A REPORT BY ISABELLE HACHEY AND MARCO CAMPANOZZI of LAPRESSE+
English Translation by Metis Nation News
Luc Michaud spreads a map of Quebec on the table. The plan covers the territory of Eeyou Itschee Baie-James, between the 49 th and 55 th parallels. A vast northern expanse, largely uninhabited and as large as Germany. Nearly 350 000 km 2 of forests, lakes and wild rivers.
Despite the vastness of the territory, Luc Michaud and the members of his group feel more and more cramped. They show two tiny spots at the bottom of the map: the "enclaves", they say, of Chibougamau and Chapais. To hear them, they are now virtually confined.
It's not the fault of the Crees, they insist. But it must be said that since the signing of the James Bay Agreement in 1975, the representatives of this Aboriginal people have shown that they know how to negotiate. Over the course of the treaties with the government, they got the biggest piece of the pie. "We, we suffer," says Luc Michaud.
Excluded from these historic talks, these men who have spent their entire lives in the North now see themselves as left behind. Three years ago, they decided to be heard ... by creating an Aboriginal community in Chibougamau.
"We wanted to be on the winning side. " - Luc Michaud, leader of the self-proclaimed Métis of Chibougamau
The 59-year-old city council member, blue-eyed and red-faced, is the leader of these self-proclaimed Métis. He admits he does not know exactly who his native ancestors are. This did not prevent him from wearing an impressive headdress during a visit to Paris in the summer of 2017. Nor to multiply the meetings with elected officials in the hope of obtaining official recognition for his community, which today has nearly 400 members, including some politicians and prominent entrepreneurs in the small mining and forestry town of 7600 inhabitants.
A POPULAR MOVEMENT
The "Métis" of Chibougamau joined a movement that has exploded in Quebec for a dozen years: that of Whites who proclaim themselves Métis - and claim the rights and privileges attached to them - by invoking disputed genetic tests or vague indigenous ancestors.
The number of Quebeckers who identified themselves as Métis with Statistics Canada in 2016 jumped 149% from 2006 - faster than anywhere else in the country. No less than 69,360 Quebecers today call themselves Métis. There is no Métis community recognized in the province.
Professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Darryl Leroux has been studying this movement for four years. He identified some twenty "Métis" organizations active in Quebec. Many of them use membership fees to fund legal battles and seek official recognition in court.
None has yet arrived.
Professor Leroux also discovered that the origin of the movement can not be explained solely by a quest for collective identity. In eastern Quebec, Métis groups were created in response to First Nations land claims.
"It's a political strategy to oppose Mi'kmaq and Innu. " - Darryl Leroux, Professor, Saint Mary's University, Halifax
One example: on the North Shore, a man who once defended the "white rights" of an anti-Aboriginal organization - and did not hesitate to treat the Innu as "Red Taliban" in the media locals - presents itself today as a ... Métis clan leader!
Rather than continue his fight against the claims of the natives, this man now claims to be theirs - and have, too, ancestral rights. The same strategy was observed in Gaspésie and Saguenay. It now seems to have been adopted in Nord-du-Québec.
WHITE AND BITTER
The president of Forages Chibougamau, Serge Larouche, does not hide his bitterness when we mention the treaty of the Peace of the Braves, signed in 2002. "The communities [cries] receive how much per year? We are peanuts here. [...] We do not even have a community hall in Chibougamau anymore! "
Serge Larouche is a founding member of the "Métis" community of Chibougamau, just like his brother Steve, who was the "vice-chief" and financed the activities. The two brothers' drilling business has been part of the city's landscape for over 50 years. Until then, they had never mentioned an indigenous root.
Serge Larouche cultivates a feeling of obvious injustice in the face of the concessions made to the Cree people by the government. "We have no rights. "
"Can I fish without having to take a license? I want to take a license, but why can other adjacent communities put in a net anytime? " - Serge Larouche, President of Chibougamau Drilling
Under the James Bay Agreement, the Cree have the right to hunt and fish as they wish on their ancestral lands. The inhabitants of Chibougamau are subject to the same rules as all Quebeckers: to hunt and fish, they must obtain a permit.
Robert Haché, another founding member, regrets not being able to hunt like the Crees. "They have the right to come around our camps to hunt our moose. We can not say anything. Why can not I [hunting moose], like them, winter? "
RECRUITMENT AT THE PENITENTIARY
It was by chance that Robert Haché met Guillaume Carle, the controversial "grand chief" of the Confederation of Aboriginal Peoples of Canada (CPAC).
In 2011, Robert Haché was sentenced to four years in prison for drug trafficking. At the reception center in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, he was asked if he was Aboriginal - a routine issue for new inmates.
Robert Haché remembered his uncle's discussions about the "Indian blood" circulating in the family. He tried his luck.
At Cowansville Penitentiary, a practitioner submitted a list of organizations willing to represent him. "I got the first one off the edge. It was CPAC, which is not recognized by either Ottawa or the Assembly of First Nations. Its great leader, Guillaume Carle, is widely regarded as a usurper of the Aboriginal identity, as revealed by a survey of La Presse in November.
Nevertheless, it was proposed to Robert Haché to become a member of his group, without further verification. "The way we determine whether an offender is Aboriginal is based on the principle of self-reporting," says Kathleen Angus, Regional Administrator of Aboriginal Initiatives in Correctional Service Canada.
This is how Robert Haché obtained his CPAC membership card - a document without legal value - at the penitentiary.
"I fell in the wing of the Amerindians. We had a lot more benefits. " - Robert Haché, Self-proclaimed Métis
Tobacco. Moose meat. But above all, a single occupancy cell.
Robert Haché remembers that one day an Aboriginal elder working in the prison warned him: "There are many people who take the card from Guillaume. Be careful. He ignored the warning.
A SUBSIDIARY IN CHIBOUGAMAU
Shortly after his release from prison, Guillaume Carle asked him to create a community affiliated with CPAC in Chibougamau. "He wanted me to open a community here," says Robert Haché, who hails from the city. "I tried it. "
The founding meeting took place on November 28, 2015 in a disused bar on the main street of Chibougamau. Twenty people were present, including Guillaume Carle, Robert Haché and the Larouche brothers.
"It was so anything! "Recalls Myriam Gaudreault, a lawyer who attended the meeting with her husband, Alexandre Cyr. "What really angered us was that there was not a shout there. The couple believed - wrongly - that the new organization would serve as a bridge between the two communities.
In the old bar, Guillaume Carle took a saliva sample of those present, to determine their percentage of indigenous blood. "He was doing DNA testing without gloves. He put [the sampling stick] in people's mouths, took it out with his fingers and went on to the next, "wondered Alexandre Cyr.
The couple distanced themselves after this meeting. But others stayed. Soon, the community was going to be very popular in Chibougamau.
"Everyone wanted to be on board. Everybody ! It was overflowing. I worked one day a week just doing the DNA tests. The world called me, it was not dizzying. " - Luc Michaud
No less than 550 of the city's 7600 inhabitants paid $ 250 to pass the DNA test, according to Luc Michaud. None of them were rejected in the community - not even an Irish immigrant, whose test strangely revealed that native blood was flowing through her veins.
The saliva samples were analyzed by Viaguard Accu-Metrics, a Toronto lab that also discovered Aboriginal roots last year to CBC journalists of Russian and Indian descent. The lab even got positive results from samples taken on ... dogs!
Viaguard Accu-Metrics owner Harvey Tenenbaum declined to comment on the revelations, citing pending lawsuits.
The report did not shake Luc Michaud. "DNA tests, I trust them 100% if it's done right. There are murderers with that. He admits that the "crisis" caused by the CBC and La Presse reports has nonetheless caused him to lose 160 members.
Those who remained received - for $80 - a plastic card from CPAC that wrongly states that the holder "is an aboriginal person within the meaning of section 35 of the Constitution Act of Canada (1982) and is entitled to aboriginal rights applicable ".
Notable members of the city include the Executive Director of the Community Futures Development Corporation, a former aspiring mayor and two of the six councilors. "Even my deputy in Chibougamau is a member," sighs the MP Roméo Saganash, himself from the Cree community. "I do not interfere with his personal belongings, he is a good worker", he hastens to add, without hiding that he finds "desolate" the popularity of this group "Métis" in full Cree territory.
"I was surprised by the craze. I was told, "Manon, did you do your saliva test?" - Manon Cyr, Mayor of Chibougamau
Some of the citizens of Mayor Cyr hoped to use their card to obtain tax exemptions when buying goods. "I said," Take care, because it's not legal. You will never be recognized. "
Unlike the former mayor of Saguenay Jean Tremblay, who financially supported the local "Métis" movement and opposed territorial negotiations with the Innu of his region, Mayor Cyr has no time to lose. with the "Métis" community of Chibougamau. "I'm going to be a bit straightforward: for me, it's an NPO. The equivalent, she says, of "a Golden Age Club or a Nursing Club".