By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA) is proposing to deal with internal and breakaway dissenters by delivering a blow to their autonomy through the creation of new districts on a rejigged Metis Nation map, alleges new court documents filed May 10 in Alberta Court of King’s Bench in Edmonton.
On May 27, MNA members will be asked to vote on the new map and new bylaws that are meant to firm up the Otipemisiwak Metis Government Constitution, which was ratified last November. However, when that vote on the constitution was held, neither the map nor new bylaws were available for viewing.
An ongoing legal action by the Grande Cache Metis Local #1994 calls for a stop to the MNA’s May 27 special meeting, which is set to vote on the By-law Rescission Resolution that replaces the MNA’s existing bylaws with new bylaws and the map.
The map sees the creation of new districts over the territory of existing local councils and members of the Alberta Metis Federation (AMF). The AMF was formed from Metis communities that broke away from the MNA.
Should that meeting happen and should those bylaws pass, Grande Cache contends it would result in “creating new districts and eliminating our locals.”
Initial court action begun by Grande Cache in November 2022 challenged the extension of the present MNA provincial council’s mandate. According to MNA’s bylaws, the provincial council had a term of four years.
Grande Cache argues that the present MNA provincial council, which is serving its fifth year, no longer has a mandate and therefore cannot hold a special meeting to rescind old bylaws and adopt new ones.
A special meeting last year saw a motion passed to extend the term of office for the provincial council by one year to coincide with the anticipated ratification of the Otipemisiwak constitution and a September 2023 election under that new constitution.
In its May 10 application, Grande Cache says it was not consulted as the representative of the historic community of the Mountain Metis, located in Grande Cache’s traditional territory, when the MNA provincial council approved the creation of the Jasper House District, which encompasses that historic community and traditional territory.
Adam Browning, president of the Lethbridge MNA Local #2003, expresses the same concern in an affidavit supporting Grande Cache’s legal action. Browning says the new district map also proposes to create the Foothills Metis District in the Lethbridge Local’s traditional territory.
Ron Donald, president of the Athabasca Landing Metis Community, provided an affidavit as well, denouncing the MNA’s new district map. He says the map would create “a new entity in our community’s traditional area?.” through the Athabasca Landing Metis District.
Donald points out in his affidavit that the Athabasca Landing Metis Community, along with five other Metis communities, broke away from MNA in 2020 to form the Alberta Metis Federation.
Some of those AMF communities have received credible assertion status from the Alberta government, meaning they are the sole representatives for their people when it comes to undertaking consultation with industry or government.
Alberta holds the position that a Metis community can be represented by only one organization or entity.
Donald says his community has applied for credible assertion status and is awaiting the province’s decision.
“On this basis, I do reasonably believe that the creation of a `District’ will impact our community’s ability to obtain credible assertion, despite being otherwise qualified as a historic and contemporary Metis rights-bearing community,” he said.
Grande Cache says if new bylaws are adopted at the May 27 special meeting, including creating the new districts, the end result is a “hostile takeover.”
Obtaining credible assertion status was also a concern raised by MNA President Audrey Poitras in an April 20 letter to Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson. Poitras said the credible assertion status process meant some Metis in the AMF communities would have to “either accept being represented by an entity that they do not authorize to represent them, or face not being consulted, at all, on impacts to their Metis rights.”
Poitras said the MNA had made application for credible assertion status in February 2020 and three years later had yet to hear back.
In an email interview with Windspeaker.com, Garrett Tomlinson, senior director, self-government with the MNA, said thousands of registered MNA citizens reside in areas that AMF “claims to represent” and consultation needs to happen with MNA in those areas.
“The MNA has a responsibility to represent its citizens and their communities in consultations, regardless of where they reside, because that is what citizens have mandated the MNA to do for them as their government,” said Tomlinson.
According to the Maps Brochure that outlines the new districts, “communities with strong Metis histories and active locals (are) able to transition into their own district under the new government.”
The only local in the proposed Jasper House Metis District is Grande Cache, which could transition to a district council “if they consent,” said Tomlinson.
As for the proposed Foothills Metis District, which includes the Lethbridge and Chinook locals, Tomlinson said the Lethbridge Local would meet the requirements to be designated the district council “only if they consent to transition?along with the other local in the district.”
According to the yet-unapproved new bylaws, the district council is tasked, in part, with “establish(ing) procedures to coordinate their work in conducting consultations in relation to the rights, claims, and interests collectively held by the Metis community of the territory they represent with the Crown, industry and other Indigenous groups.”
The district council is also responsible for financial management and accountability.
Grande Cache argues that if the May 27 special meeting is not postponed it will be difficult to reverse a decision that approves the new bylaws. According to the MNA policy, the special meeting requires only 100 of the MNA’s 61,000 members to attend and a 75 per cent approval of those to pass the Bylaw Rescission Resolution.
However, to reverse that decision, the current MNA bylaw requires 25 per cent of MNA members to vote in favour of the directors calling a special meeting for a new vote.
Grande Cache is seeking a stay of the May 2023 special meeting until there is a decision on the status of the present provincial council.
In a May 1 letter to Court of King’s Bench, legal counsel for the MNA argued that the Grande Cache Local is not part of the MNA, as both organizations are voluntary associations. As such, Grande Cache has no standing in internal affairs of the MNA and in decisions made by MNA members in the May 27 meeting.
However, should Grande Cache be viewed as a local belonging to MNA, MNA’s dispute mechanism requires Grande Cache’s concerns to be dealt with first through the internal dispute resolution body, which is the Metis Judiciary Council (MJC). Grande Cache has not done so, says MNA legal counsel.
Although other locals, including Lethbridge, brought their concerns to the MJC regarding the special meeting that was held to extend the term of the provincial council, MNA legal counsel says Grande Cache “cannot rely on complaints previously submitted” in order to satisfy the requirement.
In those previously submitted concerns, MJC ruled that although the 21-day notice for the special meeting to extend the provincial council’s term had not been met, it was still allowed by the bylaws.
Shari Narine/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Windspeaker.com/LJI is a federally funded program