Education on Métis Nation lacking in Ontario

Who identifies and who can identify as Métis has become a subject of debate over the past few years.

Historically, the Métis people have been direct descendants of Indigenous Canadians and the first European Settlers. However, in recent years the term Métis has been used to describe a multitude of mixed-race Indigenous peoples.

“I will continue the fight to preserve our identity. Not meer mixed-bloods or half-breeds, but a distinct nation with a strong political consciousness,” said Paul Robitaille, a representative on the Youth Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario. “I will continue the fight for self-determination, so that rights-bearing Métis citizens alone can decide the future of the Métis nation.”

The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is a Métis-specific government within the province. It was established in 1993 in recognizance of the Métis’ inherent right to self-government within Ontario. One of its prime aims is to assert the distinct existence of the Métis within the broader Indigenous community.

“Though we as individuals may come and go, live and die, the rights for which we collectively contend will never die,” said Robitaille while speaking at a celebration of Louis Riel Day at Queens Park on Nov. 16.

Riel was Métis and a founder of Manitoba. He led the Métis people in the Northwest Resistance, a fight against the Canadian government’s encroachment on Métis rights and land.

Riel was executed in 1885 by the Canadian government for high treason.

“Because of strong dedicated Métis leaders like Riel, who have fought and sometimes died to preserve the Métis nation, [I can] proudly stand here today on the steps of the very government who persecuted those same leaders,” said Robitaille.

In 2011, the MNO conducted a survey of Indigenous content in public school curriculum. They found that just over half of the schools surveyed offered Indigenous studies courses.

Education regarding Riel and the Métis is particularly poignant in Ontario, where 80 per cent of Canada’s total Métis population resides according to a 2016 census conducted by Statistics Canada.

“Reconciliation isn’t about words on a page,” said former premier Kathleen Wynne at the event. “Reconciliation is about the tough work of coming to agreement on issues that are hard to come to agreement on, that require blood and sweat and tears in terms of the commitment that we are willing to make.”

Wynne’s liberal government committed to update elementary and secondary school curriculum to teach Ontario students about the legacy of residential schools.

As part of the liberal’s “Journey Together” plan, the proposed update was created in response to recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The former premier’s plan would have altered the content of history, geography, civics and social studies courses to include mandatory material covering Indigenous culture. However in July of 2018, the new conservative government of Ontario cancelled the provincial update.

“I feel so strongly that there is so much work to do and I am going to work with the members of this house to make sure that … reconciliation and truth is taught in our schools,” said Wynne.

The 2016 census shows that Indigenous people account for 4.9 per cent of the total population of Canada, with the Métis representing 1.7 per cent of Canadians.  

The scrapping of new curriculum was a cause for “concern” according to the president of Métis Nation of Ontario, Margaret Froh.

“We have to get that into the schools, the little ones need to understand our history, who Louis Riel was and who the Métis people are today,” said Froh. “We are not frozen in time, we are not simply a part of the history of this country. We are actually a vibrant part of what Canada is today.”