By Jeremy Appel
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA) is officially one step closer to being a sovereign nation within Alberta.
On Feb. 24, the MNA, which represents 57,000 Metis people in Alberta, alongside the Metis Nations of Saskatchewan and Ontario, signed an agreement with the federal government putting their status on par with that of First Nations.
“This agreement says: `You’re a government,”’ MNA counsel Jason Madden told Global News.
The agreement, which needs to be endorsed by the House of Commons before it goes into effect, gives the three nations sovereignty over core responsibilities, such as citizenship, leadership selection and other government operations. It also brings them under the umbrella of legislation that gives Indigenous Peoples control over child and family welfare.
The Metis Nation of Manitoba was the first to sign this type of agreement, which occurred in 2019. Negotiations are underway with Metis groups in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.
In an Edmonton Journal op-ed, MNA president Audrey Poitras placed the agreement in the historical context of the Metis Nation’s quest for self-determination, dating back to Louis Riel’s Red River Rebellion in what is now known as Manitoba from 1869-1870.
“We did what we needed to do to keep our communities and nationhood alive. We built our self-government structures through coming together in assemblies, democratic elections, and by sheer force of will. While we did not have much in those days, we always had each other,” Poitras wrote.
The MNA has long sought recognition “as a distinct order of government in Canada,” she added.
Last year, the MNA voted in support of the Otipemisiwak Metis Government Constitution, which established a framework for self-government, setting the stage for government recognition.
“This federal recognition legislation will ensure that even as governments may come and go, the recognition of our Metis self-government here in Alberta will not be subject to political whim. Moreover, this legislation will ultimately constitutionally protect the agreement we are currently negotiating with Canada, as a modern-day treaty,” Poitras explained.
The MNA heralded the agreement as a necessary step towards fulfilling the dreams of their ancestors. “While there is more work to be done, the signing of this agreement further acknowledges much of the truth of our past, recognizes our Metis government and sets out a path forward towards meaningful reconciliation,” the nation said in a Facebook post.
According to a news release from the MNA, this agreement has been in the works for the past six years.
The agreement recognizes that Metis peoples have the right to self-determination outlined in section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act.
It opens the door to further negotiations for a “core self-government treaty,” which will be completed within two years.
Eventually, the plan is for the MNA to negotiate supplemental agreements around more contentious issues, like land and harvesting.
The Feb. 24 agreement allows the MNA to begin negotiations seeking compensation for the 19th-century Metis scrip program, which gave Metis people a coupon to compensate them for relinquishing their lands. But many Metis peoples’ signatures were forged. Those who did sign found their lands sacrificed for pennies on the dollar, leaving them landless.
“Scrip is a sorry legacy in this country,” Poitras told Global.
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said the agreement “will revitalize and transform” the Canadian government’s relationship with the MNA.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the
ALBERTA NATIVE NEWS. The LJI program is federally funded.