Manitoba’s political parties are not doing enough to ensure that candidates’ claims of indigeneity are legitimate, says Jean Teillet, a lawyer and great-granddaughter of Métis leader Louis Riel.
Breaking: asked Manitoba’s three provincial parties with one seat in the legislature how they ensure that claims to indigenous identity are legitimate.
Teillet – who was namedted as an independent researcher by the University of Saskatchewan to discover how to prevent Indian identity fraud—criticized the responses of the three provincial parties to questions about how they ensure that candidates who claim to be Indian are who they say they are.
Teillet’s appointment came after University of Saskatchewan professor Carrie Bourassa was suspended and eventually resigned following a Breaking: investigation that found no evidence she had Indian ancestry.
“These individuals are said to be ‘wannabes’ or ‘pretenders,'” Teillet wrote in a report of that investigation. “The advantage they get is stolen, causes damage, and violates our trust.”
The three provincial parties responded to CBC questions sent in February about how to ensure indigenous identity claims are legitimate.
“The Manitoba NDP has a rigorous vetting process and we are proud of our candidates,” the Official Opposition party said in a statement. “We are fair and thorough in our evaluation of candidates for the NDP.”
“We take the false appropriation of indigenous identity seriously,” Manitoba liberals said in a statement. “It would be considered a serious ethics violation by the Manitoba Liberal Greenlight Committee.”
That committee is referred to as a candidate selection body.
“It is not up to Manitoba liberals to determine who is indigenous. Identity is decided by First Nations themselves and indigenous organizations. If concerns are raised about a potential candidate’s claims of indigenous identity, they will be raised in an interview,” the Liberals said. .
“That being said, our party does not ask people to identify themselves based on their culture or orientation.”
Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party nominating committee chair MLA Ralph Eichler stated at the outset that “ethnicity has been part of the interview process.”
When asked for clarification, Eichler wrote: “We don’t ask what anyone’s ethnicity is.”
Eichler went on to say that “the committee is not really interested in the ethnicity of our candidates, more in the person than in their ethnicity as a person.”
Eichler responded to a subsequent follow-up question by stating that the nominating committee does not independently corroborate candidates’ claims to be indigenous.
Process issues: Teillet
Teillet says the NDP, which claims to have a “robust” candidate vetting process, did not provide enough detail for her to understand whether its vetting process is adequate with respect to claims of indigenous identity.
Teillet said that the CPs and the Liberals, despite what the Liberal party says, do not take the matter seriously because if they did, they would have a verification process.
“By failing to implement verification, they are tacitly supporting false claims of indigenous identity. Their inaction means they are supporting the harms such false identifications cause.”
Teillet says that all political parties, government offices, universities and schools should have a big sign on their website that says: “If you are applying and you are claiming indigenous identity, we will check again. We will verify.”
Teillet says this does not mean that universities or governments can determine who is indigenous. They must develop their verification processes to comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which received royal assent in Canada in 2021.
UNDRIP Article 33 states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions.”
Veldon Coburn, professor of political science at the University of Ottawa and Anishinaabe of the Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, says there is much positive in the responses from the Liberals and the NDP about how they examine claims to indigeneity, although both sides could be more clear.
As for the PC Party, Coburn says their candidate selection process appears to be “really fast and loose and bordering on reckless when it comes to this.”
“They don’t really care one way or the other that someone is mispresenting themselves as indigenous,” Coburn said in an interview.
Coburn says that parties must be strict to ensure that people who say they are indigenous are who they say they are. “The absolute minimum is that if you say you are indigenous, we will verify it.”
He says that in his experience, it is common and “not at all offensive to any indigenous person” to ask about their ties to the community.
“They are very proud to tell us where they are from. And I would do the same too,” she said.
Coburn says that being indigenous is not the same as identifying as an Italian Canadian, for example.
“Unlike many other peoples in Canada, many Canadians pride themselves on screenwriting, indigenous peoples are a national group rather than another cultural flavor,” he said.
“So we’re not just diet, dress, and dance like it could be. We have political institutions for members of our own political communities, and that makes us citizens.”.”
Klein 1 of 2 indigenous MLAs in PC caucus: Stefanson
Shortly after Kevin Klein was elected as the MLA for Kirkfield Park in December, Prime Minister Heather Stefanson identified him as one of two MLAs in the Indigenous CP caucus, along with Alan Lagimodiere, who represents the Selkirk constituency.
“The basis for claiming that Mr. Klein is indigenous is that he has publicly identified himself as a mixed-race Canadian,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Stefanson wrote after Breaking: sought clarification of his comment made in January.
Stefanson noted that the PC Party needs to attract more indigenous candidates and members, and said that they are working to achieve this.
“I think it’s very important that we accurately reflect what is reflected in our communities,” Stefanson said in an interview with Breaking: in January.
“Indigenous communities play an incredible role in that, so we will continue to reach out to those communities.”
In July, a spokesman responding on behalf of Prime Minister Stefanson declined to say whether he still considers Klein to be Indigenous after being told Breaking: could find no evidence that he has Métis or Indigenous ancestry.
When Klein was sworn in as environment minister in late January, the government issued a press release with a biography stating that he is a “proud Métis Canadian and continues to explore, working with elders in Manitoba to investigate his connections to the indigenous community.” This exploration has increased their desire to work with indigenous communities.”
Stefanson responded to questions from reporters at an unrelated news conference on Monday.
“We don’t get involved in surveillance of people’s identities,” he said.
“When you go into the process of vetting candidates, we know that the NDP obviously allows people with criminal records, as you know. And I would also wonder what their process is on all of this?”
CLOCK | Prime Minister Heather Stefanson disputed Kevin Klein’s claim to be Métis:
When asked by Breaking: about the biography circulated by the government when he became a cabinet minister, Klein responded by saying “as I have indicated on several occasions, this is a private and personal journey.”
Klein has previously told the media that she is Métis from the Painted Feather Woodland Métis, a group not recognized by the Manitoba Métis Federation or the Métis Nation of Ontario.
Teillet says there is a darker side to claims about indigenous identity.
“Once we can all say that we are indigenous for whatever reason, then there will be no more indigenous because we will all be indigenous. It is another step to eradicate the indigenous people. I call it reverse assimilation,” Teillet said.
Teillet says that people illegitimately claiming to be indigenous might say, for example, “I can figure out when it’s appropriate to consult indigenous people because I’m an indigenous person.”
In those cases, Teillet says, indigenous peoples are excluded from having a voice in processes such as policy-making for important social issues.