With the news that Metis are considered by the Canadian government in the same way as First Nations and Inuit people, everyone wants to know what benefits the Metis get. People who suspect they are “part Indian” want to find out for sure and get their Metis Status card, but there is so much conflicting information, it’s hard to find the right answers.
Getting Metis Status is a way of showing pride for your ancestors and their hard work in the beginning of the first economy of North America, that of the fur trade. Considering that it’s the Native women who did most of the work, it’s time we all honor our great grandmothers and the sacrifices they made for all our benefit.
Metis Status gives access and fellowship to our extended kinship community. Because Metis groups can only apply for government funding based on the membership of their registry, getting a Metis Status card helps our communities in so many ways. Without membership, Metis communities will not get funds. Every person who stands up and gets their Metis Status card helps to build what was lost during generations of hiding our identity.
Because most of the fur traders were French, their unions with Native women represent a majority of Metis in North America. Most people who grew up in a French Canadian town or village don’t even realize how much of their culture is actually Metis, nor that they have fur traders in their ancestry, nor how many people in their community descend from Native Americans. Getting a card with the organization that represents your type of ancestry is not like being in a club, it’s about being part of a family and community.
Getting a Metis Status card means your genealogy has been verified to be true and accurate. It is proof that you actually are “part Indian”. Which card you have describes the cultural community you belong to.
Social programs are varied and can include health programs, health studies for particular hereditary diseases, cultural learning programs, assistance programs, cultural and heritage workshops, improvement incentives, work programs, help with housing, family programs (baby wellness, family counselling, etc) preservation of heritage and culture, etc. Funding for programs depends on agreements with Canadian government and the numbers of registered members of an organization.
Representation and Rights
Some groups would like harvesting rights, hunting or fishing rights, or even the access to harvest plant material. Rights to any of these are determined by agreements signed between the government and the individual organization. There are many different organizations that represent many different groups of Metis. Being Metis or having a card does not entitle you to automatic rights. Standing up and being counted by getting a Status card better helps these groups negotiate rights on your behalf. So right now, you cannot go hunting or fishing just because you have a Metis card, unless your group tells you there are agreements to do so, and the way in which the activity must be carried out.
We do not know what the future holds for anyone. In our communities today, there are some areas where people are not allowed to harvest certain plant materials. Having Metis Status with a particular organization might mean your community has a voice for negotiation of rights — for now, and for the future.
Considering Native Americans have traditionally had a lower number of high school, college and university graduates than the average population, and Native Americans have traditionally been under-represented in the labor force, and Native Americans are the fastest growing group of people, the government now understands that they will need training as they will be a major pool for the labor force in the future. For all these reasons, the government is encouraging educational institutions to make accommodation for aboriginal persons, whether they be First Nations, Inuit, or Metis.
Having a Metis Status card can help secure a place in a particular educational program, for example at college or university. Considering that Metis families’ ancestors helped to build the economy of this continent, and then had to hide their identity for generations or have rights taken away, and considering that these Native ancestors’ hard work has never been properly recorded nor recognized, it’s time the Metis take their places in programs if having a Status card helps to do this.
There are also scholarships and bursaries that Metis can apply for. Application for such funding should really be based on genuine need, as there are so many Metis families with lack of resources for education.
Major corporations usually have policy in place that encourages hiring from the 4 groups of people most under-represented in the workplace in Canada — visible minorities, handicapped persons, aboriginal persons and women. Aboriginal persons under the Canadian Constitution Act include First Nations, Inuit and Metis. Whether this helps or not with workplace is debatable and depends on the circumstances.
We Pay Taxes
All Metis persons pay taxes, just like everyone else in the country. Will there ever be change to that? Who knows.
Describing themselves as “French Canadian” has been the PC way of saying French and Native. Although their culture is Metis, there is still so much misunderstanding and old hollywood stereotyping of what it means to be aboriginal. And so many Metis feel unworthy to claim it because they think they need to learn and become culturally First Nations, but that is not true. Metis culture is no more like First Nations culture than being Filipino would make someone Chinese. And there are as many types of Metis culture as there are communities where the Metis have lived.