Should what defines a Métis person be limited to a specific geographic area or should self-identity be the starting point for a person to be recognized as Métis under the Canadian Constitution?

This was the topic of debate at the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in Ottawa last week.

Testifying before the committee, former Conservative senator Gerry St. Germain argues for a more restrictive definition of Métis saying it must be limited to a geographic location.

“We were settled within a defined geographical location within Western Canada,” he says. “The present day term Métis does not properly recognize nor does it seek to define the rich history of our people. Presently, if you have some degree of Indian blood in your ancestry, you can self identify as Métis regardless of the geographical boundaries. This is the crux of the problem, I believe.”

The other witness at the committee meeting, University of British Columbia Professor Jean Barman, spoke in favour of a broader definition of Métis not restricted by geographic location.

“To the extent the inclusion of Métis in the Canadian Constitution incorporates an element of reparation for historical harms, to dismiss self identification is a contradiction,” she says.