Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee on Oct. 18th, 2011
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
The Chair Chris Warkentin
I'd like to call to order the sixth meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
Colleagues, we do have some special guests with us today. We have representatives from the Métis National Council, including Clément Chartier, John Weinstein, and Marc LeClair. We do want to thank all three of you, and I know you've brought some additional support with you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here.
Certainly, we're hopeful to have testimony from different first nations and aboriginal organizations to our committee as we undertake the mandate of this committee, which is to consider those things that are important to people living in these respective communities and to do what we can as a committee to encourage the government in a particular direction. We hope, as a committee, that we have four years to undertake our work, but we don't want to waste a single day, so we do thank you for your attendance here today.
Mr. Chartier, you and I had an opportunity to be in Grande Prairie this summer, and I do want to thank you for coming here formally and for choosing to meet in Grande Prairie. Obviously, that's a special place in my heart because it's one of the larger centres in my own constituency. It was a wonderful time that you as an organization had to spend time together. I know it was a really valuable experience for those people in Grande Prairie and the surrounding area, so thank you so much.
We're going to turn it over to you now. We want you to feel free to take as much time as you want. We've invited you to hear from you, so within the time constraint that we do have today—it's one hour—we do want you to feel free to take as much time as you need in your opening statement.
Clément Chartier President, Métis National Council
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, members of the committee. Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today.
During the summer, as you've just heard, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Warkentin at the 83rd annual general assembly of the Métis Nation of Alberta in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
At that time, Chris—if I can call him that—told the delegates that the name change of the department was more than cosmetic and he expressed the government's intention of dealing with the issues and interests of the Métis and Inuit peoples, as well as first nations. That was welcome to us.
I was invited to appear before this committee and to suggest some topics that you could consider for further study over the coming months. In this spirit of openness and cooperation, I am here today to identify some of the priorities of the Métis Nation that I believe could benefit from your study.
First, I should provide a brief overview of the Métis National Council, for those who are not familiar with it. We are the national representative of the Métis people in that part of our historic homeland encompassing the prairie provinces and extending into Ontario and British Columbia. We represent approximately 400,000 people, about one-third of the total aboriginal population in Canada. However, I'll say that is an estimate. We do not have an accurate census count— although since 2004, through the assistance of the federal government, we have been making efforts to register our people.
Our five provincial affiliated organizations, or governing members as we call them, all use province-wide ballot box elections for determining their leadership, and adhere to the same Métis nation citizenship code in registering their citizens. They administer and deliver a variety of federal and provincial government programs and services, mostly through arm's-length affiliate institutions in areas that include labour market development, business financing and economic development, housing, child and family services, education, and culture.
The first of our priorities for your consideration could be the outstanding land rights of the Métis people resulting from the unfulfilled provisions of the two federal statutes that had recognized these rights, the Manitoba Act of 1870 and the Dominion Lands Act of 1879.
With the sale of Rupert's Land by the Hudson's Bay Company to Canada in 1869, the first Métis provisional government under Louis Riel took control of the Red River Settlement and negotiated the admission of Manitoba as a province into Confederation through the Manitoba Act. The Métis constituted close to 90% of the 11,000 inhabitants of the new province.
Section 31 of the Manitoba Act provided for a land grant of 1.4 million acres to the children of Métis heads of families, toward the extinguishment of aboriginal title. A ten-year delay in the distribution of these lands amidst a rapid influx of settlers from Ontario led to the exodus of the majority of the Métis.
Continuing political action of the Métis outside the new province forced the Government of Canada to recognize Métis land rights in the Dominion Lands Act in 1879. The failure of the federal government to act on this legislation led to the formation of the second Métis provisional government in the Saskatchewan Valley, again under Riel’s leadership.
The federal response was an armed invasion, leading to the North-West Resistance of 1885, the defeat of the Métis Nation at the Battle of Batoche, and the execution of our leader Louis Riel on November 16, 1885. As for the cause of the resistance—the failure of Ottawa to fulfill its promise of land—the federal government set up a series of half-breed commissions to issue scrip in lieu of land to the Métis in the rest of the Prairies, northeastern B.C., and the Mackenzie District of the Northwest Territories during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This process was so replete with fraud that the Supreme Court of Canada in 2003 depicted it as a “sorry chapter in our nation’s history”.
When the federal government transferred its responsibility for public lands and natural resources to the prairie provinces in 1930, its position was that Métis land rights had been extinguished by law and that the Métis themselves were a provincial responsibility. Provincial Métis associations formed on the Prairies during the Depression of the 1930s to continue the struggle for land and recognition. This action led the province of Alberta to set aside close to 1.3 million acres as the Métis Settlements in the early 1940s in northern Alberta—which, to this day, is the only Métis land base in Canada.
In 1982, the Métis were recognized in the Constitution as one of the three aboriginal peoples in Canada, but the federal government continued to argue that our land rights had been extinguished by law.
The Métis National Council pressed the case for a land base and self-government during the four first ministers’ conferences on the rights of aboriginal peoples during the 1980s, but these conferences resulted in an impasse.
A short time later, we came close to breaking the impasse when, in October 1991, Prime Minister Mulroney recognized the Métis Nation and sought our participation in the Canada round of constitutional consultations.
On March 10, 1992, Parliament unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the unique and historic role of Louis Riel as a founder of Manitoba and supporting the attainment of the constitutional rights of the Métis people.
The Charlottetown Accord and a companion document, the Métis Nation Accord, appeared to represent a major breakthrough. The Charlottetown Accord provided for a constitutional amendment to subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act 1867, making explicit federal jurisdiction for all aboriginal peoples. The Métis Nation Accord committed the federal government and the five westernmost provinces to negotiating a land base and self-government with the Métis National Council and its governing members.
The defeat of the Charlottetown Accord in the national referendum of October 1992 dashed our hopes for a negotiated settlement of our outstanding rights and forced us into the courts. A series of court battles culminated in the Powley decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2003, recognizing the Métis as a full-fledged, rights-bearing people with constitutionally protected harvesting rights, that is, hunting and fishing rights.
The court also established a test of objectively verifiable criteria for membership in a Métis rights-bearing group that coincided with our own criteria for Métis Nation citizenship. These criteria are self-identification, as well as ancestral connection to and acceptance by the historic Métis Nation community.
The background I have just provided on the outstanding historical and constitutional rights of the Métis people will soon command the attention of the federal government. A 30-year battle in the courts over the unfulfilled Métis land grants promised by the Manitoba Act, which has been driven by one of our governing members, the Manitoba Métis Federation, will reach the Supreme Court of Canada in December. In fact, it's scheduled to be heard on December 13. The Métis National Council is an intervenor in this case. This case will likely alter the way in which the federal government views the rights of the Métis, as the Manitoba Court of Appeal has already upheld certain principles that should have significant implications going forward.
It should also be noted that the Métis National Council and our governing member in Saskatchewan, the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, filed a statement of claim in northwestern Saskatchewan in 1994 regarding the unfulfilled land grants promised under the Dominion Lands Act. The Manitoba case will open the door to similar claims and litigation across our historic homeland in western Canada, where a scrip was issued.
A number of critical issues that could be subject to the scrutiny of your committee arise from the litigation. For one, there is the continued exclusion of the Métis from the federal land claims resolution process and from test-case funding to bring these claims forward. Another is the negative impact of the federal government’s position regarding Métis land rights on the duty to consult and accommodate with respect to Métis communities.
Industry routinely ignores or heavily discounts our interest in the planning of major projects throughout our homeland. I would hope that your committee could look into these policy issues and do so in a non-partisan way. The reality is that the federal government's position since the natural resources transfer agreements in 1930 has been the same, regardless of which political party has been in power.
A second priority issue this committee could examine is the continued denial of federal jurisdiction for dealing with the Métis—again a position that has been adopted by successive federal governments, regardless of political affiliation. This position results in the exclusion of Métis from federal aboriginal education and health care benefits. It also impacts on the federal government’s refusal, to date, to take responsibility for compensating Métis victims of the residential school system, other than the small numbers who attended Indian residential schools, as well as its refusal, to date, to deal with the World War II Métis Nation veterans.
Having attended the infamous Métis residential school in Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, in the riding of my good friend, member Clarke, I can attest to the horrors of that system and to the anguish of the hundreds of survivors, some of whom have already passed away, and of those still living—often in poor health—who have still not received any redress because the Prime Minister’s apology and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission only apply to those schools within the Indian residential school system.
My emphasis on long-outstanding legal and moral issues is not meant to convey the impression that our relationship with the current government is all confrontational. It certainly is not.
The Métis National Council and the Government of Canada concluded a Métis Nation protocol in 2008, copies of which I have here. Unfortunately, they have not been translated into French, which we will do forthwith. They are available for your consideration, if you choose to have a copy.
To date, this Métis Nation protocol has focused heavily on economic development. Our work on economic development, first with Minister Strahl and now Minister Duncan, has produced practical and meaningful results and builds on the success of our Métis nation labour market and financial institutions over the past few decades.
The federal ministers and I have also been able to bring ministers from the five westernmost provinces and their senior officials into a process to develop a strategy for promoting greater and more effective Métis participation in economic development. This collaborative approach has resulted in a series of federal and provincial investments in Métis nation financial institutions, providing loan and equity capital to Métis entrepreneurs.
We have also benefited considerably from the Prime Minister's strong interest in our issues, economic development in particular, during the three meetings he has had with me and other national aboriginal leaders during the past three years.
A third priority issue for the Métis nation that this committee can study is our current initiative with the federal government to expand the relationship between Canada and the Métis Nation. Shortly after the recent federal election, I proposed to the Prime Minister that we use the Métis Nation protocol process to conclude accords on governance and economic development to accelerate the progress that we have made to date. The proposal is built on the mutual interest of the federal government and the Métis National Council to reduce the federal bureaucracy as it relates to Métis affairs and to strengthen the governance capacity of the Métis nation to administer and deliver important services, such as economic development.
It also builds on the efforts of the Métis nation to strengthen our governance at the national level with a new Métis constitution, a process that has been supported by the federal government. We hope that the discussions we will soon be starting with Minister Duncan--in fact, our meeting is on Thursday--on our proposed accords will lead to new authorities and firmer fiscal arrangements. Furthermore, we hope that these new authorities, together with our existing democratic accountability and citizenship institutions, will shape a new Métis Nation constitution that could be recognized under federal legislation as the source of self-government for the Métis nation. This committee may be able to furnish valuable insight into how this Canada-Métis nation relationship legislation could be crafted.
On that note, Mr. Chairman, we look forward to your questions and comments. Thank you.
The Chair Chris Warkentin
Thank you, President Chartier. We appreciate your testimony today.
Committee members, we're probably only going to have time for the first round. I'm going to give some leeway to the length of your time because we want everybody's questions to be answered—but we probably won't have time to extend much past the seven minutes.
Ms. Duncan, for seven minutes.
Linda Duncan Edmonton Strathcona, AB
Thank you very much, and thank you for attending. It's very important that we get your input and recommendations on the matters our committee should be reviewing.
I understand that cases by both the Saskatchewan Métis Nation and the Manitoba Métis Nation are proceeding through the courts. It's my understanding that both the Saskatchewan and Manitoba Métis nations are seeking similar kinds of results to what Alberta achieved, so I'd appreciate some explanation along those lines.
In the accord that you negotiated back in 1992 as part of the Charlottetown Accord, I would like some clarification on whether it is your assumption that the protocol supersedes that. The accord specified in provision 11 that the Métis Settlements General Council in Alberta had the sole right to negotiate, conclude, and implement intergovernmental agreements. I'm just wondering if you are here also speaking for the Alberta general council? Should we also be getting some input from them, for example, on how things have worked out under their settlement claim?
Are the court cases proceeding on behalf of the Saskatchewan and Manitoba Métis nations along the same general line as the Alberta Métis have been able to resolve? Could you outline that? It's my understanding that they now have a relationship with the provincial government and that provincial laws apply to the settlement lands, although there are some issues that remain in dispute.
I'm just trying to get a feeling for this. You said very clearly in your brief that you're seeking equal access to the land claims and self-government processes—access to education, medical benefits, and so forth. How does that jive with the agreement reached in Alberta? What is being asked for in the court cases?
President, Métis National Council
First of all, it's maybe just semantics, but there is only one Métis Nation. Although some say Métis nation of Ontario, Métis nation of Alberta, there is only one Métis Nation.
In terms of the results achieved in Alberta, in the 1930s, after the federal government reported that the rights of the Métis had been extinguished, there were court challenges of fraud by some Métis individuals with respect to their particular entitlement. At the end of the day, the Alberta government decided to set up a commission. The commission basically recommended that lands be set aside for the Métis to continue to live their way of life in the forests and the lakes. That was done, but not based on legal rights but on addressing socio-economic interests. It was the provincial government that took that initiative.
Now with regard to the two cases that are going forward, the Manitoba one is strictly on sections 31 and 32 of the Manitoba Act, which was to provide land to the Métis. That's the legal question: was it fulfilled? In the Saskatchewan case, we're saying that scrip was incapable of extinguishing the aboriginal title rights of the Métis, and alternatively, if it had been capable of extinguishing them, it did not because of the fraud that vitiated.... Again, that's a legal argument.
We've been trying, particularly the Métis National Council, to resolve this at the political table since 1983. We've put forward the right of self-determination and the right to self-government, and throughout the process we've been doing that. With the failure in 1992, we decided we had to use the courts because there was no other option.
In terms of subsection 91(24), which states the federal government has the jurisdiction to deal with Indians and the lands reserved for the Indians, the Supreme Court, in 1939, said the Inuit were to be included in a reference case. We've been trying to get a reference case for the last 40 years as well. Hopefully this issue is going to be resolved soon. There is a case by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples on that specific issue, so that may be resolved.
Because of the position of the federal government that our rights were extinguished—they're saying we have no responsibility for the Métis, or jurisdiction, because “Indians” means Indians as defined by the Indian Act, and also the Inuit, because of the Supreme Court of Canada—that remains an outstanding issue.
With regard to the accord of 1992, we negotiated an accommodation with then minister Joe Clark, and the Prime Minister and others, that there would be an explicit amendment saying that subsection 91(24) applied to all aboriginal peoples, not just the Métis, because the Inuit wanted clarification also. So that was the agreement. But because of federal-provincial jurisdictions and constitutional law, and so on, to allay the fears of the Alberta government and the Métis settlements' members, we provided in the Constitution that this would not affect the provincial jurisdiction of setting aside the land. That provision was included to save that.
In fact, the big issue you may want to consider and to talk to the settlements about is that the Alberta government and the Métis settlements, supported by the Métis National Council, are in agreement that the Constitution be amended to constitutionalize those land bases in Alberta. It only takes the federal government and the Province of Alberta to make that amendment because it only affects that particular province. The amending formula is there, but for some reason Canada has not agreed to do that yet. That's something this committee could look at.
We believe there is a role for the provincial governments, but our position is that the federal government has the jurisdiction to deal with all aboriginal peoples. We say that when the term “Indian” was used in the Constitution in 1867, it was synonymous with aboriginal peoples. It includes the first nations, the Métis, and the Inuit people. But we are not seeking to be “Indians” under the Indian Act, and neither of course are the Inuit. There are distinctions between the legislative definitions and the Constitutional definition of “Indian”.
Linda Duncan Edmonton Strathcona, AB
If I have any time, I'll give my colleagues the option—
The Chair Chris Warkentin
You are fine, but I did give you some additional time, as I promised.
Mr. Wilks, for seven minutes.
David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chartier, and company, for coming today.
I have a few questions, Mr. Chair, that I'll ask individually, if you don't mind.
You had mentioned how many individuals you have with the Métis National Council. Does that include the Métis north of 60 who reside in Quebec and eastern Canada?
Do you want me to ask you all five questions first, Mr. Chartier?
President, Métis National Council
David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC
Two, of the number of people whom you represent, how many individuals are registered members in the five provincial affiliates?
Three, can you expand upon what you see for the provinces and the relationship this may hold?
Four, you indicated that you would like to see this proposed Métis Nation constitution recognized in federal legislation. What else do you see this legislation encompassing?
Finally, Mr. Chair, what impact would the proposed federal legislation have on your current governance structure with the provincial affiliate?
President, Métis National Council
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First, we talk about the historic Métis Nation, a distinct people who emerged primarily in western Canada, but also extend into Ontario—with a common history and common language, Michif, and with a flag—having all the indicia that make a people a people. So we're not talking about mixed ancestry people; we're talking about a people.
And we do extend into the Northwest Territories, and at this time, the Métis in the Northwest Territories are not affiliated with the Métis National Council, through their choice.
Part of the criteria we have for joining the Métis National Council is that you have to have the ballot box selection—one person, one vote—and it has to be Métis only. In 1994, the Métis Nation of the Northwest Territories decided that, no, they were going to continue with their way of electing people, and also retaining non-status Indians or Bill C-31 members. I'm not quite sure where they are right now. They are part of our nation but they're not part of our governance and infrastructure.
You asked about the Métis in eastern Canada. Well, I don't know of Métis in eastern Canada. I know there are people of mixed ancestry, and I do know they call themselves Métis, but they're not part of the historic Métis Nation homeland, or part of the Métis Nation itself, so they wouldn't be Métis Nation citizens. But we're not going to go out there and say that they can't identify or express who they are. They're just not part of our nation, in the same way that the Blackfeet are not part of the Cree or not part of the Haudenosaunee. We're a distinct people.
How many of our people are registered? I don't have those statistics, but we've been going through a process. In 2002, we adopted criteria to make clear who the citizens of our nation are, and in 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada basically reaffirmed that. Since 2004, the federal government has provided us with money to do a registry of our people, and we're still in the process of doing that.
For example, I think in Saskatchewan we had about 40,000 people who had signed up for membership prior to that. Now they're going through the whole process. We need everyone to reapply because there may be some who don't fit the criteria. They may be of mixed ancestry, but they may not be descendants of the historic Métis Nation.
The Supreme Court of Canada, again, has been very clear on that. And this year, in the Cunningham case, dealing with Métis settlements, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that settlement lands were set aside for the Métis, and the purpose is so that.... The land is important for the identity and culture of the Métis. It stated that removal of people who have taken Indian status under Bill C-31 is a legitimate exercise. So basically, we have some confirmation from the highest court and recognition of our existence as a distinct people.
We are in the process, and it'll take us several more years, and perhaps longer, of coming to an exact number of who we actually represent, because the benefits that people get from joining are the right to vote and the right to participate in our democratic processes. But there is no real benefit attached to it, as there is with Indian status for non-insured health benefits, and so on and so forth. I'm sure if we had that, more people would probably register, but we're hoping people register because of the affiliation they want. But it's not a requirement. They're still Métis, we still represent them. So we can't give you an accurate number. We could always find a number for where we're at in re-registering our people, but I couldn't give you that today.
In terms of the relationship with the provinces, we have the protocol. At the Council of the Federation meetings, I've asked the five premiers, from Ontario westward, if the federal government invited them to the table, would they come. They said yes, to deal with issues. So based on that, in September—a couple of months later—Minister Strahl and I entered into this protocol for a bilateral relationship. But there's also a permissive multilateral relationship where we would invite the provinces to engage with us, including on a number of issues—health, education, and economic development.
Thus far the five provincial governments have engaged with us on economic development. We've had two Métis economic development symposiums. Our last one was where the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, who is also the federal interlocutor for the Métis, sat with the five ministers of aboriginal affairs and our leadership. We did this in December, and we've agreed that our senior officials will continue meeting, and in 2013 we'll come back to principles with a national economic development strategy for the Métis. So we're in that process.
I've written a letter to Minister Aglukkaq and raised it with the Prime Minister—I believe that was in February—that we'd like to have a similar process with respect to health, asking the federal minister to invite her provincial counterparts to come to the table with us. We see a big role for the provinces in this; we're not saying the federal government has to carry the full load.
In terms of legislation and legislating our constitution, a big issue is the financing of our governance. We want to move toward block funding. Currently we get 30 to 40 agreements at different times for small amounts, and most of our time is taken up doing reports and looking at these things. Treasury Board guidelines have permitted block funding for about four years now, so we are engaging again with the federal interlocutor to look at these issues.
What impact would the constitution have on our provincial affiliates? Basically the Métis National Council comprises the five provincial affiliates, or governing members as we call them. As we talk about our own constitution we're also looking at their constitutions to see how they will fit. At the very end we should at least have a division of powers, and jurisdictions would be very clearly spelled out, similar to the Constitution Act of 1867 with the division of powers.
They are very supportive. We are in a two-and-a-half year process. We hope by December 2013 to adopt internally a constitution and then move to the next stage. This process is being funded by the federal government.
The Chair Chris Warkentin
Ms. Bennett, for seven-plus minutes.
October 18th, 2011 / 11:35 a.m.
Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON
Thank you for coming.
In going forward, and with your hope for some approaches not only on economic development but also on health and education, I wonder if you would just tell me how your people are doing in terms of health and educational outcomes at the present time.
President, Métis National Council
Again, I can only speak in generalities. In terms of health, the Manitoba Metis Federation did a study with respect to diabetes, which was concluded sometime last year. That has been provided to the Prime Minister's Office and to Minister Aglukkaq. The study covers Manitoba and used the government system to track visits made to doctors by patients willing to participate in the study. Basically it was found that the Métis are the population with the highest incidence of diabetes in that province.
Again, at the Métis National Council we have no capacity to deal with health. We now have somebody working on this issue but we really don't have the capacity to address that. We do know there are a lot of senior citizens on fixed incomes who have to make a choice between buying food or getting prescription medicines, or trying to balance both. They also have difficulty, particularly in remote areas, getting to hospitals. For example, I am from Buffalo Narrows. If people from Buffalo Narrows need to see a dentist or a doctor, particularly eye doctors, or need to go for checkups, they have to drive five hours to Saskatoon, and if family can't take them then they can't go. If they're under 65 and on social services, then social services will cover this, but once you turn 65 you lose your benefits under provincial social services. So it is very critical.
In terms of education, we do have assets. Previous to that it was HRSDC, and we had the MHRDAs as they were called, and we were able to work out with the federal government an arrangement where we could deal with universities to set up endowment funds. There are some small amounts of scholarships that can go to Métis. They're not big but they're helpful. Primarily our people need to rely on student loans and the small amounts of scholarships out there.
We are beginning to engage with CMEC, so we will be looking at how better we can put forward positions.
Other than that, I don't have anything else to add.
Marc has been dealing with some of these issues.
Marc LeClair Bilateral Coordinator, Métis National Council
Generally speaking--and I don't mean this in a negative way--the Métis population is better educated, has higher earned incomes, and has greater labour force participation rates than first nations, primarily because of geography. But we fall far below what the Canadian standards are, so we're somewhere in the middle.
We try to be as positive as we can about this. Rather than saying how badly off we are, we like to make a business case for investment in our population. Right now we have about $50 million in training money, and we probably need $50 million more. David Chartrand likes to say that we're essentially the working poor in Canada, for the most part. That leaves us just above the low-income cutoffs, and all the rest of it. So our ability to get post-secondary education is impacted severely. That's one area where we've had to work out a deal to use some of our training money for education.
The other thing we like to point out is that we are taxpayers. From the last estimate of our population, we comprise one-third of the entire aboriginal workforce. One-third of the people who are working are Métis—and it's about $1 billion. So we pay the freight. We pay the janitor here and the salaries here. As I was saying to Clém on the way over that we've been coming here for 30 years. We've gone through six prime ministers and I don't know how many ministers of Indian Affairs. We've come to committee after committee after committee, and at some point we'd like to have a longer conversation with you on a big issue, which is the land issue.
We've been to the Supreme Court on French language rights in Manitoba. We negotiated those. We got denominational school rights recognized. Now for the first time we take forward our land rights on December 13. That's going to have some implications. We'd like you to have a look at not only that issue but also the Dominion Lands Act, where the same process was used. That's throughout the entire northwest.
So we think it's worth your effort. We welcome an opportunity to discuss with you all those land questions. That's why we're here.