Recognizing the Métis

Marsha Lorusso, Social Worker for the North Hastings High School, starts her morning with smudging. Something people of the indigenous community do to help with stress, and practice their faith with their creator.

A boy who is adopted by a man and woman to give him a home is grateful for the life he lives, however, later on, his perception becomes confused when he sees his brown skin compared to both his parents’ white skin. He asks his family why he is different than those who raised him.

“I have kids who are adopted out of their Indigenous homes to non-native homes, and they never know who they are even though they are brown, they never know who they truly are,” says Marsha Lorusso, a school social worker for North Hastings High School, and a past long-time employee of the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO).

This goes beyond a random occurrence.

As a Métis person, it is often confusing to see yourself as brown or white. Neither group really claims the Métis.

What’s more, there is a divide within the Métis community itself. The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), a Métis-specific governance structure created in 1993, creates a divide between status and non-status Métis Indians.

A Métis person is someone who has mixed Indigenous and Euro-American heritage.

In Canada, there are half a million Métis people. In Ontario, there are over 120,000 self-identifying Métis people, according to the 2016 StatsCan census.

But certain services with the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) are inaccessible due to most people not having a citizenship card with the MNO, only a fraction of those who have citizenship status in the MNO.

A citizenship card gives enhanced status in the MNO and opens the opportunity to access more funding. This is useful for families but is blocked off by a difficult process. To be considered “status” Métis, there is a long and involved process but without a card, childcare benefits that help families provide care while they work are limited.

Being declared a citizen is a good feeling to have a sense of identity, to have an organization that represents Métis people declare you “not Métis,” due to difficulties running your heritage back to the Voyageur Trail, a trail that shows where people fur traded and traveled on to sell furs, it’s a reference for linking your heritage to the time period of Louis Riel.

To be clear, the Métis Nation still provides services to those who self-identify. These services include things such as seminars and groups for different groups of families.

“It happens a lot and we need to start to acknowledge who they are and who they could be,” says Lorusso. “They are proud of who they are because a system should not be able to tell someone if they are Métis or not.”

Lorusso said the problem started with the laws being made by people who considered “Indians” as savage.

There is a core problem and Lorusso believes we are working from the outside in, slowly. By standing proud as Indigenous people, Lorusso believes we have the ability to overcome what isn’t accessible right now.

Schools within Ontario such as North Hastings High School, provide extracurricular activities that promote Indigenous expression.

These forms of activities allow students who may be misidentified on a personal level to escape to a place of fellowship. The levels of misidentification occur through all age groups from children being told they are “white” to adults being told they don’t qualify for certain benefits from organizations designed for their people.

Julie Pigeon is an Indigenous Coach at Durham College (DC), who works within the First Peoples Indigenous Centre (FPIC) at the school. She explains the importance of self-identification and the root causes of why people do not identify as Indigenous.

“It connects you to the First Peoples Centre and we provide ongoing support for Indigenous students with a huge understanding that there are many students who don’t self-identify for a number of reasons which mostly come from the process of colonization,” says Pigeon.

Many have called on a Métis Act to be created by the government. This would put a stop to segregating a minority group into an even more split minority, with “citizens” and “non-citizens.”

Maybe then Indigenous people can know who they are and who they could be.

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