Is using a racialized term to claim Metis status racist?
The decision to declare a Métis identity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If you are part of the Métis Nation you have every right to claim that identity and to gain citizenship with the Métis Nation. But what about when that decision is based solely on the idea that “Métis=mixed”?
When the Métis National Council argues for the drawing of boundaries around Métis identity they do not do so to be exclusive. Rather, it is done to reflect a commitment to the Métis people recognizing their nationhood and national identity. However, many people who consider themselves Métis, but who do not meet the criteria of the MNC often object—usually in one of two ways. Their first objection is almost always rooted in the racialization of the word Métis. They will argue, “If someone wants to self-identify as Métis, who are you to suggest they can’t? Why do you think you own the term Métis?” They are passionate about this, but they cannot see beyond mere blood into the intricate world of culture, history, and family bonds, nor do they understand the foundations of sovereignty under which each nation is afforded the right to determine who is and who isn’t a member of their community. Simply being similar isn’t enough. That would be like a Cree deciding they wanted to call themselves Mi'kmaq simply because both groups are Indian and having Indian blood is enough to make that claim.
The second argument is that it is unfair for those with indigenous ancestors to be excluded—especially given the fact that their plight of being unrecognized isn’t their fault, but rather is the fault of colonial racist policies and discrimination by dominant society. They say, “Who are you do deny us? We suffered and we too are indigenous“. They make their appeal based on the denial of their identity by the government and their demand for fundamental justice. However, what obligation does the MNC or any Métis Nation citizen owe them? Sure their ancestors might have been dispossessed Indigenous individuals—possibly even communities. However, just being a mixed-blood who was dispossessed or denied doesn’t make you a Métis. Just because you are unrecognized, have an indigenous ancestor, and claim indigenous identity does not give you the right to claim to be Métis. Métis identity is not something you claim simply because it seems like the only possible option?
Whatever we imagine a fair response to the unrecognized mixed-blood indigenous people of the east to be, any response must always be preceded with the fact that “Métis” refers to a distinct nation and not a catch-all for anyone with mixed-ancestry. It is a nation with membership codes that deserve to be respected. The MNC is not a place to put every disenfranchised mixed-blood person hurt by past and present Indian policy. Certainly we should sympathize with those who are the victims of colonial injustice and dispossession, but it is not our responsibility and we cannot be expected to include them at expense of eviscerating our identity and sovereignty.
The unfortunate reality of colonialism is that for centuries, non-Indigenous have chosen how indigenous people were defined. They still do this. However, those people who use the term “Métis” rather than “person of mixed ancestry” to incorrectly identify themselves are not decolonizing. They are choosing to use the colonialist definition for the term Métis to mean mixed-blood, rather than the indigenous definition which connotes the distinct and sovereign Métis Nation. Sure, Métis is a much more dignified term than simply saying that you are mixed-blood indigenous, however it is not an ethical choice to call yourself that—especially if you join one of the many new “organizations” claiming to be legitimate Métis communities. By doing so you are choosing a racialized, rather than Indigenous identity that actively harms the Métis Nation and other indigenous communities. It also helps reproduce and re-entrench racism, because if just anyone can claim to be Métis based on Métis=mixed then claiming Métis means nothing, because it falls back into the European settler idea of classifying people, rather than recognizing indigenous sovereignty.
The indigenous thing for you to do is to drop the use of the word Métis and to find and recapture your true indigenous identity. You must continue to challenge colonialism and fight for your own individual rights as indigenous people. However, you should do this on your own terms and not by infringing on the Métis Nation. Then you might find allies where you now have adversaries.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities