By Shari Narine
Audrey Poitras and Ron Quintal agree that the Metis Nation of Alberta needs to become a government, but how to get there and who the MNA will represent are points of contention.
Poitras has served as president of the MNA for the past 22 years.
Quintal, who is president of the Fort McKay Metis Local 63 (an affiliate of MNA), is hoping to unseat her. Quintal, who is also president of the Fort McKay Metis Community Association (not affiliated with the MNA) is Poitras’ sole challenger in the Sept. 18 election.
Quintal says he “disagrees with (Poitras)’ politics,” while Poitras says Quintal is “totally wrong” in the views he holds.
The conflict between the pair became evident this past March when the work of the Fort McKay Metis Community Association culminated in the purchase of almost 500 acres of land previously leased from the province. The negotiations were undertaken by the community association; not through the MNA or its affiliates. When the official announcement came n Edmonton, there were no MNA representatives present.
Quintal says that the MNA would not support the land purchase unless it went through the Fort McKay Metis local. But he says industry was leery about dealing with an affiliate, so the Fort McKay Metis Community Association was formed in 2012 to sign impact benefit agreements.
Quintal says he and Poitras vocally disagreed on this point during board meetings and Poitras accused him of not supporting the Metis people. Quintal points out that Metis live on the purchased land, govern it and are developing it.
“The Metis Nation of Alberta’s job is to support the Metis people—Metis communities—and you don’t get nationhood by saying ‘If you’re not in, we won’t support you, we can’t support you, we will not support you.’ That’s where that mentality comes in. You’re boxed out. If you don’t participate the way they want you to, then you’re out,” he said.
“When we look and make decisions it needs to be what is good for the Metis Nation of Alberta and that includes all of us, not just one little corner of our province, one local or one region,” counters Poitras. “It’s about doing what’s right for the Metis Nation of Alberta and its citizens throughout this whole province.”
Poitras points to agreements that have been signed by the federal and provincial governments with the MNA, as well as pending agreements with the province, including Metis harvesting and consultation. It’s been an eventful 18 months, she says, and she wants to continue with the accomplishments.
One of those accomplishments should have been a constitution for the MNA, says Quintal.
“Why are we talking constitution in an election year? Well, it’s certainly going to turn ears. But under the current leadership we’ve had 22 years to be able to try this. My biggest question is, ‘Why haven’t we looked at this before?’” he said.
Poitras admits working toward a constitution has been a long process, one which began before she became president and has continued with legal battles in court.
“It hasn’t been an easy process. And it has taken a long time and our members have been out there saying to us we need to get out of the Societies Act and we need to push for that constitution, for that recognition and that’s why I’m very excited about what’s happening right now because I believe we’re on the verge of that,” she said.
Quintal accuses Poitras of usurping the power of Metis citizens and points to the new oath that new Metis citizens must take. Passed in 2016, the resolution deals with an oath which gives the MNA permission to act on the behalf of its members and if members change their mind, they can withdraw their membership.
Quintal says that under his leadership, the MNA will move out of the restrictive box it has put itself into and be inclusive of all Metis.
“The reason I’m doing this is because I’ve been able to do things successfully. I’ve been able to lead my community down a path to success. This is the path I want to lead the nation toward. We’ve boxed ourselves in here. We have an opportunity to rebuild something special here. The Metis Nation itself has a real opportunity. It really can grow,” he said.
Poitras takes exception to Quintal’s accusation of usurping power.
“Everything we do here is about empowering our citizens. It’s working and supporting our citizens,” she said.
And it’s work she wants to continue to do.
“There are things we clearly have started and I want to make sure they get finished and that’s why I’m seeking re-election.” she said.