and Inuit — all to advance their careers and gain access to opportunities meant for Indigenous peoples."

The event sparked disappointment from groups either excluded from the meeting or on the receiving end of the criticism.

Identity fraud a serious issue: Métis Nation of Ontario

The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), one of four governing members of the Métis National Council (MNC) advocacy organization, is COO and MMF's chief target.

In a Tuesday news release, MNO pointed to the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark 2003 Powley decision, which unanimously affirmed the existence of Métis harvesting rights in and around Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

"Indigenous identity fraud is a serious issue that requires serious solutions. The MNO shares the MMF's and COO's concerns on this issue," the statement said.

"But Indigenous peoples only lose when we fight amongst ourselves and approach self-determination as a zero-sum game. The only winners are colonial governments who find further reason to ignore our inherent rights and stand idly by."

MNO expressed disappointment at its exclusion from the summit after President Margaret Froh's request to present to the delegates went unanswered. Froh sent a letter to Chartrand on May 2 seeking inclusion in the summit, writing "it has been far too long since we have spoken."

Corentin Mittet-Magnan/Radio Canada
Corentin Mittet-Magnan/Radio Canada

The Métis Nation is typically associated with the Prairies, but Sault Ste. Marie is in the upper Great Lakes, several hundred kilometres east.

Chartrand and the MMF broke from MNC in 2021 over the 2017 recognition of six new historic Métis communities in Ontario, stretching the Métis homeland all the way to the Quebec border.

One of Louis Riel's greatest fears, said Chartrand, was that the Métis would be swamped not just by settlers from the east, but from within.

"And that's exactly what's happening," he told the attendees.

Ontario chiefs also reject the communities and accuse MNO of usurping First Nations' heritage by co-opting their ancestors as Métis.

They've mounted a massive pressure campaign against federal Bill C-53, which would recognize the MNO, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and Otipemisiwak Métis Government (OMG) — formerly the Métis Nation of Alberta — as Indigenous governments. C-53 recently suffered a major blow after Métis Nation-Saskatchewan dropped support.

OMG said in a statement Tuesday it will never be spoken for by an external entity, including MMF.

"There are rights-bearing, historic Métis communities in Alberta that are as old as, if not older than the Red River communities. It is revisionist history to suggest otherwise," said OMG President Andrea Sandmaier in the statement.

Meanwhile, MNC in a Tuesday statement accused MMF of using the issue to advance its own political agenda and sow dissension.

'This is a war'

One summit presenter called Froh's letter disingenuous considering how MNC is suing Chartrand, MMF and several others, alleging financial and corporate improprieties.

"Why the hell would you sit down and talk to somebody who's doing that to you?" asked Métis academic Darren O'Toole, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

Chartrand has defended the claim, rejecting it as political theatre that aims to tarnish his reputation. A trial date has not been set.

The tone of Tuesday's proceedings suggests a détente, on any front, is unlikely any time soon.

"I think this is a war. It's a war of attrition. It's going to take constant effort on all kinds of fronts," O'Toole told delegates.

A session on the Inuit identity dispute in Labrador is slated to kick off day two on Wednesday.