Kevin Klein, the Manitoba Progressive Conservative candidate running for re-election in Kirkfield Park, told a voter she has no right to question his Indigenous heritage during a telephone town hall held at the beginning of August.
The caller voiced frustration over the PC government’s refusal to search the landfill where police believe the remains of two First Nations women — Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran — are located, and asked Klein why he feels he can “appropriate Indigenous identity but not actually do anything for Indigenous people in Manitoba.”
“I understand your frustration and you’re upset, and you have a right to that,” Klein said in a recording of the public event that was provided to CBC News by the Manitoba NDP.
“But you don’t have a right to question my Indigenous heritage. You have no right to do that.”
CBC heard that portion of the call and spoke to several people who were on the line. They verified it took place and what was said.
LISTEN | Audio from Kevin Klein town hall:
CBC News Manitoba2:38Kevin Klein telephone town hall
Klein stressed he hasn’t used his ancestry for personal gain, telling the caller it is simply a connection to his family.
“So for you to say that I am trying to diminish the identity of Métis, I’m sorry, you are absolutely wrong, and just because you say it doesn’t mean it’s true,” said Klein, a former Winnipeg city councillor who became the Kirkfield Park MLA in a December 2022 byelection and was appointed environment minister the following month.
Klein is representing the Progressive Conservatives, who are seeking their third consecutive term, in the Winnipeg riding of Kirkfield Park in the upcoming Oct. 3 election.
The town hall took place on Aug. 1 — prior to the official start of the campaign period and one day after CBC published an investigation in which both Klein’s younger brother and the Manitoba Métis Federation disputed his claim to be Métis.
CBC’s investigation into Klein’s cultural identity found no evidence to support his claims to Métis ancestry on his mother’s side, including in genealogical evidence, some going back five generations.
Klein told the August town hall that CBC’s reporting contained incorrect family tree information and that he had “DNA and the actual familial research.”
CBC asked David Elmaleh, a lawyer representing Klein, what the DNA evidence would prove, but he refused to answer that question or provide documentation.
WATCH | Kevin Klein defends his claim that he’s Métis on July 31:
At the core of Indigenous identity is a connection to the community you’re claiming to be part of, and the community accepting you, according to another lawyer.
In an interview with CBC, Métis lawyer Jean Teillet — who is Louis Riel’s great-grandniece — said a person can self-identify, as Klein has, “but without the recognition or acceptance or whatever you want to call it from the community that you’re part of them, you have nothing. You have only your ego and your own little claim.”
Painted Feather Woodland Métis
Klein has said he first realized he was Métis about a decade ago through a late uncle who encouraged him to get a card from the Painted Feather Woodland Métis.
The Painted Feather Woodland Métis 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., about 200 kilometres northeast of Toronto.
Painted Feather would not answer questions and directed CBC to their website.
According to its website, 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.”
The company’s website lists fees ranging from $57 to $320, plus provincial sales tax, for membership for adults.
On the day the CBC investigation was published, Klein said the Painted Feather Woodland Métis claimed they looked into his genealogy, “and I had no reason to doubt that.”
When asked if he had a connection to a specific Métis community, Klein said he hasn’t done much research into his Métis heritage.
“I haven’t done the work to do that yet.”
Klein has spoken about his Métis heritage throughout his time in public life, which includes his tenure as a city councillor and recent Winnipeg mayoral bid.
He’s described his heritage as a connection to his late mother, who he has publicly identified as Indigenous.
While it’s unclear what the DNA records Klein referred to in the telephone town hall are purported to prove, Kim TallBear, a professor from the University of Alberta who has written a book exploring the use of DNA testing to determine Indigenous ancestry, said DNA tests can’t prove a person is Métis.
There would have to be some other evidence, but even wouldn’t automatically mean a person can or should be considered Métis, said TallBear, a citizen of Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota.
CBC served notice of libel
Klein’s lawyer served CBC News a notice of libel in late August which alleges CBC’s reporting was “calculated to ‘cancel’ Mr. Klein, diminish his reputation amongst his community, members of government and the public, and was done to disparage, injure and undermine Mr. Klein.”
The notice demands the retraction of those stories and an unequivocal apology. It states legal action will be taken if the requests are not followed.
In a subsequent email, Klein’s lawyer explained why he would not answer questions about the town hall.
“Due to the bad faith and irresponsible reporting of the CBC regarding Mr. Klein, and the CBC’s refusal to correct the original July 31st article despite several requests, Mr. Klein will not be providing any comment to your media organization,” lawyer David Elmaleh said in an email.