Edmonton

Métis Nation of Alberta members vote 97% in favour of adopting constitution

Results announced Thursday show 97 per cent of 15,729 members who took part voted "Yes" to adopting the Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution, a document designed to pave the way toward self-governance.

'It's been a long time coming and the best days are ahead of us,' one member says

A person walks beside a voting sign.
The Métis Nation of Alberta has ratified its constitution with 97 per cent of the vote in favour. (Katarina Szulc/CBC)

The Métis Nation of Alberta has ratified its constitution after what it calls the largest vote in Canadian history undertaken by an Indigenous nation.

Results, announced Thursday, show 97 per cent of 15,729 members who took part voted "Yes" to adopting the Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution, a document designed to pave the way toward self-governance.

The MNA has about 56,000 members. Those age 16 and older were eligible to vote in the month-long ratification vote, which wrapped up Wednesday.

The constitution says the MNA will seek to repatriate land and "negotiate a modern-day treaty with the Crown." It also outlines how education, culture, language, and health would be governed.

The final document was approved by the MNA at its 94th Annual General Assembly in August.

The vote followed an agreement signed between Ottawa and the Métis Nation of Alberta in 2019, in which the federal government recognized the nation's right to self-governance. 

Results of the voting were announced during a gala at the Edmonton Expo Centre.

'Missing piece' missing no longer, president says

Audrey Poitras, president of the MNA, congratulated members on the result.

"A long history of Métis individuals fighting for our communities has brought us to the ratification of our constitution, from over 200 years to this very moment," Poitras said.

"It has been the missing piece in our self-government journey, but it is missing no longer." She said the constitution will "open doors with both Canada and Alberta" and help move Métis people in Alberta toward reconciliation.

"We finally have the opportunity to get the respect we deserve and better respond to the evolving needs and ambitions of Métis people. And by working together, we will ensure that no Métis in Alberta is ever left behind."

Christine Sinclair, who travelled from Calgary with her daughter for the announcement, said she didn't believe she would see Métis self-governance in Alberta in her lifetime.

"I didn't think I'd ever see a day like this, it's been a long time coming and the best days are ahead of us," Sinclair said.

A woman stands at a podium.
Métis Nation of Alberta president Audrey Poitras speaks at the MNA's constitution ratification gala on Dec. 1, 2022. (Katarina Szulc/CBC)

Not all attendees cheered at the results. Sharon Pasula, from Lac Ste. Anne, said she voted "no" to the constitution and called the document embarrassing.

"It doesn't look like a constitution, it doesn't represent me and I don't agree with that. I'm disappointed," Pasula said.

In her remarks, Poitras said: "From Lac La Biche to Lethbridge, from Grande Prairie to Grande Cache, all across this province, citizens of the Métis Nation of Alberta have had their voices heard."

Adam Browning, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta local for Lethbridge, said he thought that by naming certain communities, Poitras was taking a shot at the legal action some MNA locals have threatened over the constitution.

"I know that all these locals, their elected officials, have directly spoken out against this and they've made the federal government aware about their opposition," Browning said.

In early November, leaders from 14 Métis communities, nations and settlements met to discuss legal action they would take if the constitution was ratified.

Grande Cache local files lawsuit

On Monday, the Métis Nation of Alberta Association Local Council 1994 of Grande Cache filed a statement of claim against the MNA, Poitras and 11 other association officials.

The lawsuit makes several allegations, including that the MNA receives federal funding on behalf of the Grande Cache local but doesn't distribute any of it to the local as required.

The local doesn't support the Métis constitution "and will not recognize it if implemented by the federal government," the lawsuit says. It alleges that if implemented, the constitution could "extinguish any communities' generic rights to self-govern."

The statement of claim says the local was "effectively shut out" of consultations on the constitution.

The Grande Cache local is seeking multiple remedies, including a judgment for $500,000 in damages from the MNA.

The defendants have 20 days to respond after being served with the statement of claim. The MNA says it has not yet been served.

Garrett Tomlinson, senior director of self-government implementation for the MNA, told CBC following the ratification results that he couldn't speak about the status of the MNA's statement of defence or plan of action.

In a news release Thursday, the MNA said that beginning in January it will work with regions and local councils to prepare for self-government under the new constitution. The constitution is to come in effect next September when the MNA holds its first general election.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katarina Szulc is a reporter for CBC News in Edmonton. She previously worked at CityNews 1130 in Vancouver. You can email story ideas to Katarina.Szulc@cbc.ca.

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