Indigenous fraud summit in Winnipeg to discuss Inuit identity, federal legislation

A two-day summit in Winnipeg on Tuesday and Wednesday will hear from Indigenous leaders across the country on how they’re reacting to — and can come together to fix — what they call Indigenous identity fraud.

Co-hosted by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Chiefs of Ontario, the meeting will also include Inuit leaders who have raised concerns about the topic in their respective jurisdictions.

“The summit marks an unprecedented gathering of First Nations, Inuit and Red River Métis Leadership from across Canada who share concerns about the wholesale theft of their respective identities by those seeking to use them for their own purposes or gains,” the organizations said in a release.

One of the topics up for discussion is Bill C-53, a federal piece of legislation that seeks to formally recognize Métis governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Also included on the list is “illegitimate and shifting claims to Indigeneity” in Eastern Canada, according to Inuit and Innu leaders.

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Bill C-53 is hotly contested by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Chiefs of Ontario, who say the inclusion of Métis Nation of Ontario threatens their rights — and who question the validity of the organization altogether.

The Assembly of First Nations, which represents some 630 chiefs across Canada, passed a resolution calling for the federal government to kill the legislation. The AFN’s concerns are mainly focused on six new communities the Métis Nation of Ontario and the province recognized in 2017, which it says have no historical basis to exist.

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The Métis Nation-Saskatchewan pulled support from the legislation it’s part of in April, citing political and legal pressures from the Alberta and Ontario organizations.

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Métis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh has long defended her organization, and says she has been consistently denied requests to meet with First Nations leaders in Ontario to make amends and explain the history of Métis in the province.

The Manitoba Métis Federation, which represents Red River Métis, often speaks about how the Métis Nation of Ontario uses symbols of the Red River Métis without having community linkages to the area.

In a letter to Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand in early May, Froh requested a speaking role during the summit, saying it could be an opportunity to “correct the record on the history, existence, and relationships between the Métis communities in Ontario and the broader Métis Nation.”

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As of Monday, the Métis Nation of Ontario is not included in the list of speakers.

In another letter to Métis Nation of Ontario members this month, Froh said in the face of the Manitoba Métis Federation’s “continued and calculated campaign to erase the history of Métis communities in Ontario,” it’s important to share stories “rooted in facts.”

The organization began releasing short videos attempting to do just that, including one about Métis in the Sault Ste. Marie area, and is encouraging members to share those videos.

“We cannot allow anyone to diminish our historic Métis communities and our rights. The summit, as it stands, threatens to do just that.”

The host organizations of the summit, meanwhile, say Indigenous identity theft undermines Indigenous self-determination and promotes “a new form of colonialism.”

Beyond the Chiefs of Ontario and the Manitoba Métis Federation, the court system is also catching wind to what they call Indigenous identity fraud.

Earlier this year, British Columbia Provincial Court Judge David Patterson warned a “tsunami” of Indigenous identity fraud cases is coming to Canadian courts, saying it’s driven by the “desire” of non-Indigenous people to access what they deem to be benefits of identifying as Indigenous.

In the ruling around child pornography, Patterson wrote that judges must be “alive to the issue” and require proof that ensures an offender is entitled to be sentenced as an Indigenous person.

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The offender in this case, pastor Nathan Allen Joseph Legault, claimed Métis ancestry based on “family lore” that his great-great-grandmother was Indigenous. As such, he argued Gladue factors should be considered, which urge the courts to consider the background and traumas of Indigenous offenders during sentencing.

The author of his Gladue report, however, noted there are no indications his life experience is in line with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod, a vocal opponent of what he calls Indigenous identity fraud in Ontario, said at the time that self-identification is part of the problem.

People who aren’t Indigenous or only have distant Indigenous ancestry don’t understand the “harsh reality” of having that identity in Canada, said McLeod. Yet now that “the sun is shining a little bit” on reconciliation — and more Canadians are becoming aware of the “true history and treatment of Indigenous Peoples” — some of those same people are now looking to cash in.

“We have people trying to take advantage of it.”

Included in the list of speakers for the summit are Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand, Ontario regional Chief Glen Hare, lawyer Pam Palmater, academic Darren O’Toole, Nunatsiavut Government president Johannes Lampe and Simon Pokue, Innu Nation’s grand chief.

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