While the Metis governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario were congratulating each other on having signed self-government framework agreements with the federal government last year, leaders from First Nations reminded them there is still much work to be done.
“Negotiation is the easy part. Implementation is where the hard work is,” said Bertha Rabesca Zoe, Tlicho citizen, legal counsel and Guardian of Laws for the Tlicho Government in the Northwest Territories.
“The ratification of these (agreements) is the great unknown and challenges the confidence of moving forward,” said Frank Dragon, senior advisor, Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nations, one of five nations under the Maa-nulth Treaty in B.C.
Both Zoe and Dragon were part of a panel offering the Indigenous perspective on negotiating and implementing self-government agreements and modern-day treaties. The panel presentation was on first day of a two-day conference on Metis self-government held March 9 and March 10 in Gatineau, Que.
The Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA), Metis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) and Metis Nation of Ontario (MN)) signed Metis Government Recognition and Self-Government agreements with the federal government in June 2019.
Those agreements, said Blake McLaughlin, senior director for the federal department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, are Canada’s new approach to working with Indigenous peoples.
“Within this new context we’re working closely with Metis partners to recognize and implement their rights and interests,” McLaughlin said.
Canada established six rights recognition tables with Metis organizations. Along with MNO, MNA and MN-S, negotiations went ahead with the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF), Metis Nation of British Columbia (MNBC) and the Metis Settlements General Council in Alberta.
“Creating these tables marked a significant shift in Canada’s relationship with the Metis who had historically been marginalized from Indigenous programs, services and policies,” said McLaughlin.
The agreements include upfront recognition that MNA, MNO, and MN-S represent the Sect 35 rights-bearing communities in their respective provinces. This recognition will support the transition of the Metis organizations from corporations to governments, form fiscal relationships, create legal status, build capacity and design dispute resolution protocols, said McLaughlin.
Additional areas of jurisdiction will be negotiated once the Metis governments are legally recognized as Indigenous governments in Canadian law.
He also said negotiations with the Metis organizations to get to the agreements took an “unheard of” five months, which was record time.
Dragon said treaty negotiations “take years. Sometimes decades.” The Maa-nulth Final Agreement took more than 15 years of negotiation.
MNO President Margaret Froh, who moderated the panel, said she hoped further negotiations wouldn’t take that long, but understood “it is going to be a great deal of work.”
Jason Madden, managing partner with Pape Salter Teillet and legal counsel for all three provincial Metis organizations, said the self-government agreements made Metis law and Canadian law equal.
“Metis self-government and the self-government agreements are about finally setting the table to have that nation-to-nation, government-to government discussion … when (Canada) says, ‘We recognize you are a government, we recognize you have the inherent right to self-government and now we’re figuring out how our laws and jurisdiction interrelate,’” said Madden.
However, he stressed, that although the self-government agreements created “a new chapter in Metis rights law,” they weren’t needed as validation for Metis citizens.
“The inherent right to self-government and the legitimacy of our government comes from our people and our communities who have built them over the last 90-plus years and continue to come out in assemblies, elections and reaffirm our commitment to self-government,” he said.
Moving in this new direction of self-government and achieving results are dependent on the relationships that are built, said Zoe.
“Unity is key to keeping us together as a people,” she said.
However, unity has been hard to find within the Metis Nation.
As MNO, MN-S and MNA gathered in Gatineau, the Metis National Council (MNC) hosted a forum on Metis identity, citizenship and homeland over the same two days in Saskatchewan.
MNC acting president David Chartrand, who is also president for the MMF, and Clement Chartier, on leave as president of the MNC, called out the MN-S, MNA, and MNO leadership for missing the forum.
“You would ask yourself to the presidents, all three, why wouldn’t you come here? This is supposed to be the most fundamental debate and question in our history. It is true. It is going to be the fundamental debate in the future of our history,” said Chartrand.
Chartier said he wasn’t aware of the Gatineau meeting until well after the dates for the Saskatchewan meeting had been set.
“I’m not going to sacrifice the Metis Nation for this political game these people are playing,” said Chartier.
The MNO was suspended from the national council in January for not complying with the definition of Metis as set out by the MNC. MNO is registering people MNC says are not from the Metis homeland, which springs from the Red River in Manitoba and radiates west, moving only slightly east into northwest Ontario.
The citizenship forum challenged the MNO’s assertion of having historical Metis communities in other parts of Ontario.
‘They are not us,’ was a constant refrain on Day One of the forum.
“For us, the historic Metis Nation… We’re a distinct people that emerged in what is now western Canada,” said Chartier. “It’s dependent on us to defend the integrity of our Nation.”
While the absent presidents were the targets of much criticism during the first day of the forum, there was plenty of angry vitriol to go around to the other top Metis leaders.
One delegate asked for an explanation of the proper protocol for MNC to come into MN-S territory to hold the forum. Chartier explained some presidents had told him he was not allowed into their provinces without their permission. As president of the Metis Nation, he said he had made it clear that upon invitation from any community or citizen he would attend the territory despite that direction.
“If I’m accused of so-called ‘political interference’, which I don’t believe it is, I will continue doing that,” he said.
“Who invited you,” to Saskatchewan, asked another delegate.
One attendee said politicians had created a divide in the Metis Nation in their grab for power and authority.
She described the Metis of Alberta as being a broken province, with personalities and egos getting in the way of representation, accusing MNA President Audrey Poitras as running a dictatorship not a Nation. She received a standing ovation after her comments from the floor.
In a presentation on Metis citizenship, one panelist accused the MNO of providing people membership who had been previously rejected twice by the MMF and another called into question the complete validity of the MNA registry, recounting her time as registrar and attempts made to seek certification of the membership list.
A delegate from B.C. was concerned his province was going to face the same fate as the MNO. The Metis homeland map has just a sliver of the territory crossing the border into the British Columbia.
He said when his family hit the Rocky Mountains, they didn’t stop. They kept going. And other Metis families did too.
After a tense interaction between the forum emcee, who wanted to shut down questions from the floor, and a attendee who insisted on being heard, the woman yelled to the stage “Is this a forum only for MNC supporters?”
When finally allowed to speak, she said her ancestors were from Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, a place that is outside of the stated Metis homeland, but home to the Powley decision on Metis hunting rights. On the question of Metis citizenship, she said “we’ve already put the cart before the horse”.
“This forum should have happened long before any motions were made by the Metis National Council and it should have been decided by the people.”
Her ancestors traveled and lived in regions both in the homeland and out of the homeland. Was he Metis in one location and not another? They lived and died at Batoche, and Fish Creek, she explained.
“It’s not as simple as drawing a map and saying this is allowed and what’s not…
“As far as the power struggle that’s going on and ensuing right now between the MNC, the MMF, the MN-S, the MNA and the MNO, guess who is paying the price. Us. Metis citizens... You come here and you want to fight about who is going to govern who.” She said it was all about making money off the backs of the Metis people.
“It’s time for you all to climb off your horses and remember where you came from and who you are supposed to be representing…. My ancestors would be disgusted with all of you.”