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October 30, 2023
When Ontario’s Métis youth speak of their concerns and aspirations, there is a noticeable change in their tone, no doubt inspired by events over the past few months.
Polarization — a word largely relegated to partisan politics, but now infecting relations between Canada’s Indigenous communities — is a growing problem impacting Métis youth today.
Hearing some First Nation politicians question the authenticity of Métis heritage leaves our young people disheartened and anxious. It’s not that Métis youth question our identity — we have a strong connection to our communities and culture.
The unknown stems from those who seek to undermine our very existence, and who are being amplified in mainstream media. It leaves us wondering — and anxious — if tomorrow might bring more hurtful accusations, and questioning how to respond to this lateral violence.
While the Métis have always faced prejudice, our generation grew up at a time when Métis rights were affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada (R. v. Powley, 2003). For the past 20 years, we have had rights recognition that was denied our ancestors. This has made recent antagonism toward Métis people feel like a broadside.
This all comes from the spreading of misinformation surrounding Bill C-53 — legislation to implement Métis self-government.
Despite some absurd accusations recently made against Métis Nation of Ontario and our citizens, we are not “snatching children” or “stealing ancestors.” It is frightening that First Nation political leaders have been permitted to get away with saying such things at rallies and press conferences. We cannot allow that to be normalized, or the polarization that is taking root will tear us apart.
The people we talk to every day, our First Nations friends, neighbours and kin, don’t align with these divisive viewpoints. But increasingly, they are unwilling to speak out against them, because taking a position in support of the Métis could make them a target. This is an incredibly dangerous track.
First Nations and Métis in Ontario are supposed to be walking this path to reconciliation together; yet each day, it feels more and more like a feeding frenzy. Some First Nations leaders are pitting us against one another.
Bill C-53 will empower Métis governments to protect Métis babies and children in the child welfare system. It will ensure Métis youth get a real say in the programs and services provided by our Métis governments. And it provides self-determination over our own future. Our Métis ancestors have paddled the canoe forward in our journey towards self-government, and we must continue this journey to safeguard future generations. We will not be deterred from this path.
While Indigenous people maintain our relationships with one another, we need our political leaders to do the same. As Indigenous peoples, we face a formidable colonial government, and our strength lies in unity, not division.
We cannot allow toxic divisions to fester, especially when it comes to self-government. We have found plenty of common ground on issues like climate change, education, equitable access to health care and the need to take action for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, but we must also support each other in advancing our respective self-governments.
My Métis ancestors were forced off their lands, but always maintained their community around the Upper Great Lakes. Today, we celebrate our heritage through vibrant community councils, gatherings, youth cultural programming, Métis music and arts and our traditional ways of life.
We also celebrate the stories that connect First Nation and Métis. It’s essential that we remember our shared history. The waters of Georgian Bay hold the spirit of our ancestors, and they continue to inspire us. We must bridge the divides and call out the polarization that threatens to tear us apart.
Together, we can overcome the challenges that lie ahead and ensure a brighter future for all Indigenous peoples.
Jordyn Playne is the president of the Métis Nation of Ontario Youth Council.