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.