6 Working with Unbounded Communities: A Metis Case Study
Elizabeth Cooper and Michelle Driedger
Recognizing the uniqueness of different Indigenous communities and groups is essential towards ensuring that research, policies, programming, and services truly meet relevant needs. While arbitrary, euro-centric parameters about selection criteria or cultural identity may be justified as a necessity for policy and programming, these can prove problematic when selection criteria are imposed by individuals and institutions who are not members of a given community. Equally problematic is when assumptions are made without consulting those individuals and communities affected by programming and policy decisions. Within Manitoba, Metis and First Nations people often live side-by-side, but have unequal access to health services and supports due to differences between federal and provincial fiduciary responsibilities. These different fiduciary responsibilities reproduce health inequities and challenges the uptake of research, policies, programming, and services. In this chapter, we explore some of the key challenges Metis research participants have raised and propose points for consideration when engaging with Metis communities.
Key Terms: Metis, Canada, Gatekeepers, community engagement
When work is being conducted within Metis1 contexts, determining who constitutes as partners is imbedded within a historical context infused with tensions. There are tensions related to defining Metis identity, what the legal and political rights of Metis people are, who is responsible for ensuring rights are met, and what does it mean to be an Indigenous, Metis person within Canada. The answers to these questions differ depending on the stakeholders involved in the dialogue. In order for research to be effective, the right people must be consulted, and their (often competing) needs must be met. In this chapter, we will discuss three challenges that need to be taken into consideration when conducting community-based research with Metis communities. These include: 1) who are Metis citizens?; 2) do we need to work with gatekeepers?; and 3) what makes a community? We propose that through an ongoing consideration of these issues, it is possible to conduct work that has the potential to lead to meaningful change.
Challenge One: Who are Metis Citizens?
Within Canada, there are three identified groups of Indigenous peoples – First Nations, Inuit and Metis – each of which can be subdivided further by geographic and cultural experiences. While the recent Danials decision (Danials v. Canada, 2016) has provided some hope for people, the Metis communities with whom we have worked have expressed feelings that their interests and needs continue to be considered as lesser importance than First Nations and Inuit communities. They explain that inequitable policies and procedures, such as limitations to hunting, fishing, land claims, and health services continue to place them within a lower position than other Indigenous cultural groups within the country.
Metis identity in many ways is the most rigid across the country, with a constitutional categorical link to the Métis Nation. To become a recognized Metis citizen in Manitoba, Canada, for example, must involve self-identification as Metis, being accepted by a contemporary Metis community, and a documented ancestral connection to the historic Metis Nation, all of which require extensive documentation. Citizenship must be renewed every five years (Manitoba Metis Federation, 2018). Membership within other jurisdictions is similar. While mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous ancestry was a component of Metis identity in the eighteenth century, the community developed unique traditions, languages, and cultures. Blood quantum is not a cultural classification marker (Anderson, 2015). As understood by the Canadian constitution, of the ten provinces and three territories, the Métis Nation only spans three provinces in their entirety (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta), and part of two provinces and one territory (Ontario, British Colombia, and the Northwest Territories). It is important to note that living within one of these provinces is not necessary for maintaining Metis identity; however, there must be a tangible familial link with the historic Métis Nation (Department of Justice, 1982; R. v. Powley, 2003).
Many people within Canada do not understand the political and cultural distinction of the Métis Nation, and will self-identify as Metis if they are have mixed ancestry that includes Indigenous heritage, but do not have First Nations or Metis status under other contexts (Anderson, 2016). As it is not possible to hold formal Metis and First Nations citizenship congruently, understanding who is Metis and who is part of Metis communities can be a challenge. We have found that access to healthcare is a driving factor for cultural identification, as First Nations citizens have access to non-insured health benefits, such as pharmaceutical prescriptions, dental care, vision care and medical transportation, while, with some exceptions (Manitoba Metis Federation, 2018), Metis citizens currently must secure private health insurance to receive such benefits (Health Canada, 2008). This may result in having people indicate on paper that they are First Nations, but may culturally affiliate as Metis. This may introduce potential bias into how Indigenous experiences in Canada are represented, as well as what programming, policies, and procedures are necessary to ensure health and wellbeing of Metis citizens.
Challenge Two: Do we need to care about Gatekeepers?
A key component of creating policies, procedures, and programming that is relevant to Metis citizens is involving Metis gatekeepers within consultation processes. There are different levels of gatekeepers who need to be consulted. Depending on the work, and the scope of programming, policies and/or procedures, the level of involvement of gatekeepers differs. Within our work in Manitoba, initial engagement with the Manitoba Metis Federation-Health and Wellness Department at the provincial level took place to help establish research priorities. The next step involves approaching the regional Vice-Presidents and/or local level Metis communities to understand what their interests are and if the research priorities previously identified were consistent at the provincial level. Subsequently, community members are consulted to further narrow down the scope of research interests. It is important that each group be consulted, although the ability to affect change by these different levels may be difficult because of limitations the Metis federation and community organizations have to affect change related to service delivery and economic sustainability.
Challenge Three: What Makes a Community?
In order to develop and implement effective programming, policies and procedures, it is important to understand where people who will benefit the most are situated. Metis citizens are dispersed across geographic areas. A community is constituted by people with a shared cultural identity, a shared political identity, a shared belief system, and/or a shared sense of place. While many First Nations and Inuit communities are geographically bonded, Metis communities tend to encompass a larger geographic region and identify based on other markers of community, although some geographic districts may have larger Metis populations than others (Martins, Bartlett et al, 2010).
Many rural Metis communities are in close proximity to First Nations reserves. In the cases of Pine Creek and Camperville, Manitoba, the communities are only 800 meters apart, yet programming and policies within these two neighbouring locations are limited by policies and procedures in terms of access to services. For people who live in geographically bounded communities, the closest access to healthcare may be at a nursing station within a First Nations reserve community. For Metis citizens who live with First Nations family members, such as a spouse, this may also be the case; however, as participants in studies we’ve conducted have explained, these individuals may not be able to access services or supports that are within close geographic distance because of jurisdictional policy regulations. At times, a person or community may be able to request permission to access services, such as the ability to attend a public school within a reserve community or seek medical help from the closest healthcare practitioner, but these allowances must be made in advance and are not always approved.
It is important to understand the need for Metis individuals, cultures, and communities to remain separate from First Nations and Inuit categories, while still remaining cognizant of the potential for shared priorities, such as concerns over the impact of extraction activities (fracking, hydro etc.). By narrowing the scope of policies and procedures specific to Metis within these contexts may prove alienating for both Metis and non-Metis community members who see themselves as stakeholders in terms of the issues. In such instances, it may be worthwhile to involve the greater community in the conversation while being cognizant of Metis specific interests and the Metis voice.
Within community-based health research, there is a desire to conduct work that can lead to meaningful change. This often happens through partnership-based models, and is entrenched within historical, contemporary, and political relationships. There is still a long way to go before Metis rights are equitable to that of other Indigenous populations within Canada, and even further before health status of Metis citizens is on par with the general Canadian population. Working with Metis stakeholders to determine both who, what their priorities are, and how they fit within programming, policies, and procedures is an important step towards reaching this goal.
- The Manitoba Metis Federation does not use the acute accent over the “e”. The term “Métis”, with the acute accent, historically symbolizes circumstances associated with French and Catholic influences, identifying people of mixed Cree and French decent. Historically the term “halfbreed” was used to refer to people of mixed-decent with Scottish and British ancestry, often affiliated with the Hudson’s Bay Company. As many Metis people have other Indigenous historical affiliations beyond Cree, such as Anishinabe ancestry and other European/Euro-Canadian ancestry, the accent privileges both French and Cree above other historical lineages. The term Metis without the acute accent indicates unique traditions and heritage that encompasses all people who were part of the historic Metis Nation (spanning northern Ontario thorough Western British Columba and part of the Northwest Territories) (Macdougall, 2017). It is important that the acute accent is used within some documents written by the Manitoba Metis Federation, and it is used by other political organizations, scholars and individuals to denote people of Metis ancestry and their specific cultural traditions.
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