The Canadian government and the Manitoba Métis Federation signed a Memorandum of Understanding Friday that arose out of a historic Supreme Court land ruling in 2013.
"The signing of this historic document sets the stage for the parties to advance their exploratory talks on reconciliation in response to the 2013 Manitoba Métis Federation et al v. Canada decision of the Supreme Court of Canada," the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) said in a news release.
MMF president David Chartrand said it was historic and would create "the frame of the house."
"It's a very, very important document, a very important time in history and something that we waited 146 years — 32 years in the courtroom — for," he said.
In 2013, the Supreme Court found the federal government failed to follow through on a promise it made to the Métis people more than 145 years ago.
The Manitoba Act of 1870 promised to set aside 5,565 square kilometres of land for 7,000 children of the Red River Métis. That land includes what is now the city of Winnipeg.
The land deal was made in order to settle the Red River resistance, which was fought by Métis struggling to hold onto their land amid growing white settlements. Part of the Act was to make sure that Métis communities had an advantage in the newly formed province, but it took 15 years for the land to be distributed through a random lottery, destroying the dream of a Métis homeland.
A legal challenge by the MMF sought recognition for the treatment of its people after the 1870 government land deal. The case went to the Supreme Court, which declared that "the federal Crown failed to implement the land grant provision set out in s.31 of the Manitoba Act, 1870, in accordance with the honour of the Crown."
The decision did not order any remedies, but steps have been made, INAC said. In 2015, the government appointed a ministerial special representative on Métis engagement to "explore ways to advance dialogue on reconciliation."
INAC said Friday's agreement "sets the stage for time-limited exploratory talks to see if the parties can find the common ground to move into formal negotiations," but details of a timeline were not provided by the government or the MMF.
"The court decided there needed to be a relationship, and so today we have agreed that we will sit down and develop a framework for what that actually will mean in breathing life into the rights of the Métis people that are in section 35 of the constitution," Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said.
INAC said the goal is to develop a framework over the coming months.
Chartrand said he expects the framework to be together by the fall. It will need to be ratified by the prime minister before the parties can negotiate a settlement, which could be a monetary payment for a trust or possibly lands.
"It's going to change the very lives of our nation forever, from now on, once this thing comes into its full settlement," Chartrand said.