Project makes it easier to trace Métis ancestry

Duane Hicks

The largest collection of publicly-available genealogical information on Ontario Métis will be able to help local residents complete their genealogies showing they are connected to a historic Métis ancestor as required by the MNO Registry Policy.
The Métis Nation of Ontario has spent the last five years reviewing more than 100,000 records to identify hundreds of Métis ancestors from across seven historic communities in the province, including the Rainy River/Lake of the Woods/Treaty 3 region.
The others areas include Northern Lake Superior, Abitibi Inland, Sault Ste. Marie, Mattawa/Ottawa River, Killarney, and Georgian Bay.
The results of the Ontario Métis Root Ancestors Project officially were released Aug. 19 at MNO’s 24th-annual general assembly in Kenora.
“I want to thank and congratulate the current [MNO] leadership for continuing the work in bringing projects like this to full fruition because so many of these things, like this Root Ancestors Project that they launched, it takes a full team and years of work to pull together,” noted local resident Gary Lipinski, who was MNO president from 2008-16 when the project was initiated.
“That project is extremely important to anyone who wants to further recognize and explore and understand their full Métis history,” he stressed.
“What we’ve certainly found over the years is so much of that history–for individuals and families–is hidden deeply because of Canada’s history; the racism that Métis people and other indigenous people faced,” explained Lipinski.
“And so when individuals go to trace their family heritage, it becomes a daunting challenge for them.”
Lipinski said the MNO undertook the ancestors project years ago to look at the records it has been accumulating over the years, as well as the records that can be made public according to federal and provincial privacy laws.
MNO acting president France Picotte, in a press release, stated the MNO believes this project will help many in applying for citizenship within the MNO, as well as assist existing MNO citizens in applying for MNO harvesting cards.
“Moreover, we believe these materials will be helpful educational resources and tools in creating greater awareness about Ontario Métis history generally, and the rights-bearing Métis communities that the MNO represents today throughout the province,” she added.
The project was started after the MNO received direction from its citizens and communities in province-wide consultations held in 2010-11, and subsequent direction from the 2011 MNO Annual General Assembly.
This direction was provided to the MNO because, unlike in western Canada, Métis land and money scrip was not issued in Ontario for the most part.
As such, the extensive Métis scrip records available to those in the Prairies in completing their genealogies do not assist the descendants of many historic Métis communities in Ontario to do so in order to obtain citizenship within the MNO, its website notes.
Instead, Ontario Métis rely on different documents that identify Métis families in the historic record.
The complete project results can be found at www.metisnation.org
Community ID’d
In a second historic announcement, the MNO and province jointly announced last week that six new historic Métis communities have been formally identified, along with the previously-identified Sault Ste. Marie one (also known as the Powley Community).
As noted, these include the Rainy River/Lake of the Woods/Treaty 3 region.
Lipinski said this is a very important step forward.
“I commend Ontario and MNO for working together on that because essentially what it’s prevented is years of making people have to go to court, and the government and the Métis spending millions and millions of dollars and decades arguing those cases across Ontario, like Powley,” he remarked.
“We decided to go down a different path and look at the research and projects and histories that are out there, and come to a conclusion on it,” Lipinski added.
“People may not recognize it but that saves the courts and the taxpayers and the Métis people millions of dollars and years of litigation.”
In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed in the R v Powley decision the existence of a Métis community in and around Sault Ste. Marie, with its own distinctive Métis culture and the right to hunt for food.
“When the Supreme Court came down with Powley, they certainly had legal requirements for individuals that must be met to have the constitutional Métis rights recognized,” Lipinski said.
“One of those is a historic Métis community; another one is showing historic Métis ancestry that connects to that historic Métis community.
“All of these projects are kind of working to assist individuals and communities in meeting the legal requirements that the Supreme Court set out in Powley to be able to exercise constitutional rights and have those rights fully recognized and protected,” he added.
Lipinski said designating the historic communities is a step forward.
“Certainly, at no point now can Ontario–and I don’t think it would happen anyway–go backwards and say, ‘Sorry, you don’t exist,'” he noted.
“It does move the marker forward and take us down a path to reconciliation, and having the rightful place of the Métis as one of the indigenous peoples of Canada formally and officially recognized,” Lipinski stressed.
“It’s a big deal for the Métis community and the broader community, as well, because I think we all share a rich, proud history together.”
“Ontario has built a strong partnership with the Métis Nation of Ontario, and we are committed to advancing meaningful reconciliation and fulfilling our constitutional obligations to Métis,” Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation minister David Zimmer stated in a press release last week.
“In circumstances where there are overlapping obligations to First Nations and Métis, Ontario is committed to working together with affected partners to reach fair and balanced resolutions,” he noted.
“The Métis Nation of Ontario is pleased and proud to announce the results of our collaborative work with Ontario in identifying historic Métis communities,” said Picotte.
“The advancement and recognition of Métis rights has always been, and remains, the highest priority for our citizens and communities,” she added.
“This important milestone provides a foundation for meaningful reconciliation, as well as future negotiations with the Crown on these important issues.”
The MNO press release also stated these historic Métis communities developed their own distinctive collective identities, each with its own customs, practices, and traditions.
“While identification of these historic Métis communities is a significant milestone, this alone does not determine who in Ontario is Métis or who holds Métis rights, nor define Métis harvesting areas or territories,” it noted.
Métis are recognized as one of the three distinct aboriginal peoples with rights protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

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