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Resistance and Resurgence of the Métis

The red that dies the maple leaf

This post is part of the Gender and Domination Course in OOPS.

On April 14, 2016, Grandma emailed me; the subject read: “Status.” That day, in Daniels vs. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada legally granted Indian status to all non-status Indians and Métis. Grandma is not Métis, but I am. Growing up, my mom and dad did not care about my heritage (unless debasing it) but Grandma defended it. And after years of defending themselves in the Supreme Court, all Métis and non-status Indians now have the right to consult with the federal government on a collective basis, respective of their interests and needs as Aboriginal peoples. But why have we fought for the colonial consignment of “Indian” as if it were our own deliverance? Isn’t being a legal “Indian” just another kind of domination?

In regards to §91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867, the federal government of Canada has legislative jurisdiction for “Indians and lands reserved for the Indians.” Now that Métis are “Indians,” my people have the right to bargain over dispossessed territory. Crucially, land is not just land for the Métis: in Michif, our language, verbs conjugate according to “animacy” and “inanimacy,” and as the essential nexus of Métis culture, “land” is animate. In The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Cherokee historian Thomas King makes clear, “if you understand nothing else about the history of Indians in North America, you need to understand that the question that really matters is the question of land” (218).

Only now do the Métis have the legal right to bargain over land expropriations. But didn’t we always have this authority? Hasn’t this been demonstrated, as in 1885, when we rose in armed resistance against Canada? How is it possible to give the Métis back something they always had in the first place? On this point, there is a historical landscape that Daniels vs. Canada is provincializing.

Grandma is from Saskatchewan, territory the settler-state used to call “Rupert’s Land;” it is also where the Métis come from. In 1869, the Métis asserted self-determination by occupying Fort Gary (now called Winnipeg). In response, Canada invaded the northwest, intending to kill the Métis responsible for this “defiance.” Escaping that fate for another, the Métis found themselves once again taking up arms in 1885.

As a kid in school, I learned that this event was called the Red River Rebellion. But in fact, it was no “rebellion” — for my people, it was a resistance. Though victorious in battles leading up to the final confrontation, the Métis council surrendered to spare further bloodshed. Louis Riel, our leader, was executed, and the colonial oppressors swiftly took over the land.

So here we are, 131 years later: the Métis now finally considered “Indian” enough to bargain over dispossessed territory — land we bled with. “The colonizer cannot give any of his power permanently to the colonized, because such gifts can be taken back by the colonizer whenever he wishes. The native would have to seize power, hold on to it, and not share it again with the oppressor,” warns Métis/Marxist Howard Adams in Prison of Grass: Canada From a Native Point of View (65). In this vein, the Supreme Court’s recognition is deceptively rooted not as a break, but a perverted continuation of a colonial and carmine legacy of expropriation. Yet, to truly understand how the recognition of Daniels vs. Canada is a continuation of expropriation, we must consider some of its precedents; that is, other consignments of status to non-status Indians, in particular, native women.

Along with the Métis, non-status Indians are now also considered by the settler-state to be “Indians.” Similar legislation in the past has significantly affected native women who “married-out” to white men and, as a result of patriarchal clauses in the Indian Act, lost their status. In 1985, the federal government passed Bill C-31, which reinstated enfranchised Indian women so as to bring the patriarchal clauses in the Indian Act into line with gender equality. Grandma remembers this happening; she says that women should be equal to men. And the settler-state would gladly have you believe that this issue is so simple — but it is definitely more complicated. This apparently beneficent gesture in the name of gender equality had the effect of locking self-determining Indian bands into an absurd dilemma: as an obscene (but no less predictable) result of C-31, bands were incentivized to perpetuate gender discrimination by rejecting the disenfranchisement of some indigenous women so as to retain the autonomy of self-determining membership. With C-31, the settler-state attempted to supersede band self-determination. Effectively, bands were forced by the settler-state to choose either patriarchy or ceding self-determination. Discursively orchestrating this fight into a dilemmatic pit in which natives on either side could only lose was the intended, baleful, and sinister outcome of ossifying the intersectional domination facing indigenous peoples.

Among the lessons, C-31 proved that we cannot fight gender discrimination and colonialism separately — to fight one form of domination necessitates fighting all. As Adams notes, “Naturally, it is to the advantage of the colonizer to negotiate when he has control of all the power, wealth, and resources” (162). Given the struggle over the disenfranchisement of indigenous women, we Métis must understand the recognition of “Indian” not as a victory, but as a calling. “Indian” calls the settler-state to a responsibility to bargain with us on a state-to-state basis, but this recognition also calls us to combat the other axes of oppression that intersect with the settler-state’s colonial domination: white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, etc. The axes of domination, as we have learned from the plight of indigenous women, can be fought only in concert, not in series. We have been called to resistance.

“Grandma,” I wrote back, “I think we still have our work cut out for us. And who I am is not decided by any ‘government.’”

When I was a kid, I didn’t think much about why Grandma was so invested in my being Métis. Strange because growing up she was taught in school that natives were inferior. To this point, I asked her if Canada could also recognize the generations of cultural genocide it exacted on the Métis. Contrary to Riel’s aspirations, the suppression of our militant resistance in 1885 did not cease the violence, but in fact served to enhance it through more subversive ways such as inferiorization in schools and cultural genocide. To truly fulfill its responsibility to the Métis, Canada needs to do more than recognize us as bearers of some “Status.” Canada needs to recognize the intergenerational blood on its hands, the red that dies the maple leaf.

“That’ll never happen,” Grandma says. And she’s right, that is, not without a resurgence. On April 14, 2016, I not only entered the legal domain of “Indian” — I entered my peoples’ legacy of resistance.

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Wayne Wapeemukwa

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