Edmonton

Métis elder won't cut his hair until Alberta respects Métis rights

For the last four years, Métis elder Bill Loutitt has refused to cut his hair. He promises that his long salt-and-pepper braid won't see a barber's shears until the province of Alberta properly recognizes the traditional rights of Alberta Métis people.

Bill Loutitt standing firm before October meeting between province and Métis Nation of Alberta

Fort McMurray Métis elder Bill Loutitt, president of the McMurray Métis, vows not to cut his hair until the government of Alberta recognizes the rights of his people. (David Thurton/ CBC)

For the last four years, Métis elder Bill Loutitt has refused to cut his hair.

He promises that his long salt-and-pepper braid won't see a barber's shears until the province of Alberta properly recognizes the traditional rights of Alberta Métis people.

Loutitt, vice-president and CEO of McMurray Métis, which represents Métis people in Fort McMurray and northeastern Alberta, might soon have to shorten his locks if scheduled talks between the Métis Nation of Alberta and the province of Alberta in October bear fruit.

"[My braid is] an indication to everyone else out there how long this thing has taken," said Loutitt, a vocal advocate for Métis rights in northeastern Alberta. "Something that should have been done."

The Métis Nation of Alberta will meet with provincial government officials Oct. 5 in Edmonton to begin talks about developing a consultation policy.

Currently, the Métis Nation of Alberta says the province doesn't fully recognize its duty to consult the Métis Nation or recognize its members' rights to hunt, pick berries, chop wood and fish on their traditional lands.

The Métis Nation says its regions and local members have not typically been consulted in the past when oilsands mines and other developments have received the go-ahead.

Audrey Poitras, Métis Nation of Alberta president, says it's finally time for the province to recognize her people's rights. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Métis Nation of Alberta president Audrey Poitras is optimistic the meeting will mark the start of a historic shift. She said the province recently obtained a cabinet mandate to develop a harvesting and consultation policy with the Nation.

"We've always said we need to get a consultation policy so that Bill can cut his hair," Poitras joked. "But it's more than that. It is about doing the right thing. It is about Indigenous rights."

Consulting with Métis a must, oilsands company

Poitras made her comments on Tuesday in Fort McMurray when Teck Resources signed an agreement with the McMurray Métis. The agreement lays out how the organization will benefit from the construction of a proposed $20.6-billion oilsands mine.

The company has signed three similar agreements with other Métis and First Nations groups in the area.

Robin Johnstone, Teck Resources general manager for community and Indigenous affairs, spoke at the event and said his company will sit at the negotiating table with the McMurray Métis to ensure the government recognizes their rights.
Robin Johnstone, Teck Resource’s general manager for community and Indigenous affairs, speaks at Tuesday's McMurray Métis open house. (David Thurton/ CBC)

"We've been purposefully engaging and consulting with Métis for over 10 years for one purpose — and that is we thought it was the right thing to do," Johnstone said. "Government wasn't telling us [to do it]. We thought they actually should."

Although Loutitt sees the October talks as a big next step, he's not convinced there will be a deal. And so he hasn't scheduled an appointment with a barber.

"Not yet. Not until the policy is done," Loutitt said. 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.

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