Power, Praxis and the Métis of Kelly Lake, Canada

By Bentley, David; Murphy, Brenda | The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Power, Praxis and the Métis of Kelly Lake, Canada

Bentley, David, Murphy, Brenda, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies


Although agency and power in Aboriginal communities is often not recognized, this paper develops a conceptual framework within which both the oppression and the agency of a Métis settlement is identified and assessed. It is based on ongoing participatory action research, completed by the first author, who is also Métis. Kelly Lake, British Columbia is currently faced with a number of challenges, such as the lack of a proper sanitary sewage system, little access to natural resources and few health services. Despite these circumstances, the residents of Kelly Lake have undertaken several initiatives to ameliorate the problems and reorient the embedded power relationships.

Bien que l'on ne reconnaisse pas souvent les relations de pouvoir dans les collectivités autochtones, le présent article élabore un cadre conceptuel qui permet de cerner et d'évaluer l'oppression et le pouvoir dans un établissement métis. L'article est fondé sur des recherches continues sur l'action participative menées par le premier auteur, qui est également métis. La collectivité de Kelly Lake (Colombie-Britannique) fait présentement face à un certain nombre de problèmes, tels que l'absence d'un système adéquat de traitement des eaux usées, un accès limité aux ressources naturelles et le faible nombre de services de santé. Malgré de telles conditions, les résidants de Kelly Lake ont mis en oeuvre plusieurs mesures d'amélioration et de réorientation des relations de pouvoir intégrées.


Agency and power in Aboriginal communities, particularly in historical contexts, has often not been recognized. Canada's first peoples have typically been positioned as victims who do little either to resist or redefine the hegemonic relations within which they are embedded (DePasquale, 2003). Yet, as many authors, such as Winona LaDuke (1999) have pointed out, the landscape of Native struggles is replete with examples of their dynamic engagement in the issues that affect their lives. Within Canada, Annette Chrétien (2005) argues that the Métis have long been actively involved in political struggles, but that the nature of those struggles has evolved over time. She asserts that subsequent to the Canadian Constitution of 1982 and the official recognition of the Métis, Métis politics has shifted away from the 'politics of recognition' towards the 'politics of definition.' By this she means that although the Métis are now officially recognized as one of Canada's first peoples (the other two groups being First Nations and the Inuit), the politics has now shifted towards such questions as who is Métis, what rights and resources ought to follow from that definition and who gets to decide such questions. As compared to Canada's First Nations and lnuit groups, these are particularly thorny issues since the Métis have less clearly defined access to land rights, the government funding of social programs, language rights and so on.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP 1996) addressed some of the complexities involved in the 'politics of definition.' RCAP recognized the existence of Métis peoples throughout Canada yet made the distinction between the Métis Nation and Other' Métis peoples. In the context of RCAP, the Métis Nation refers to the historical community tied to Red River, Manitoba and the military conflicts of the nineteenth century involving Louis Riel (Chrétien, 2005). The Métis Nation is linked to the Métis National Council (MNC) and has official recognition by the federal government. Regarding the 'other' Métis, RCAP states:

Several Métis communities came into existence, independently of the Métis Nation, in the eastern part of what we now call Canada, some of them predating the establishment of the Métis Nation. The history of Métis people who are not part of the Métis Nation is not easy to relate. For one thing, their past has not been much studied by historians. If the Métis Nation's story is unfamiliar to most Canadians, the story of the 'other' Métis is almost untold.

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