Politics

Ottawa signs self-government agreements with Métis Nation in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan

The federal Liberal government signed self-government agreements with the Métis Nation of Ontario, Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan on Thursday — the first-ever such agreements with Métis governments.

The landmark agreements could give Métis Nations control over social services, land

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers remarks at the annual Crown-Metis Nation Summit in Ottawa on Thursday, June 13, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The federal Liberal government signed self-government agreements with the Métis Nation of Ontario, Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan on Thursday — the first-ever such agreements with Métis governments.

After decades of legal wrangling and failed negotiations, these agreements are a major breakthrough for at least some Métis communities who have long demanded that their Indigenous rights — including hunting and fishing rights, and the right to occupy their traditional territories — be respected by Ottawa.

"It's a very exciting day," Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said. "What we're signing today is a true acknowledgment of the Métis Nation and the relationship we will have going forward — government to government. We're here to sign not one, not two, but three historic self-government agreements and to recognize that you, the Métis, have control over your own governance."

The agreements give the Métis jurisdiction in core governance areas — citizenship, leadership selection and government operations. The agreements also hand these Métis nations the chance to develop their own laws and draft constitutions to govern their communities.

"Wow. I just want to say it's a great day. This is truly a historic day," said Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta. "It's not an exaggeration to say the agreements signed today are something we've been fighting for for close to a century. Finally, Canada has recognized our right to self-government."

Poitras said Canadian colonization left the Métis as "refugees in our homeland" as settlers stripped them of their traditional territories and left the original inhabitants in a "jurisdictional wasteland."

"It was a shameful chapter in the country's history," she said. "Many in the Métis Nation thought this day would never come. But today Canada has formally acknowledged what we've always known to be true: the Métis Nation in Alberta deserves self-government, and we have a right to govern ourselves."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers remarks at the annual Crown-Metis Nation Summit in Ottawa on Thursday, June 13, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The agreements also set out processes for negotiating other agreements with the federal government that would allow the Métis in these provinces to manage their own health care, education and child welfare systems. The Liberal government has sought to hand over jurisdiction for these social services from federal bureaucrats to Indigenous nations as part of a push for greater self-government.

The Métis also say self-government will help them to protect their distinct culture and language — Michif.

"Our Métis citizens and communities will rise to the exciting challenge of developing a 21st-century Métis government that is authentic, visionary, responsive and accountable that will serve our citizens and communities for generations to come," said Margaret Froh, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

"We are able to stand taller today because we stand on the shoulders of giants and on the cusp of a better future," said Glen McCallum, president of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.

Past federal governments argued the Métis scrip program of the late 19th century — under which some households were issued documents like bank notes, redeemable for land or money, in exchange for land rights — dispossessed the Métis of their rights and freed Ottawa of certain responsibilities.

The Métis have said the scrip program — designed to clear them from their traditional lands to make way for commercial development and white settlement — was too legally complex, disorganized and subject to rampant fraud. The scheme has been described as the "largest land swindle in North America" and left many Métis people landless.

In a 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the federal government failed to distribute land to Métis peoples in accordance with "the honour of the Crown." Another ruling, in 2016, found that the Métis and non-status Indians are the responsibility of the federal government, just like First Nations with status — a decision which forced Ottawa back to the negotiating table on self-government agreements.

Thursday's agreement with Métis Nation in Alberta is separate from another ongoing self-government process that is under way with the Métis​ Settlements General Council, a group that represents eight other Métis​ settlements in the province.

While the definition is subject to some debate, the federal government generally recognizes the Métis as a distinct Indigenous people who can trace their roots to one of the historic Métis communities — initially formed by people of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry — along the fur trade routes in Western Canada.

This definition generally excludes mixed race people of the modern era who do not share the traditions of places like the Red River Settlement in present-day Manitoba.


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About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.