Alberta Métis hope landmark agreement leads to breakthrough
‘I think it’s a huge step for all Métis,’ says Audrey Poitras
Exactly 131 years after Louis Riel was hanged for treason, Métis leaders in Alberta believe they're closer than ever to achieving their hero's dreams.
"We have reached some great milestones," Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, said Wednesday.
Several key court victories, followed by new promises of reconciliation from both the federal and provincial governments, have changed the landscape for the Métis.
Tuesday's historic agreement signed by Ottawa and the Manitoba Métis to negotiate a land claim dispute that dates back to 1870 is another important breakthrough, Poitras said.
The Métis Nation of Alberta is already beginning work on what she hopes will be another defining moment.
"We have some issues we want to deal with on land," Poitras said. "Definitely we want to look at health. We want to look at education. We want to look at all of those things that we so rightfully deserve."
The Manitoba Métis clinched a deal with Ottawa following a Supreme Court decision in 2013 that ruled the federal government had failed to follow through on a promise it made to the Métis people.
Lawyer Jason Madden, who also represents the Métis Nation of Alberta, said the ruling sets a clear precedent.
"I think it breaks that glass ceiling that has been there over the years of not allowing Métis to engage in negotiations as well as advanced reconciliation as required by Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982," said Madden.
Access to federal programs a priority
Just what a deal might look like for the Métis in Alberta is hard to predict, Madden said.
But Poitras said access to federal health care and education programs would be priorities in any agreement.
"Our people have some of the worst health conditions there are, because we have no help," she said. "Whereas all other aboriginal people get support in health, we don't."
While discussions with the federal government are just starting, the Métis in Alberta are in advanced talks with Premier Rachel Notley's government.
"We work on issues together all the time," said Richard Feehan, Alberta's minister of Indigenous relations.
Feehan said the government is getting closer to announcing its own agreement with the Métis.
That deal will include a 10-year framework agreement, he said, and would be a nation-to-nation accord that recognizes the Métis as a people.
Poitras has in the past described the Métis as a forgotten people. She said she's now confident reconciliation is happening in a genuine way at both the provincial and federal levels.
She said it makes today's commemoration of Louis Riel more fitting, given his sacrifice to the Métis and to Canada.
"I think it's very good timing. Louis Riel laid the vision out for all of us, so I believe every little step we take is fulfilling a part of that vision."