Jul 31/98: Metis have 'very sharp words' for Ontario



Canadian Press
July 31, 1998
Tom Blackwell

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

TORONTO (CP) - Louis Riel may be long dead, but legislation putting a $6,000 bounty on the Metis icon's head is still on the books in Ontario.

That's just one of the grievances the provinces Metis say is being ignored by a provincial government that freezes them out - and deals almost exclusively with status Indians on aboriginal issues.

In a meeting Thursday marked by "very sharp words," they demanded that Ontario's native affairs minister give them official recognition and a say on policies that affect them. "We are a people who helped build Canada, we are a people who pay taxes and make a contribution to the growth of this province," said Tony Belcourt, of the Metis Nation of Ontario. "And yet we're constantly ignored in every way."

Belcourt said Ontario is home to about 50,000 Metis, people of mixed Indian and European blood. Along with Inuit and Indians, the Metis are recognized in the Constitution as Canada's aboriginal people. But unlike First Nations people - also known as status Indians - they have no legislated right to federal government support, and no federal tax-exempt status, although many live next to Indian reserves and lead similar lifestyles.

The provincial government has also recognized some hunting and fishing rights of First Nations, but not those of the Metis, said Belcourt. Ontario's lack of official recognition contrasts with the four Western provinces, each of which are involved in formal talks with their Metis groups and Ottawa, he said.

Native Affairs Secretariat spokesman Dan Gaspe said Harnick and Metis leaders agreed to have their officials begin regular talks. He also said the minister has always had an open-door policy with Belcourt's group. And the Metis have access to millions of dollars in provincial funding through various programs, Gaspe said. "We want to pursue an open and positive relationship."

Belcourt said the Riel bounty legislation has been on the provinces books since 1872, even though Riel was executed for treason in 1885. The Metis, who consider Riel a national hero, not a traitor, want the act repealed, he said. Gaspe said he knew little about the issue but officials will look at it.

The Metis' main grievance is that the province refuses to recognize what Belcourt called constitutionally guaranteed rights to hunt and fish. In certain situations where First Nations people are essentially exempted from provincial conservation laws, Metis are charged by Natural Resources Ministry "Gestapo," he said.

A case now before the courts is being fought over the Metis rights issue.

Metis groups also launched a court challenge of the provinces agreement to give revenue from native-run Casino Rama near Orillia only to First Nations.

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