Maxim Cormier's nod in the Indigenous Artist of the Year category was withdrawn last week
The East Coast Music Awards decision to withdraw the nomination of a Cape Breton guitarist in the Indigenous Artist of the Year category is drawing criticism from a group that says the association has no business deciding who is Indigenous.
The ECMA's board of directors withdrew Maxim Cormier's nomination last week and issued a statement saying the organization determined Cormier is not recognized as Aboriginal under the Canadian constitution.
Cormier, a classical guitarist from Cheticamp, N.S., identifies as Acadian and Métis. He's a member of the Highlands Métis Nation, which describes itself as an association created to "foster, promote and preserve our Métis identity and heritage."
"Based on research conducted, input from government and input from many community stakeholders, that in its current state, the law has not recognized Maxim Cormier or the community he is a member of, the Highland Métis," said Dean Stairs, chair of the ECMA board, in an statement Thursday.
Stairs called the situation "regrettable for all involved" and pledged to look at its nomination criteria and to make sure it's "more clearly defined, specifically as it relates to self-identification."
Cormier also declined to do an interview but referred questions to the Council of the First Métis People of Canada.
Karole Dumont, the organization's chief who is based in Ottawa, said the ECMAs should not be dictating who is and who is not Indigenous.
"We're appalled. To us it's not even an issue whether he's Indigenous or not. We've proven it, beyond doubt. He's part of a very, very important Métis family," said Dumont.
She said her group is now considering taking legal action and wants to see the nomination reinstated.
For instance, the Council of the First Métis People of Canada is not part of the Métis Nation, which doesn't have any governance structures east of Ontario.
The website of Indigenous and Northern Affairs says there is "no legal or legislative definition of Métis." A spokesperson for the department said the government does not maintain a list of Métis individuals or groups.
Mi'kmaq activist Cheryl Maloney told the Canadian Press many groups claiming Métis ties have cropped up in Atlantic Canada in recent years, and in some cases, opposed the Mi'kmaq's efforts to preside over their ancestral territory.
Indigenous artists make up a tiny cohort of the region's relatively small music industry, Maloney said.
"We need to be proud of the achievements of our people and for somebody to come in and they're not part of the Indigenous community, that leaves us without those role models," she said.
"It's hard to watch if you're a part of a real Indigenous community, a real struggle, a real identity to the land … when someone walks in and takes what's ours."
The 2003 Supreme Court of Canada Powley decision says in order for someone to be considered Métis under the constitution, they must identify as Métis, be part of a present-day Métis community and have ties to a historical one that shared a common way of life in one geographic area and with a collective identity.
Further to that, the court said mixed heritage alone doesn't make someone Métis, but a group must also have "developed their own customs, and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit and European forebears."
In 2016, 23,315 Nova Scotians identified as Métis in the census. The number of people who identified as Métis in the Atlantic provinces rose 124 per cent between 2006 and 2016, Statistics Canada found.
Dumont said some people only recently started admitting they were Métis because they feared discrimination and others are trying to reconnect or discover their culture.
She said she researches the genealogy of each applicant before they become a registered member of her group.
Cormier was never asked for evidence he qualified for the Indigenous artist award, she said.
"I could've confirmed to them … church records and civic records that shows every generation," she said. "It's a fairly serious matter that goes way, way beyond Maxim Cormier."