'We are stronger together:' Advocate urges end to lateral violence against eastern Métis

As an Indigenous woman and a lawyer, most of my work is with marginalized people and communities in the area of Aboriginal rights and identity. I would like to address the lateral violence that has been directed at the eastern Métis in the past several years and to set the record straight with respect to the legitimacy of their claims.

In broad terms, the “eastern Métis” are those in Ontario and farther east who are not represented by the Métis National Council (MNC), including those who share kinship with them but whose ancestry originates outside the ‘Métis Homeland.’ That’s an interesting concept considering that the word “Métis(sage)” originated in Nova Scotia and, therefore, by inference, the Métis did too. But that is the issue. The MNC says anyone not represented by them are not ‘real’ Métis and have been on a campaign to denigrate the legitimacy of other Métis identities and communities for at least the last few years.

This is a form of lateral violence — peer-to-peer psychological (or physical) violence. When those peers are perceived as outsiders or adversaries, lateral violence can escalate to the level of cultural genocide — the systematic and deliberate process of undermining, oppressing and, ultimately, destroying the cultural identity or heritage of a people, usually for political reasons.

Social media debate

We, as Indigenous people, know too well the legacy of cultural genocide, psychological warfare, and pervasive systemic injustices which still exist. This is why I am both shocked and saddened when we attack each other and, in particular when we target another’s culture or identity.

The official weapon of choice is derogatory propaganda conveying incorrect, incomplete or misleading information. Allegedly intelligent people accept whatever is posted online as gospel. Academics join the fray. Social media is ablaze. Insults abound. Indigenous people are outraged about allegations of intentions to appropriate culture and lands. 

Why? Because academics protecting the interests of the MNC are perpetuating this propaganda. They claim that their research has revealed that eastern Métis are fraudulently appropriating ‘Métis’ identity (over which the MNC claims ownership) to usurp Indigenous identity and rights. But, these academics have not sought the consent or participation of the communities studied. Worse still, they categorically dismiss research done by researchers from the communities, or who have ancestral connections, despite the fact that it is founded on volumes of historical data, oral histories and community knowledge.

Acadien Métis

Personally, I work closely with several Acadien Métis communities in Nova Scotia, but only those which I have been able to verify as being able to support their claims to Aboriginality based on generations of Acadien Métis ancestry. These are not just people who have a mixture of Acadien and Mi’kmaw bloodlines or who have a distant Aboriginal ancestor, but those who have always known themselves to be Acadien Métis and have raised generations of children in those ways. These people have their own identity, history, culture, language, and communities of kinship which have survived historical persecution, distinct from, but no less legitimate than, that claimed by the Métis National Council. Furthermore, I’m quite confident that, when the time comes, there is more than sufficient evidence to satisfy the Powley test of “self-identification, community acceptance, and a connection to a historic and contemporary Métis community.”

Let’s be clear: Powley does not require homogeneity. The Court recognized that Métis communities can develop and evolve differently based on the influence of social, historical, political and geographic factors. The court also said that the (arbitrary and racist) notions of “blood quantums” and generational cut-offs do not apply to the Métis. Each community is unique. And, as long as they can have proof of their claims, no less legitimate than another.

In other words, the MNC does not “own” Métis identity any more than any community owns “First Nations” identity. Nor can any post-contact First Nation deny that they have Métis relations. These are political positions that ignore traditional systems of kinship that created and perpetuated our communities, maintained peace, and ensured our survival as Aboriginal people. Personally, I urge a return to the traditional ways because we are stronger together. We will never hold government accountable as long as we play into the colonial mindset and fight amongst ourselves.

In the meantime, why all the fuss over the eastern Métis? Because they are becoming well organized. They have volumes of evidence. They support each other. They are getting stronger. And that makes them a threat — not just to the MNC, but to the government, too.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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