Métis elder won't cut his hair until Alberta respects Métis rights
Bill Loutitt standing firm before October meeting between province and Métis Nation of Alberta
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."
- Fort McKay Métis feeling 'forgotten' by Alberta government
- Alberta Métis celebrate breakthrough accord with Ottawa
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.
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.
- Proposed oilsands mine gets support from Fort McMurray Métis, four other Indigenous groups
"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.