The Quebec Superior Court has ruled that not only is there no historic Métis community in Lac-Sainte-Marie in the Maniwaki region, but there is no contemporary Métis community either.

“(There) is not enough to demonstrate the existence of a contemporary community, let alone one that continues the cultural practices of the (alleged) historical community,” wrote Justice Thomas M. Davis in his June 14 decision.

Three men, Royal Séguin, Louis Généreux and Benoit Chamaillard, argued before the court they had Métis status in order to claim Sect. 35 rights. They were all charged with illegally occupying lands belonging to the Quebec government.

The men maintained they had the right to occupy the lands in the Maniwaki region and to exercise their ancestral rights to hunt and fish as Métis. They said they had built shelters on the land as accessories to exercise their right to hunt.

Court action initially got underway in 2016.

Intervener status was granted to the Métis Native Community of Maniwaki (CMAM) and the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg.

The CMAM, which intervened on behalf of the defendants, represents members that claim to have Métis or First Nations ancestry, and support building a contemporary Métis community.

The Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg denied the existence of the historic Métis community, arguing the disputed land is within the traditional territory of the Anishinabeg.

Verdon Coburn, a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa, is not surprised at the finding that has come from the Quebec Superior Court.

“I knew the evidence,” said Coburn, who is Anishinaabe from Pikwàkanagàn, and whose field of studies includes postcolonial theory and settler colonialism.

That evidence included reports and testimony from CMAM experts, much of which was refuted by experts from the province or found to be contradictory, less useful and less reliable by the judge.

In his ruling, Davis said that there were “significant discrepancies” between CMAM’s two teams of experts and their reports. He also noted that “too oftenthe references on which these authors rely are fragmented or incomplete.”

Coburn points out that none of the Eastern Métis cases, which have swelled in numbers over the last couple of decades, have been successful. The Métis homeland is generally accepted as being mainly across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There is one historic Métis community in Ontario, with six others causing some debate in that province. Any Métis community claimed east of that, in Quebec and throughout the Maritime provinces, has been hotly disputed.

But where this Maniwaki case differs from the others, Coburn believes, is the judge’s decision to make defendants Séguin and Généreux, who became Métis in 2008 at the age of 45, along with CMAM, foot a $100,000 bill for the costs of the experts.

Chamaillard had not offered a defense, effectively relying on the court’s decision.

In instructing the defendants and CMAM to pay, Davis said thatKitigan Zibi had a legitimate claim and that the court “must guard against the possibility that individuals with flimsy or even frivolous claims may interfere with these rights.”

“I think it should send a signal to people who are playing fast and loose like they have been that they’re going to be on the hook for a lot of money, more than their own legal costs,” said Coburn.

As far as Coburn is concerned, racism is at the root of those falsely claiming Métis Indigeneity.

“All of a sudden, after decades of us fighting for our rights, getting some recognition, they decide, ‘Well, no, we can’t let the Indians get away with that anymore. We’re going to get it too…I’m just going to claim I’m them then,’” said Coburn, who calls the attitude “brazen and insulting.”

Coburn recalls when he was growing up, being watched by security when he went into stores and facing racial slurs.

“Townsfolk can walk in and out of Indigenous identity, one that they know that they’re only using for exploitation… (They) just do it at their leisure to say, ‘Well, I did it for a card in my pocket because now I want to go hunting anytime’ and they’re not the ones who had to deal with 300 to 400 years of occupation, economic and social, cultural deprivation. So, it’s definitely racist… They get to use our race for their luxury.”

Coburn says he was pleased that Kitigan Zibi applied for intervener status. Généreux and Séguin opposed that application for intervention. Davis granted Kitigan Zibi it in 2021 after a hearing.

However, Coburn points out, “It definitely cost the people of Kitigan Zibi dearly to fight to say, ‘No. These people can’t take our rights. We are the Indigenous people here.’ And so that’s the cost of their racism.”

Every First Nation can’t afford to fight that battle, he says.

And yet First Nations can’t afford to hope that any level of government does the right thing all the time.

In this case, says Coburn, it was to Quebec’s advantage to provide their own experts to argue against Métis status to protect the province’s own coffers.

But “can we as First Nations, can we trust (government) because, when we’re not at the table, per se, will one of them drop the ball and the Crown expert be like, ‘Yeah, I couldn’t find any evidence to refute it.’ Whereas the First Nation says, ‘Well, we’re right here. We can say otherwise.’ And they say, ‘but you didn’t apply for interveners, so we can’t hear you,’” Coburn said.

The defendants were also ordered to take down their hunting cabins and to restore the land to its original condition.

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

Original Published on Jun 28, 2023 at 18:57

This item reprinted with permission from    Edmonton, Alberta
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