By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Metis Settlements General Council (MSGC) is accusing the federal government of playing favourites when it comes to prioritizing and funding the political voice of Metis in Alberta.
The MSGC filed in federal court on Nov. 21 a notice of application for judicial review against both the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA).
The MSGC is calling the federal government “complicit” in working with the MNA to “dispossess the Metis Settlements of their self-government, their constitutional rights and their lands.”
The MSGC says the MNA’s Otipemisiwak Metis Government Constitution for self-government claims that the Metis Nation within Alberta (changed from Metis Nation of Alberta) would speak for all Metis in the province.
The MSGC is also claiming that the federal government provided funding that allowed the MNA to go ahead with a ratification vote on a constitution that “detrimentally impacts the constitutional rights, statutory rights and land holdings of the MSGC, Metis Settlements and the Metis Settlement members.”
To that end, the MSGC is asking the federal court for an order to set aside the decision by the minister to allow the MNA to hold a ratification vote.
Metis registered as citizens with the MNA and who were 16 years and older voted from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30 in person, online and through mail-in ballot on the constitution, which the document says, gives the Otipemisiwak Metis Government the authority to “advance and address all rights, interests and claims of the Metis Nation within Alberta.”
The MSGC is also claiming that the minister allowed that ratification vote to go ahead despite Canada’s formal recognition that MSGC is the “legitimate government and voice of the Metis Settlements and their members” and despite concerns raised by the MSGC in March that the government was negotiating with MNA “without engaging in a fair and transparent manner with MSGC.”
In 2017 and 2018 the federal government and the MSGC took steps to sign framework agreements that committed Canada to working on a government-to-government relationship with the MSGC.
However, says the MSGC, Canada failed to advance that work “despite repeated demands by MSGC.”
The council says it reiterated its concerns with the minister on Sept. 26 but received no response.
The MSGC is asking the court to force the minister to turn over the MNA’s transition plan and all materials received by the minister that weighed in his decision to approve and fund the work towards the MNA’s constitution.
The MSGC is also asking for disclosure of materials received by the minister that aided him in assessing whether the duty to consult with the MSGC was triggered and “the adequacy of any Crown consultation” with the MSGC.
In an earlier interview with Windspeaker.com, prior to this legal action being undertaken by the MSGC, Garrett Tomlinson, MNA senior director of self-government implementation, said that while the MSGC represents Metis settlements, there were still individual citizens within those settlements that held citizenship in the MNA.
“They authorize the MNA to become their sole representative with respect to their Aboriginal rights and interests, so we have an obligation to represent those citizens,” said Tomlinson.
The constitution also holds an invitation to existing Metis settlements.
“In the event in the future the settlement, their individual government structures, wish to follow that path and find their way into the constitution within the MNA, we want to make sure the door is open for them but it doesn’t compel them,” said Tomlinson.
As for the section of the constitution that directly addresses Metis lands, Tomlinson said it’s important to recognize that there may some day be more than the eight settlements of today.
“There are some outstanding land scrip claims that need to be dealt with by both the federal and provincial governments. So what the constitution does, it leaves the door open for us to go ahead and find ways to negotiate the reparations that may be required to secure the lands and ensure that they are secured for the use of the Metis within Alberta as represented by MNA,” said Tomlinson.
“Right now that’s a forward looking statement to deal with lands that are outside of those (existing) settlements.”
While the MSGC may be the first entity to file in the court, legal action against the MNA has also been threatened by Metis Nations that broke off from the MNA, as well as locals that remain part of the MNA.
In an earlier interview with Windspeaker.com, prior Nicolas Moquin, spokesperson from Crown-Indigenous Relations, wrote, the government “is committed to working with Metis partners to advance self-determination, promote reconciliation and build renewed government to government relationships. This includes our ongoing collaborative work toward self-government.”
Results of the MNA constitution ratification vote are expected to be released within days. The ratification process does not set a threshold for participation requirement. There are 50,000 of 56,000 MNA citizens eligible to vote. Ratification for the constitution involves a straight 50 per cent plus one approval of votes cast.
The ratification process allows Chief Electoral Officer Del Graff to determine if in his opinion the vote hasn’t met a “sufficient threshold for participation.”
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Windspeaker.com. The LJI program is federally funded.