Métis Nation of Ontario votes to remove members with incomplete citizenship files

By Tyler Griffin

The Métis Nation of Ontario has voted to remove members who do not provide full documentation of a Métis connection or ancestry.

The organization, which represents Métis people in the province, said its members voted over nearly three months on the issue and while removals won’t be immediate, the results provide direction for the future. 

“The results are clear that MNO citizens want to ensure that the MNO can verify that all of its citizens are Métis rights-holders,” the organization’s president Margaret Froh wrote in a statement. “We will move forward on this basis.”

The Métis Nation of Ontario made the decision to conduct the vote after holding its annual general assembly last August. 

That came after it began assessing the completeness of its citizenship files in 2017, as part of its negotiations with Canada and Ontario on Métis self-governance.

Work over the last six years has indicated approximately 18 per cent of its membership – or 5,400 members – could not be verified as Métis rights-holders due to missing documentation, the organization said.

Seventy-one per cent of members who cast ballots between early December and late February voted to remove members with incomplete citizenship files from the organization’s registry.

A special meeting will be called to amend bylaws and policy to remove citizens with incomplete files, the organization said.

Issues to be considered will include the need for a reasonable notice period for removal, an appeals process and clarity that removed citizens can re-apply at any time for membership if proper documentation is provided, the Métis Nation of Ontario said.

The organization said it recognizes that the issue of Métis ancestry is a sensitive and significant one and noted that it spent years offering support to citizens trying to “complete” their citizenship files.

“The MNO wants to acknowledge how sensitive of an issue this is for many,” chair Hank Rowlinson wrote in a statement. 

“We will continue to be transparent and sensitive, while also respecting the collective will of Métis rights-holders and rights-bearing Métis communities in Ontario.”

Lynn Lavallée, the strategic lead of Indigenous resurgence at Toronto Metropolitan University’s community services department, said the Métis Nation of Ontario – of which she is a member – has been under scrutiny for giving out membership cards too easily. 

She said she believes the organization has gone “above and beyond” by making their registry review public.

Lavallee said, however, that certain individuals with genuine Métis ancestry may not have supporting documentation for a variety of complex reasons. 

“People may have found out about their Métis ancestry much later because of people trying to withhold the fact that they were Indigenous,” said Lavallée. 

Some could also be reconnecting with their Indigenous identity or unable to afford or even locate documentation, like relatives’ birth or death certificates.

“It would be good if the MNO could support citizens whose files are not complete where clearly there’s a strong suspicion that they are Métis,” she said. 

Members who could lose their Métis citizenship status could lose out on rights and benefits such as federal funding dispersed amongst members by Métis nations, she said.

“The greatest impact will be for people who would benefit from the financial support, educational supports,” said Lavallée. 

But what could also deeply affect removed members — which Lavallée said is just as valuable as financial support — is a sense of identity and belonging.

“If people know that they’re Métis and then all of a sudden a political body is saying, ‘No, you’re not’ or ‘You don’t have enough information … there might be an impact to people who really need those supports.”