Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) President David Chartrand spoke on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, at the Indigenous Identify Fraud Summit co-hosted by MMF and the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) at the Hotel Fort Garry in Winnipeg. Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

By: Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

Métis, First Nations and Inuit representatives from across Canada are gathering in Winnipeg this week to discuss Indigenous identity theft, and what they say is a growing and disturbing trend of individuals and groups using false claims of Indigenous ancestry for personal benefit.

The two-day Indigenous Identify Fraud Summit co-hosted by the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) kicked off Tuesday morning at the Hotel Fort Garry in Winnipeg.

“Fakes, thieves, robbers, and benefactors are trying to take away from all that we have gained and earned as a people,” MMF President David Chartrand said Tuesday morning while speaking at the summit, in what was at times a fiery and impassioned speech.

A main topic up for discussion at the summit is Bill C-53, federal legislation that seeks to formally recognize Métis governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Both MMF and COO strongly oppose the bill, because they say inclusion of the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) would threaten their inherent rights.

Both groups also openly question the validity of MNO as a historically and culturally Métis organization.

“At one time nobody wanted to be us, nobody wanted to be connected to us,” Chartrand said. “They were all ashamed to say they were First Nation or Métis. Our people had to hide, we had to hide our identity.

“Times are changing in our favour, and now it seems everyone wants to jump into the Red River cart.”

Chartrand said he is greatly concerned about the prospect of people or groups with false or questionable Métis status using that status for benefit, because of what he says has been generations of Métis people fighting for their rights and their identity.

“The Red River Métis in this country have shed blood and died to protect who they are. I truly believe in my heart that we must do everything in our power to fight for what is ours, and protect what is ours,” he said.

Chartrand also extended what he said was an “olive branch” to COO and to all First Nations in Canada to work with MMF to combat Indigenous identity theft.

“We will work with any First Nation to fight and stand for our identities.” Chartrand said. “We are ready to fight.”

The summit prompted a direct reaction from MNO, which said in a Tuesday media release they previously requested to be included, and were disappointed to not have representatives invited to the event.

“This exclusion undermines the potential for a comprehensive and inclusive discussion on this critical issue affecting all Indigenous communities in Canada,” MNO said. “The MNO remains steadfast in its dedication to the well-being of its citizens and to the integrity of Métis governance. We urge MMF and COO to embrace an open and inclusive approach to discussions about Indigenous identity and rights.”

Also speaking at the summit was well known First Nations lawyer and activist Dr. Pam Palmater, who spoke about how Indigenous identity theft and what she called “pretendians” take opportunities and resources away from people with legitimate Indigenous backgrounds.

“This is by far one of the most important issues for a variety of reasons,” Palmater said. “People think ‘oh what’s the big deal if one or two people want to claim to be Indigenous,’ but it is far more threatening than that.

“The issue of ‘pretendians’ is especially hurtful when we have worked so hard to protect our nations, to preserve our cultures, to be able to pass it down to our children.”

A University of Saskatchewan 2022 report used the term “Indigenous identity fraudster” to define those who make “false claims to Indigenous identity, usually for personal material advantage,” and the report says the issue is growing in Canada, as people look for opportunities by claiming false Indigenous identities.

“The press has recently documented several high-profile cases of this ‘reverse passing,’ ” the study reads. “Unfortunately, these Indigenous identity fraudsters are becoming more common, and the numbers of those passing as Indigenous in Canada now number in the tens of thousands.

“Those lives and careers are gained at the expense of real Indigenous peoples.”

The report said Indigenous identity theft is also a growing problem in Canadian universities, which often rely on self-identification, which can lead to false claims of Indigenous ancestry by both students and faculty members.