A Liberal member of Parliament says he’ll continue identifying as Indigenous, despite being removed from the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) in a recent registry cleanup.

The controversial umbrella organization is tightening enrolment criteria, removing nearly 25 per cent of its electors as it presses to conclude a modern treaty with the Canadian and Ontario governments.

But even though Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré is no longer with the Mattawa/North Bay Algonquin First Nation, he isn’t backing away from his identity.

“I still identify as Indigenous and Métis, but I don’t identify myself [as Algonquin] since I got the letter,” Serré told CBC Indigenous.

Serré said he doesn’t intend to apply to join the Métis Nation of Ontario, which is on the cusp of attaining federal recognition as an Indigenous government.

“I don’t need to be a member of an association to identify, and so I have no intention at this point to apply. I’m going to continue doing my work in supporting Indigenous communities,” he said.

Serré is among nearly 2,000 former AOO electors swept up in a push to remove non-Algonquins from the group, which previously counted 8,500 members, according to a final statistical reassessment obtained by CBC Indigenous.

The organization comprises 10 communities, Mattawa/North Bay among them, but only one is federally recognized: Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, roughly 150 kilometres west of Ottawa.

Pikwakanagan filed a land claim to roughly 36,000 square kilometres of unceded land in eastern Ontario in the 1980s.

In an interview, Pikwakanagan Chief Greg Sarazin said AOO was created in the mid-2000s, after Canada and Ontario insisted all people with a claim to Algonquin rights in the area should be included.

“That then of course led to the Algonquin searching out and finding people of Algonquin descent,” he said.

Pikwakanagan members eventually came to suspect several AOO ancestors added in the process were, in fact, non-Algonquin.

The push to remove them gathered steam in 2020, picked up momentum in 2021 and culminated in the removal of seven disputed ancestors in 2023.

2 negotiators listed as removed

Other prominent individuals removed from the AOO registry include two AOO negotiation representatives, who are elected to lead treaty talks for their communities, and some call themselves chiefs.

Lynn Clouthier, who was a representative for Ottawa, and Connie Mielke, representative for Greater Golden Lake, were removed, according to an October 2023 list.

Neither Clouthier nor Mielke responded to requests for comment. 

In 2021, Clouthier defended a contentious land development project in the capital, which Algonquin leaders in Quebec called “wreck-onciliation.”

Facing questions, Clouthier suggested local officials shouldn’t pry into private Algonquin business dealings.

WATCH | Lynn Clouthier explains joint venture for Ottawa project: 

Algonquins of Ontario representative explains joint venture with developer for Tewin project

Lynn Clouthier, Ottawa representative for the Algonquins of Ontario, says the organization approached Taggart to be a partner in the Tewin development because their land claim still has not been finalized.

According to a 2015 AOO voters’ list, Clouthier and Mielke relied on 19th-century voyageur Thomas Lagarde dit St. Jean and his wife, Sophie Carriere, to establish Algonquin ties.

Supporting this was a mysterious letter of dubious origin, which a CBC News analysis concluded was likely fake, and which an AOO tribunal rejected last year.

The removals now raise concerns about a 2016 agreement-in-principle to settle the land claim, under which AOO would get 47,550 hectares, a $300-million payout and recognition of ongoing land and resource rights.

Veldon Coburn, an associate professor at McGill University and a Pikwakanagan member, said he believes the deal is entirely illegitimate if non-Algonquin directed the talks.

“We always knew who we were, and we knew that these individuals — especially the root ancestors they were claiming that would give them their links — were never Algonquin,” he said.

Ancestor from 17th century

In Serré’s case, his root ancestor was listed as Marie Mitewamewkwe, believed to be an Algonquin woman born in the 1630s. This caught the attention of University of Ottawa professor Darryl Leroux, who questioned Serré’s claims during the 2019 election.

In 2020, AOO changed its ancestry system so members must demonstrate a genealogical link to an Algonquin family line from two different historical periods. The first spans from 1728 to 1897, the second from then until 1991.

This seems to disqualify Serré from AOO membership, and according to Leroux, Serré wouldn’t qualify for the Métis Nation of Ontario either.

“There’s no Indigenous organization that’s recognized by any level of government that he can register for,” said Leroux.

Serré believes Leroux’s questioning was unwarranted in 2019. Roughly 400,000 Canadians, like him, self-identify as Métis but aren’t registered with a Métis organization or settlement, according to the 2021 census. 

During the interview, Serré waved a copy of his AOO card, saying it was obtained in good faith, with honest belief in his family’s heritage, four years before he entered federal politics.

“[Leroux] went after individuals like myself, which I think was wrong because I did not have any titles. I did not have any promotion. I had no benefits. I had my card,” Serré said.

A man smiles for a headshot near a beach.
Darryl Leroux is an associate professor at the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa and author of Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity. (Submitted by Darryl Leroux)

Leroux called this statement misleading. Serré was co-chair of the Liberal Indigenous caucus at the time.

“Now is that a promotion? Was he getting paid more? Maybe not. But he was a high-profile ‘Indigenous’ member of the Liberal Party caucus,” said Leroux.

The notion that a distant ancestor makes one Indigenous today is widely disputed, said Leroux.

“If [Serré] wants to be Indigenous based on that woman, then he has to understand that there’s large-scale opposition to that,” Leroux said. 

“And if he did that, there’d be 10 million Canadians who could also do it based on similar ancestry.”

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