'Historic milestone': Fort McKay Métis declare self-governance

The Fort McKay Métis have declared self-governance after members voted Thursday to adopt a constitution and elections act.

Members voted Thursday to adopt constitution, elections act, membership act and governance act

The Fort McKay Métis held a celebration in honour of adopting the constitution. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

The Fort McKay Métis near Fort McMurray has declared self-governance after members voted to adopt a constitution, elections act, membership act and governance act.

The move is a "dramatic and historic milestone that will reverberate across Canada and set a precedent that will change the Indigenous landscape forever," the community said in a news release Friday.

"We realize we are the first and are leading Métis communities into uncharted territory," Fort McKay Métis president Ron Quintal said in a statement. "For that reason we have invested a great deal of work to make sure this was done right and that other communities have a model to follow."

The Fort McKay Métis hosted a "celebration of self-determination" on Friday. 

The self-governance constitution will "make it very clear to government and industry who represents the... Métis people of Fort McKay," said Quintal. 

The Fort McKay Métis ​​​​​has about 120 members, more than 30 of which voted unanimously to adopt the new constitution. 

Lana Huppie voted in favour of adopting the constitution. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

The governance act will allow the community to have its own governing bodies — a Fort McKay Métis Nation Council and Fort McKay Métis Nation Assembly — supported by an elders council, women's council and youth council.

Quintal said it may be difficult to find enough members to sit on all of the governing councils, so they will be looking to Fort McKay residents and residents in neighbouring communities to help fill the spots.

The community would negotiate directly with the provincial and federal governments instead of the current system, which has the Métis Nation of Alberta act as the broker for negotiations.

'It makes me proud'

Fort McKay resident Lana Huppie voted in favour of the change and attended the celebration on Friday. 

"It makes me proud that the community is doing it and now that we're self-governed... there's nobody else controlling us," said Huppie. 

Thursday's vote follows the community's decision to buy all of the land it is on more than a year ago.

In a $1.6-million deal, the community bought the 372 acres of land from the province of Alberta; at the time the community had 97 members. The community previously purchased 120 acres in 2014.

Declaring self-governance is believed to be "a first for any local Métis community in Canada," Dwayne Roth, CEO and corporate counsel for the Fort McKay Métis, said in Friday's news release.

"Our actions follow self-government declarations by Métis organizations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. Aboriginal people have an inherent right of self-determination recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

Roth said the Fort McKay Métis will have to work with the federal government to negotiate a self-governance agreement.

Fort McKay is about 500 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

Métis presidents from neighbouring communities like Anzac and Conklin attended the celebration, but notably absent were representatives from the Fort McMurray Métis  and Fort Chipewyan Métis. 

"From our perspective we would like nothing more than to have relationships with our sister nation and I look forward to that opportunity should it present itself," said Quintal.