The administrator of the Turtle Mountain Indian Band believes it’s time to create a new Metis band in this area.
“Over the past 15 and more years I have found a completely unstable environment with no security for those aboriginals that the generations have labelled Metis,” said Victoria Lyle.
Creating a Metis band would give these aboriginals the identity and security they deserve, Lyle said. She noted it’s very important for people, not just aboriginals, to know who they are and where they came from.
“We get so focused and stuck in our routine . . . people forget where they came from. It’s important to know who built this country; people have to go back to their roots.”
Lyle said researching one’s family tree is a good way to learn about your health. But she stated that many aboriginal families are “falling through the cracks” in the system.
One piece of good news is that the federal court recently ruled that Metis (and non-status Indians) are classified as “Indians” under the Constitution Act of 1867 and fall under federal jurisdiction.
There are approximately 600,000 Metis across Canada.
Lyle said the first Metis in North America got their name from non-native explorers and settlers (and Europeans) who immigrated to the continent. These European men took aboriginal women for their wives and had children.
Lyle said the term Metis comes from the slang term Metisis. “While some aboriginals admire the term Metis, others are offended as Metisis means bastard child of an Indian woman.”
She noted the term was shortened to Metis to encompass children that were half Indian and half non-native. “It is a very touchy subject as not all aboriginals view the term Metis the same.”
Lyle said now that Metis and non-status Indians are to be considered as Indians under the Constitution, this will change things in Ottawa considerably.
“I am pleased with the federal court decision, but we need to round up all the Metis for registration here for our Metis band.”
Lyle said they want the right to start a land base here by purchasing lands for economic development and secured residential homes.
However, there are rumblings that the federal government will appeal the high court decision.
Lyle said there is much work that has to be done by aboriginal groups throughout Canada to prepare for the outcome of the court decision.
According to Lyle, Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band said he would never allow a Metis band in the Oliver area.
“It’s not up to Clarence, it’s up to the federal government. We just want to organize everyone (Metis) in an orderly fashion and get this dealt with,” she said.
But Louie told the Chronicle that it’s ridiculous for a Metis band (or any band) to move into another aboriginal territory such as the Okanagan.
“It makes no sense. The Okanagans would oppose it. Why would you start a fight that you can’t win?”
Louie said if a First Nations member from this area moved to Manitoba with the idea of starting an Okanagan band there, he would have a big fight on his hands.
Furthermore, Louie said he couldn’t go to another territory, such as the Shuswap and start hunting and fishing because it’s not his territory. And vice versa.
Louie said the Metis come from the Prairies; that’s their territory, and most can trace their ancestry back to Red River, Manitoba. But he noted the Metis are a mixed breed that doesn’t have thousands of years of history like the Okanagans do.
“The Metis are out of their territory (here).”
Lyle said they are “proceeding cautiously” and keeping mindful that they are in Okanagan territory and respecting their hunting and fishing guidelines. She stated no one is running out to the bush to hunt or fish.
But she noted Metis now have the right from the federal court ruling to call themselves Indians.
“As far as getting any sympathy (or advice) from the chiefs in the Okanagan Valley, we are not expecting any.”
Lyle said Metis want the same rights and benefits that the First Nations of BC have in land claims.
“I am trying to present to the governments and the First Nations that there can be a middle ground in which to deal with all parties. There is lots of real estate in the Boundary Valley, Okanagan Valley and Similkameen Valley.”
But she admitted that securing a land base for seven generations to come is not going to be easy and may be a costly venture.
“We have a monumental mission in the gathering up of the Metis and non-status Indians in the South Okanagan.”
But Louie questioned how can you create a band with no land.
Lyle said not all Metis need land base security because many already have their own property and mortgages.
Alberta has Metis settlements that are run like reservations, but BC has no Metis settlements, so a compromise will surely have to take place, she said.
Lyle said McIntyre Bluff is part of Turtle Mountain, and the other one is down by The Cottages development in Osoyoos. She noted the Metis in this area of Boundary, Okanagan and Similkameen make up the Turtle Mountain Indian Band. Lyle was raised in the Boundary Valley and now lives on the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve.