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Sault Ste Marie Métis ring bells as reminder of broken land promises

 

October 21, 2021



Sault Ste Marie, Ontario (October 20) -- The Huron-Superior Regional Métis Community is asking Sault Ste. Marie residents to listen for the sound of church bells tomorrow. The bell at the 136 John Street church will ring 171 times calling attention to the 171 years that have passed since the Crown made a commitment to the Sault Ste. Marie Métis Community regarding their right to the land– a solemn commitment that remains unfulfilled.

In the autumn of 1850, government-appointed Treaty Commissioner William B. Robinson made a promise on behalf of the Crown that the lands along the St. Mary’s River, upon which the Métis community resided, would be respected and protected. Commissioner Robinson’s assurances were documented in the written record as well as in Métis oral history.

October 21, 2021 marks the 171st anniversary of Treaty Commissioner Robinson submitting his report and recommendations to the Crown, that included the Crown promise to protect Métis lands that are now downtown Sault Ste. Marie. Along with his report, Robinson submitted two petitions to the Crown. One petition was from the Métis community and the other was from the local Anishinaabek Chiefs, including Shingwaukonse and Nebainagoching, who wrote in support of the Métis right to the lands.

“In our culture, church bells have always been messengers – they call us for important events, births, funerals, meetings – today this bell will ring out on our behalf and will call on Canada to fulfill their promise,” said Mitch Case, Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Regional Councillor. “This bell will also be heard in the spirit world and our ancestors will know we have not forgotten what they worked for.” The Huron-Superior Regional Métis Community will ring the church bells as a reminder of these promises made to the Métis and in a call for justice and reconciliation.

The bell in question lives in the steeple of the former St. John’s Anglican Church in Sault Ste. Marie, the three-building church complex was gifted to the Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council (HSSMMC) in 2017 by the Anglican Church as an act of “tangible reconciliation” in recognition of the existence of a Métis burial ground on the site. HSSMMC has done extensive renovations and is converting the site into a community centre including a program and service delivery hub, community hall and museum.

“We have made significant gains in having our right to self-government recognized and affirmed, we continue to find ourselves without a process or a willing partner in Canada to settle these outstanding issues. Reconciliation is not possible without these issues being addressed. Our elders have been clear in their conversations with me, that I need to make this ‘priority one’ as the representative of this community,” said Case “The Honour of the Crown is at stake and the principle of Reconciliation demands a process be established without further delay.”

“The broken Crown promise to protect Métis in Sault Ste. Marie are not the only issues affecting Métis communities stemming from the lack of a Métis Claims Policy at the Federal level,” said Margaret Froh, Métis Nation of Ontario President. “Métis in Penetanguishene, Sault Ste. Marie, James Bay and Northwestern Ontario all have outstanding issues to be addressed by the Crown, to say nothing of the significant issues for other Métis communities across the Homeland, such as the fraudulent scrip system in Western Canada – our people deserve and demand a fair process.”

The call for a federal process is not just coming from the local community. “For generations, Métis leaders have taught us that the rights to land, self-government, and self-determination are just in any society,” said Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron. “Our history has been one of righteous resistance, trying to make those ideals a reality. We must continue holding Canada accountable for the promises they’ve made to Métis people and find respectful ways of working together to achieve lasting justice.”

“On behalf of the Métis National Council, I would like to thank your dedicated volunteers and elected leaders for their indelible contributions to the Métis Nation. I encourage you to keep sharing your community’s stories and fostering the relationships that have always been our Métis people’s greatest strength," said Caron.

The MNO invites Sault Ste. Marie residents, and people across Ontario, to take time to learn more about the history of the Métis community and the outstanding promise that remains unfulfilled.

Additional Quotes:

“Over a century and a half has passed since this promise was made to our ancestors. My ancestors were directly involved in the Mica Bay Incident, the Robinson-Huron treaty negotiations, and the petitioning for the recognition of our lands. I look at my nephews who are young; I do not want to tell them for another century that Canada doesn’t respect us enough to live up to their promise. Our community needs a process for how to move forward and find the justice we deserve.”

— Kim Powley, President of the Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council.

“The lasting effects of the failure of the Crown to live up to their promises are still felt today. We will not be forgotten and we will continue to pursue justice for our community. My ancestors were there at those negotiations and heard that promise from the Crown’s representative. We have been patient these many generations, but by continuing to ignore us, Canada is sending a message that it does not respect the honour of the Crown.”

— Yvonne Jensen, President of the North Channel Métis Council.

ABOUT THE MÉTIS NATION OF ONTARIO (MNO)

In 1993, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) was established through the will of Métis people and Métis communities coming together throughout Ontario to create a democratic, province wide Métis government. Today, the MNO represents more than 22,000 registered citizens throughout Ontario through provincial, regional and local governance structures and delivers a wide range of programs and services to its citizens and communities through a network of 33 offices in Ontario that administer budgets of well over $50 million annually. In 2015, the Ontario legislature passed the MNO Act, which recognizes the MNO’s unique governance structure. The MNO has also created a series of institutions, including, the Métis Voyager Development Fund, Infinity Investments LP and the MNO Cultural Commission. Ontario is also home to the 2003 Powley case that was advanced by the MNO, in which the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the harvesting rights of the Sault Ste. Marie Métis community, as a part of the Great Lakes Métis. Since 2003, the MNO has negotiated agreements with both Canada and Ontario that recognize Métis harvesting rights, the Crown’s duty to consult the MNO and the MNO’s inherent right of self-government. The MNO has been one of the governing members of the Métis National Council since 1994.

Backgrounder:

In the mid-nineteenth century, Métis lands, like the lands of all Indigenous peoples, were endangered by increasing settler presence and resource extraction. As a result of the combined Anishinaabe and Métis rights assertions and action at Mica Bay, Commissioner Robinson was appointed by Canada to address Indigenous interests in the region, ultimately leading to the Robinson Treaties being signed in 1850 in order to open the region to legal European settlement and resource extraction.

Despite Métis pre-existing land interests in the region as well as Crown commitments that those interests would be recognized, the Métis were excluded from the Robinson treaties and suspect land speculation led to the Métis losing their traditional lands along the St. Mary’s River. Notably,

Commissioner Robinson, the Crown’s appointed representative and the man who made promises to the Métis on behalf of the Crown also participated in this land speculation against Métis interests. In 1850, the Métis submitted a petition, accompanied by a supporting First Nations petition to gain free

and full access and possession of their own land. Rather than living up to the promise, the colonial government designed a scheme that effectively led to the land promises to the Métis being defeated; namely, that the Métis were provided an option to purchase the very lands they had lived on for generations and of which they were promised “full and free” possession.

Based on the government scheme, within ten years, 90% of the Métis river lots had been lost. In effect, the Crown defeated the promise made to the Métis as a part of expansion of Canada. As a result, the Métis lost their land base and the social, political and economic impact of that loss continues to be felt

through the generations. The Federal Specific Claims Policy Act which is relied on by First Nations to advance their historical grievances stipulates that the process is only available to Indian Act bands – the Métis community in Sault Ste. Marie is therefore excluded from even getting to a table to discuss their historic grievances with the Crown.

“This Métis community, like many others throughout Ontario, have outstanding land rights and Crown promises that need to finally be dealt with in the age of reconciliation. We are hoping today’s event starts that discussion with Canada, Ontario as well as our First Nation relations. Our communities will

not wait forever and the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 decision in Daniels v. Canada signal the time has come to address these issues,” added MNO President Margret Froh.

Mitch Case, MNO Councilor for the region, said, “It is fitting that we are starting this public call for reconciliation on Métis land rights in Sault Ste. Marie -- the home of the Powley case that remains the only Supreme Court of Canada decision affirming Métis rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

 

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