Identification of Historic Métis Communities in Ontario
Métis are recognized as one of three distinct Aboriginal peoples in Canada with rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Since then the Supreme Court of Canada has released a series of judgments that urge governments and Indigenous peoples to work together to achieve reconciliation which includes the reconciliation of the rights, interests and ambitions of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
Métis communities emerged as a result of the North American fur trade, during which First Nations peoples and European traders forged close economic and personal relationships. Over time, many of the children born of these relationships developed a distinct sense of identity and culture. They had shared customs, practices and a way of life within their communities, which were distinct from their First Nation and European forbearers.
These Métis communities formed along strategic water and trade routes prior to the Crown effecting political and legal control in these areas. Many of these communities persevered and continue to celebrate their distinct identities and histories today, practicing their unique culture, traditions and way of life. These communities are a part of the diverse heritage of Ontario, both past and present.
In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized a Métis community with a communal right to hunt for food in and around Sault Ste. Marie. This case provides the framework for identifying Métis communities in other areas of the province as well as other parts of Canada.
For many years, Ontario and the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) have worked together to strengthen their relationship and to advance reconciliation. This has included the signing of a relationship Framework Agreement in 2008, renewed in 2014, which led to initiatives that aim to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of Métis children, families and communities across Ontario.Guided by the Framework Agreement and consistent with Ontario's constitutional obligations to the Métis, Ontario and the MNO have worked together to exchange and review historical reports regarding historic Métis communities in Ontario. These reports have been prepared by independent professional historians and ethno-historians and provide research regarding "mixed Aboriginal ancestry" as well as "Métis" populations in particular areas in the province.
Since 2010, Ontario and the MNO jointly reviewed these reports, identifying information that provides evidence of the emergence of historic Métis communities that meet the criteria provided by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Powley. Through this work, the MNO and Ontario jointly identified six historic Métis communities in the province that meet the criteria in addition to the historic Sault Ste. Marie community recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada. These historic Métis communities include:
- Rainy River / Lake of the Woods Historic Métis Community
- The inter-connected historic Métis populations in and around: Lac La Pluie (Fort Frances); Rat Portage (Kenora), Eagle Lake (Dryden/Wabigoon) and Hungry Hall (Rainy River). The Lake of the Woods area includes Rat Portage, White Fish Lake, Northwest Angle, Wabigoon and Long Sault.
- Northern Lake Superior Historic Métis Community
- The inter-connected historic Métis populations north of Lake Superior, including the Métis people who worked for period of time or settled at: Michipicoten, Pic River, Fort William, Nipigon House and Long Lake.
- Abitibi Inland Historic Métis Community
- The inter-connected historic Métis populations at the inland posts between New Post and Timiskaming, including: Frederick House, Abitibi House, Kenogamissi, Flying Post, Mattagami and Matachewan as well as the historic Métis population at the Moose Factory Post and environs, several families of which were inter-related to members of the historic Abitibi Inland Community and migrated south to become a part of this community.
- Sault Ste. Marie Historic Métis Community
- The historic Métis population at Sault Ste. Marie and environs, which the courts recognized extended as far as "Batchewana, Goulais Bay, Garden River, Bruce Mines, Desbarates, Bar River, St. Joseph's Island, Sugar Island and into Northern Michigan."
- Mattawa/Ottawa River Historic Métis Community
- The historic Métis population centred at Mattawa and spanning the Ottawa River from Lac des Allumettes (Pembroke) to Timiskaming and environs.
- Killarney Historic Métis Community
- The historic Métis population at Killarney and environs.
- Georgian Bay Historic Métis Community
- The inter-connected historic Métis populations at Penetanguishene and Parry Sound and environs.
Modern day membership of rights-bearing Métis communities must ancestrally connect to the historic community. While identifying historic communities is a significant milestone towards respecting Métis rights in Ontario, this alone does not determine who in Ontario is Métis or who holds Métis rights, nor define Métis harvesting areas or territories.
Ongoing work based on the identification of these historic Métis communities will inform policy approaches to consultation and related issues such as the independent review of the MNO Harvester Card system currently underway that is targeted for completion in fall 2017.
In addition, Ontario and the MNO will consider additional historical research that may become available respecting the potential identification of other historic Métis communities or of new information that may change or expand any of the seven historic Métis communities. While the joint work undertaken by the MNO and Ontario does not necessarily address the claims of other self-identifying Métis communities that are not represented by the MNO, the existing research may inform Ontario's overall approach on these issues.
More information about each of the identified historic Métis communities can be found in factsheets posted on the MNO's website.