By Bob Weber
THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON- Three Metis groups signed a deal Friday with the federal government that recognizes them as Indigenous governments, putting them on equal constitutional standing with First Nations and opening the door to further negotiations such as compensation for land lost.
“For over 90 years, that has always been the dream — that proper recognition of a Metis government,” said Audrey Poitras, president of the Metis Nation of Alberta.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller also signed the deal with the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan and Metis Nation of Ontario.
“We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Metis Nation of Alberta to co-develop approaches that deliver on our shared priorities for reconciliation and support their vision of a better future for the citizens and communities the Metis government represents,” Miller said in a release.
The deal builds on a 2019 accord that acknowledged the Metis right to self-government but stopped short of naming groups that would form those governments. Friday’s agreement does just that, said lawyer Jason Madden, who acted for the Alberta group.
“This agreement says: ‘You’re a government,”’ he said. It gives the groups control over what it calls “core elements” of self-rule. That includes determining who is a Metis citizen, leadership selection and government operations.
It also brings the Metis groups under federal legislation that gives Indigenous governments control over family and child welfare.
“For many, many years we’ve been stopping and starting, trying to find a way to take care of our own children,” said Poitras.
“With the signing of this new agreement, it takes us one step further to really look after our own citizens.”
Madden said Friday’s signing is limited to those elements — for now.
“The agreement allows for supplemental jurisdiction agreements,” he said. “(They) would be subsequently negotiated to deal with issues around land, harvesting, other things that may be more controversial.”
Madden said the federal Liberals have committed to bringing forward legislation that will enshrine the agreements in the Constitution.
Poitras also expects the deal will give Metis a stronger hand in negotiations with the province of Alberta.
The agreement also opens the door to further negotiations, including compensation for the notorious Metis scrip program.
In the late 19th century, Metis were given scrip — a type of coupon — in exchange for land they had occupied for generations.
The scrip was meant to compensate Metis for extinguishing any claim on those lands.
But the program was rife with fraud.
Some charge that many Metis had their names forged on land transfer documents. Others were victimized by speculators who bought up Metis land for pennies on the dollar.
Metis were often left landless on land they used to roam freely.
“Scrip is a sorry legacy in this country,” said Poitras.
The deal specifically mentions the signatory groups are now authorized to negotiate claims related to the scrip system.
The three agreements signed Friday aren’t the first to recognize Metis organizations as governments. The Metis Nation of Manitoba signed a similar deal in 2019.
Negotiations are ongoing with Metis groups in the Northwest Territories and British Columbia.
But on Friday, three Metis nations were taking a victory lap.
“I think of all the past leaders and forefathers who stood strong on who we are,” said Poitras. “We are a Metis nation.
“It’s been amazing over the past five or six years, going forward, actually seeing things happen.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.