Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
“Just blown away,” is the phrase Garrett Tomlinson, Métis Nation of Alberta senior director of self-government, uses to describe the results of the month-long vote to ratify the Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution.
Last night, Chief Electoral Officer Del Graff announced that 15,729 MNA citizens cast ballots with 15,241 voting in favour of the constitution.
Approximately 50,000 of the MNA citizenship of 56,000-plus were eligible to vote, which makes the turnout about 31 per cent.
“Thirty per cent is an amazing figure, especially when we consider the overwhelming majority of them, almost 97 per cent, voting yes. That’s a huge and clear mandate for the MNA to move forward,” said Tomlinson.
He said the November-long vote marks the largest turnout in an Indigenous ratification vote related to self-government in Canadian history.
That takes into consideration the 26 modern treaties that were concluded under the federal government’s comprehensive lands claims policy from 1975 to 2015. Only three of the First Nations that held ratification votes had memberships larger than the 15,729 who marked ballots for the MNA constitution.
“Most leaders across the country in their democratic processes would kill to have 30 per cent of their electorate come out and support,” said Tomlinson.
Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis Nation, which broke away from the MNA in 2020, “applauds” the MNA for ratifying its constitution. Now, he says, it’s time for the federal government to step up.
“From my perspective, the minister (of Crown-Indigenous Services) needs to validate the fact that there are other Métis interests at hand, not just the MNA. Having all Métis rights and all Métis affiliation and Métis identity go through one organization is not just dangerous, I think it’s irresponsible,” said Quintal. “There are other Métis organizations out there, who are fighting to represent themselves at the local level and there should be room at the federal table for those organizations as well.”
At issue is what Quintal, and a number of Métis Nation organizations that have broken away from the MNA, as well as the Métis Settlements General Council (MSGC), is calling an overreach by the MNA.
The MNA constitution states, “Only the Otipemisiwak Métis Government has the mandate and authority to represent the Métis Nation within Alberta….and is authorized to advance and address all rights, interests and claims of the Métis Nation within Alberta.”
Quintal points out that for the past year, the Fort McKay Métis Nation has been negotiating a self-government agreement with the federal government.
And the MSGC signed a framework agreement toward self-government with the federal government in 2018.
Now, the MSGC is taking legal action against the federal government claiming the Crown-Indigenous Relations minister provided funding that allowed the MNA to go ahead with a ratification vote on a constitution that “detrimentally impacts the constitutional rights, statutory rights and land holdings of the MSGC, Métis Settlements and the Métis Settlement members.”
Quintal says Fort McKay Métis Nation could end up in the same position as the MSGC if the federal government doesn’t abide by the self-government agreement that is presently in negotiation.
“We are exploring a potential of filing for intervenor status on (MSGC) legal action. Not to say we will, but we are exploring it. We need to be prepared to take a look at all options,” said Quintal.
If the federal government doesn’t make it clear that Métis in Alberta are represented by more than a single voice, Quintal says, it will be the court that will be called upon to make that determination.
Tomlinson isn’t concerned by any “issues” the federal government and other Métis groups still have to work out, nor is he concerned about potential legal challenges.
“In all of the self-government agreements negotiated in Canada there are consistently legal challenges after the fact by different organizations and different groups who have different interests. I don’t think it impacts the path the MNA is working toward in their self-government journey,” he said.
As set out by the constitution, it will come into effect at the next election of the MNA executive, to be held in September 2023. Until then the interim transition committee, the laws group and the self-government implementation team will start developing the institutions and laws needed to serve the Métis.
“It will definitely be an inclusive process. The transition committee are developing their terms of reference now. It will absolutely include the regional and local leadership that is established, as well as engagement with citizens to develop those laws and engagement processes for the laws to make sure the people impacted have a say in how those institutions are developed so we can best meet their needs,” said Tomlinson.
According to the constitution, ratification voters have within 10 business days from Nov. 30 to file an objection to appeal the outcome. The chief electoral officer has 15 days from Nov. 30 to determine if the objection is valid.
“In any democratic process that appeal period exists. It exists for people who have legitimate concerns. I don’t know whether I can predict there will or won’t be appeals, but I can say 97 per cent seems like a fairly decisive decision. I’m not sure what basis an appeal can be made on,” said Tomlinson.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.