Report sets Métis/government relations on a good path

Monday, July 25th, 2016 11:22pm


"I think we spend a lot of time in Canada talking about reconciliation and framing it in a non-Indigenous and First Nation perspective. We’re going to do a disservice if we focus on such a black and white there-are-only-two people-in-this-country type of approach.” ~ Margaret Froh, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario

By Shari Narine
Windspeaker Contributor
An independent report on reconciliation with the Métis people, released yesterday by the federal government, is being called a “road map” for moving forward.

“What (Ministerial Special Representative) Tom Isaac has done is basically laid out a road map for us and it’s based on these principles of recognition, relationships and reconciliation,” said Margaret Froh, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario. “We think it’s the appropriate approach to take.”

In preparing his report, "A Matter of National and Constitutional Import," Isaac met with Métis governments, organizations and representatives throughout the country. The report provides 16 recommendations outlining the work that needs to be undertaken in order for Métis rights to be met under section 35 of the Constitution Act, and an additional seventeeth recommendation on how the government needed to move forward “to advance dialogue on reconciliation with Métis in Manitoba in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2013 Manitoba Metis Federation decision.”

Isaac said the process wouldn’t be easy, but it was necessary. He said that is should be viewed as an opportunity and not a challenge.

Isaac embraced the Powley definition of Métis for the purposes of section. 35, saying courts had confirmed distinct Métis communities from Ontario and west.
Isaac stressed that there was “no hierarchy of Aboriginal rights within section 35.”

That’s an important declaration, said Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation Alberta.

“As long as we all can think that way, I think we will all get along very well,” she said.

Poitras pointed out that the MNA has good working relationships with many of the First Nations in Alberta.

Isaac called for the government to “facilitate, in appropriate circumstances, mutual dialogue among all three Aboriginal peoples to further the objectives of reconciliation.”

Froh, who also noted good working relationships between the MNO and some Ontario First Nations, said she was committed to reconciliation between the two Indigenous groups.

“I can tell you that First Nations and Métis reconciliation is very, very important. I think we spend a lot of time in Canada talking about reconciliation and framing it in a non-Indigenous and First Nation perspective. We’re going to do a disservice if we focus on such a black and white there-are-only-two people-in-this-country type of approach,” she said.

Isaac said the federal government could either amend its policies, programs and services, which are already established for First Nations and Inuit to include Métis, or develop new policies for Métis to address areas such as lands claims, specific claims, and consultation.

Among his other recommendations, Isaac called for the government to work with Métis on their registry; to provide long term, sustainable funding; to make structural changes within Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; and to set up forums for discussion with both levels of government with the Métis.
Isaac’s report comes only months after the Supreme Court delivered its decision in the Daniels case.

The timing is perfect, said Froh.

“It certainly builds on Daniels in that Daniels confirms jurisdiction, but the Isaac report is all about Métis rights under section 35,” she said.

In the Daniels decision, which was delivered in April, the Supreme Court said that Métis were included in section 91 (24) of the Constitution Act and as such were federal responsibility.

While Isaac offered little in the way of timelines, both Froh and Poitras said they would like to see the federal government move quickly.

“What needs to happen immediately… is getting to the table and discussing because if you don’t talk to each other nothing’s going to happen,” said Poitras.
Froh does not anticipate the federal government dragging its feet, pointing out that Trudeau has already delivered on numerous campaign promises and began work to establish a nation-to-nation relationship prior to the Daniels decision.

“I am expecting and am looking forward to a continuing immediate action on the part of the federal government. Some of these things are going to take some time,” said Froh. “In terms of the discussion, the Métis Nation is ready to sit down and do this work with Canada and to be true partners in that work. So we’re ready and willing to come to the table.”

In a news release, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government welcomed Isaac’s report.

“Reconciliation with the Métis is a priority for the Government of Canada. Our government is fully committed to working together with the Métis and to moving forward together based on a recognition of rights, cooperation and partnership,” she said.

“I’ve been saying for some time now that the stars are aligning for the Métis Nation and I think the promise of this particular federal government shows … (that) they are committed to moving forward, to truly moving forward on the Nation-to-Nation basis with the Métis Nation,” said Froh.