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Innu question Labrador Metis status.

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, Labrador

Innu Nation president Peter Penashue questioned the Aboriginal status of the members of the Labrador Metis Association in a statement released on Sept. 16. He claimed that the association's land claims activities, which have been developed since 1992 by the Metis in consultation with the Department of Indian Affairs, has hurt the interests of "legitimate Aboriginal people."

"The membership criteria of the Labrador Metis Association are so loose that the door is left wide open to non-Aboriginal people," Penashue said. "The socalled `Metis' haven't provided any land use documents or family tree information to prove they have Innu ancestry and rights in Labrador, and yet, they are trying to muscle in on scarce funding that is allocated to people of truly Aboriginal ancestry."

Labrador Metis president Todd Russell responded with anger to the comments, saying that the two press releases (the Newfoundland Environment and Lands Minister Ernie McLean also issued a press release on a similar topic Sept. 16) appeared to be coordinated, suggesting that the Innu Nation had abandoned the principles of respect and Aboriginal solidarity by siding with the province.

"All I know for sure is that the Innu have been hugger-mugger in fast-track negotiations on land claims with provincial and federal officials over the last week in St. John's, "Russell said," and the two press releases were issued within hours of each other and played the same old and outdated tune."

"I understand that many of these people have a strong connection to this land, and I certainly recognize that many of them are descendants of the original settlers," Penashue said, "but being Aboriginal is something else entirely." Penashue pointed to an article in the constitution of the LMA that states that membership is open to "original Labradorians," people "who settled in Labrador . . . prior to 1940, who [have] remained their since, and their descendants."

Gerald Morin, president of the Metis National Council, said that the LMA's criteria is nowhere near the criteria used to establish membership in the MNC.

"We do not recognize the existence of Metis people outside the historic homeland of Ontario, the prairies, B.C. and the North. Even though these people choose to call themselves Metis in Labrador, we do not recognize the existence of Metis people from Labrador." Morin explained, however, that the council has had informal discussions with the leadership of the Labrador Metis Association.

Morin explained that a person's Metis membership is a slightly different thing in different places, generally subject to three conditions: proven Aboriginal ancestry, a self-declaration to be Metis and acceptance by the Metis community.

Indian Affairs would not speak on the record about the LMA's status, but did confirm that, while status Indians are defined under the Indian Act, other Aboriginal people are not. Their status must be decided by agreement within the community or, ultimately, by the courts. The LMA has, however, been working with Indian Affairs on a comprehensive land claim since 1992.

"The Labrador Metis Association has submitted a claim to Indian Affairs," confirmed Helen Lynn, acting chief of claims research and assessment for Indian Affairs. "It has undergone extensive historical review and the claim has now been forwarded to the Department of Justice for an opinion as to the legitimacy of the claim."

Russell was blunt in his condemnation of Penashue and the Innu Nation.

"The last thing we needed in this action was for some Aboriginal fifth-columnist to lend a hand to the powers that be in St. John's or Corner Brook," he said. "Who would have thought any Native leader would have stooped to that point." He also suggested that Penashue keep his nose in his own business.

"First of all, no Metis has to go cap in hand to Peter Penashue to get his permission or his approval on land claims," Russell stormed. "Secondly, somebody must be really misinformed in the Innu Nation, and in St. John's, about the land claims process. The LMA filed its claim in 1991 -- long before active negotiations started for the Innu.

"All indications are that our claim will be accepted," he continued, "and that is as it should be, all according to procedure." Russell said that the province had refused to have the claim process outlined to them, but were now complaining that the LMA hadn't kept them informed.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:R. John Hayes
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Oct 1, 1996
Words:720
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