The Manitoba government’s website continues to identify Environment Minister Kevin Klein as Métis, even though the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, a prominent Métis lawyer and Klein’s own brother all dispute the claim.
“The basis for stating Mr. Klein as Indigenous is because he has publicly identified himself as a Canadian Métis,” a spokesperson for Premier Heather Stefanson wrote in January.
Klein says he belongs to the Painted Feather Woodland Métis. The entity is not recognized by the Manitoba Métis Federation or the Métis Nation of Ontario. It’s a for-profit company based out of a single-family residence near Bancroft, Ont., just over 250 kilometres northeast of Toronto.
Klein says he claims to be Métis as a connection to his late mother, whom he has publicly identified as Indigenous.
“I’m not self-identifying, nor am I using it, nor am I mentioning it every time I open my mouth. It is a family issue for me and a connection to my mother,” Klein said in an interview during his run for mayor last fall.
Contacted by CBC News, Klein’s brother, Christopher Rout, said he does not consider himself, his brother or his mother Métis.
“I remember learning about Métis in school. I think I would have learned something then and been told something, but no. No, we’re not Métis,” Rout said in an interview with CBC News. He would seek Métis citizenship if he were eligible, he said.
Rout is Klein’s younger brother and although they have the same parents, their surnames are different. Klein officially changed his name from Harold Kevin Rout Jr. to Kevin Elvis Klein sometime before his second marriage in 1994, according to the marriage certificate.
Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand told CBC after a request for comment that he disputes Klein’s claim to be Métis.
“Kevin Klein simply does not meet our criteria. We do not recognize the Painted Feather Woodlands Métis or any other group that claims Métis identity outside our definition. This is no different than any of the other cases where groups or individuals are calling themselves Métis when they really mean mixed heritage,” Chartrand wrote in an email to CBC News.
Genealogical research done by CBC News — some going back five generations — did not find any evidence Klein’s mother has a Métis or other Indigenous ancestor.
Census and other historical records say most of Klein’s maternal ancestors came to Canada from England or Ireland.
His relative who most recently immigrated to Canada was his great-grandfather born in 1889, who came from Jersey, one of the British Islands. Two of his great-grandmother’s grandparents were born in England, the other two in Ireland.
The only one of Klein’s ancestors whose roots were not traced back overseas was his great-grandmother born in 1875, whose death certificate indicated her racial origin is English. Her grandparents, three of whom were born in the U.S. and the other in Canada, all said they were not “Indian” in the 1861 census.
Premier Stefanson said Klein is one of two Indigenous MLAs in the Progressive Conservative caucus in an interview in January. She also stressed the importance of having Indigenous representation in her party to more accurately reflect the population of the province.
“We need to attract more Indigenous candidates and we are working towards that … more diversity within our candidate selection,” Stefanson said.
When informed about the lack of proof of Klein’s Métis ancestry and the statements by Chartrand and Klein’s brother, a spokesperson who responded on behalf of Stefanson declined to say whether the premier still considers Klein to be an Indigenous PC caucus member.
“As we have worked hard to become Manitoba’s most diverse party, we are proud to have the first ever Muslim minister of the Crown, first Black minister and first woman premier in our caucus. Minister Klein is on the record stating clearly he is on a personal journey, and his ancestry is not for political gain,” the spokesperson wrote.
WATCH | Premier Heather Stefanson identifies Kevin Klein as Indigenous:
The spokesperson said the premier is satisfied with the vetting of PC Party candidates, but questioned whether New Democrats are satisfied with their candidate vetting process in light of revelations in 2017 about NDP Leader Wab Kinew’s criminal convictions and stayed domestic violence charges from about two decades ago.
Métis lawyer Jean Teillet, who is Louis Riel’s great-grandniece, says universities, governments and other institutions are currently trying to recruit Indigenous people, which could give a candidate who claims to be Indigenous an advantage in an interview.
Teillet said it also benefits the PC party.
“They stand up and they say, ‘We’ve got Indigenous people, see, we’re not acting against Indigenous people because we’ve got Indigenous people in our party. Look, and they speak for their people.'”
This past year, Klein ran back-to-back campaigns in Winnipeg, which 2021 Statistics Canada data says has Canada’s highest population of Indigenous residents.
His failed bid for mayor was followed by a victory in the Kirkfield Park provincial byelection.
At different stages of the campaigns, Klein identified himself as a “proud Métis Canadian” on his X, formerly known as Twitter, account and his website.
Over the course of the past several months, the word Métis has been removed from Klein’s personal accounts — first from his X biography, then from his personal website — but the government record hasn’t changed.
When Klein was named to cabinet at the end of January, the government issued a news release with background information that says, “Klein is a proud Métis Canadian and continues to explore, working with Elders in Manitoba to research his connections to Indigenous community.” His bios on his official government web page and on the Progressive Conservative Party site also contain that exact phrase.
When CBC News asked Klein for an interview to elaborate on the biography in the province’s news release, his press secretary said he is not available and that his “bio seems self-explanatory.”
When asked by CBC News why the word Métis was removed from Klein’s personal website, Klein’s press secretary wrote, “As Minister Klein has stated before: ‘As I have indicated on several occasions, this is a private and personal journey.'”
His personal website has since changed again: “Connecting with my Indigenous heritage helps put life into context,” it now says, along with a “Re-elect Kevin Klein” banner at the top.
Klein, 58, has talked with media in the past about his membership card from the Painted Feather Woodland Métis, a group not recognized by the Manitoba Métis Federation or the Métis Nation of Ontario.
According to the Government of Canada, the only groups allowed to determine who is Métis with rights under the Constitution are the Métis Nation of Alberta, the Manitoba Métis Federation, the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, the Métis Nation British Columbia and the Métis Nation of Ontario.
Under a 2003 Supreme Court of Canada decision won by Teillet, a process called the Powley test determines whether an individual can be considered Métis with rights under Section 35 of the Constitution. Section 35 recognizes existing “aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal people of Canada,” without going into specifics of what those rights entail.
Part of the Powley test spells out the criteria for eligibility: a person must identify as Métis, must be an accepted member of a present-day Métis community and must have ties to a historic Métis community.
Painted Feather Woodland Métis rejects what it calls “unduly restrictive and unfair” definitions of who is Métis and states its definition is “simple — anyone with an aboriginal ancestor,” says the company’s website, which lists fees ranging from $57 to $320, plus provincial sales tax, for membership for adults.
Painted Feather declined an interview in the past, sending CBC News to its website for information.
Klein has said he did not claim to be Métis for political reasons, and he got his membership card before he entered politics.
Understanding that the issue of Indigenous ancestry is complex, CBC News undertook its research in consultation with Indigenous experts and journalists.
As an elected minister of the Manitoba government, Klein’s claims are subject to the same type of scrutiny routinely applied to high-ranking elected officials by journalists.
Klein’s lawyer says issue ‘personal’
Since becoming a cabinet minister, Klein has declined to be interviewed about new information CBC News has obtained about his claim of Métis heritage.
Klein’s counsel, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman lawyer Sacha Paul, sent a letter in April asking CBC News to stop asking about his heritage and to cease contacting Klein’s relatives about this topic.
“I am advised by Mr. Klein that the matter of his Indigenous heritage is indeed personal and that Mr. Klein’s campaign material is not highlighting his connection to his Indigenous ancestry,” Paul wrote.
Jean Teillet said “once all of us can claim to be Indigenous for whatever reason, then there will be no more Indigenous people, because we will all be Indigenous.”
She says it’s harmful because it’s another step in eradicating Indigenous people, a process she calls “reverse assimilation.”
Teillet was appointed as an independent investigator by the University of Saskatchewan to figure out how to prevent illegitimate claims to Indigeneity in the wake of professor Carrie Bourassa being put on leave and eventually resigning from her positions after a CBC investigation found no evidence that she had Indigenous ancestry.
The Painted Feather Woodland Métis is one of many organizations that have “sprung up” since 2002 that “have a very, very loose definition of what they call Métis, which is basically anyone who has any tiny amount of Indigenous ancestry,” Teillet said.
Teillet’s report for the University of Saskatchewan, titled Indigenous Identity Fraud, found similarities between multiple cases of illegitimate claims of Indigeneity, which she calls “red flags.”
During his mayoral run, Klein told Dorothy Dobbie in an article for What’s Up Winnipeg that he took a University of Alberta Indigenous course “to learn more about his Métis and Cree background.”
“Blond and blue-eyed Indigenous people were not uncommon among certain groups in middle America. His family says his roots are evident in his cheekbones which Kevin says he could never produce a proper beard!” wrote Dobbie, a former Progressive Conservative MP who wrote the profile about Klein before the civic election.
Shifting Indigenous identities raise red flags, Teillet wrote in her report for the University of Saskatchewan.
“They shift their stories because people challenged them. Joseph Boyden was a perfect example. I think he had, like, 10 different identities over the years,” Teillet said in an interview.
An APTN investigation found no evidence Boyden, who has written books that centre on Indigenous characters and culture, has any Indigenous ancestors.
“If [Klein] follows the pattern that all the others have followed, he’ll keep shifting his stories again and again and again,” Teillet said.
When people who self-proclaim as Indigenous without verification speak for Indigenous people, it results in Indigenous people not being heard, Teillet said.
“Every time that someone like that speaks on behalf of Indigenous people, they take the microphone away from real Indigenous people,” she said.
‘It’s about my mom and my family’
When Klein sat down for an interview with CBC News last year to talk about his claim to Métis heritage when he was running for mayor, he said it was a way to connect to his late mother, Joanne Winacott.
She was killed in her Oshawa home by her second husband in 1991 at age 45.
Klein was 26 at the time.
“This isn’t about claiming any rights or trying to think that it benefits me in any way. It’s about my mom and my family,” Klein said in an interview in September.
Klein has been vocal about his mother’s murder. To this day, he devotes a section of his personal website — which he used for his campaigns — to his mother.
On April 5, he talked about his mother’s murder and domestic violence in the legislature on the anniversary of her birthday.
When Klein was the city councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, he spoke of his mother’s killing during a debate about the Winnipeg Police Service budget:
“I want to speak from a place that no one else on council can speak from. My Indigenous mother was murdered,” Klein said in Winnipeg city council chambers in December 2021.
On May 5, 2022, Red Dress Day, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Klein posted an Instagram video saying, “My mother was murdered by her partner and she was Indigenous,” in front of the red dresses on display for the event at Winnipeg City Hall.
In an April letter, Klein’s lawyer said the media, including CBC, may inquire into Klein’s record and the actions he has taken on behalf of constituents but not into “personal matters.”
“In our client’s view, his heritage is one of the few connections he has to his late mother, who was taken from our client when he was quite young,” wrote Paul.
In a subsequent email sent in mid-July, Paul wrote that Klein is “a firm believer in the freedom of the press and responsible journalism.”
“However, continuing to raise a personal matter that is connected to the tragic death of my client’s mother is not responsible journalism,” Paul wrote.
The lawyer asked for confirmation that CBC News “will not run this story now or in the future.”
Repeated references in public settings to life experiences of Indigenous trauma are also a red flag, Teillet’s report says.
“His mother was murdered. That’s real trauma, but it has nothing to do with Indigenous identity,” Teillet said in an interview. “It’s a tragic story about his mother being murdered.”
Teillet does not understand why Klein links his Métis heritage claim to the death of his mother.
“Is he saying, ‘Oh, she was murdered, you know, she’s part of that murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls story,’ and so then there’s this idea that if you can show somehow trauma in life, that’s a legitimate reason to identify as Indigenous?”
Teillet points to a trend among the cases she examined in her report for the University of Saskatchewan.
“Indigenous identity fraudsters often play heavily on stereotypes of alienation from their culture and heritage, intergenerational trauma, family violence, addictions, racism and poverty. The fraudsters doing this are ‘marketing trauma’ using ‘stolen trauma and stolen valour,'” Teillet wrote in her report, citing research by Sherry Farrell Racette.
Rout says he’s upset about how Klein portrays their mother’s death in public.
Klein’s Instagram account — which he started shortly before his run for city council in 2018 — contains at least 15 posts related to his mother’s killing, in addition to campaign ads for city councillor and his 2022 mayoral and MLA runs.
He also talks about his mother’s murder on his personal site, which he also uses for campaign purposes.
Rout said he dislikes the way Klein uses his mother’s memory in his public posts.
“To me, a son’s job is to defend their mom, defend their mom’s story, not exploit it for any gain. So I will stand and defend it all day long,” Rout, a paramedic with Alberta Health Services, said in an interview with CBC News.
Indigenous identity requires connection
Klein completed the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada course in 2020 and posted the certificate on his website. The free online instruction program covers the histories and current perspectives of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Early in the course, Kim TallBear, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, says having an Indigenous relative does not make you Indigenous.
“You don’t just have the right as an individual to go claim to be a member of a community that does not know you, within which you have not been socialized and that does not claim you,” Tallbear said in a module of the course.
Klein is adamant that his Métis heritage is a private and personal journey, but Teillet says that’s not how it works.
“This idea that it’s a personal journey and no one can question it … it’s BS, right? We shouldn’t give it credit. And so if he’s on a personal journey for six to eight years, trying to find an Indigenous identity somewhere, then personally, I think he should shut up about it until he figures it out,” Teillet said.