Alberta recognizes Fort McKay Métis consultation rights in resource development

The recognition of consultation rights for a Métis association near Fort McMurray has been met with dismay by the Métis Nation of Alberta.

The province announced Thursday the Fort McKay Métis Community Association (FMMCA) has become the first Métis group in Alberta to be granted credible assertion for resource development.

It officially recognizes their harvesting rights and traditional use practices of the land, requiring industry to consult with them should resource development negatively affect those rights and practices.

"Credible assertion is a legal test that creates clarity for industry and Indigenous communities on who needs to be consulted during proposed natural resource developments and Crown or land management decisions," the province said in a statement.

Establishing the Indigenous rights of the 124 Fort McKay Métis community members included a lot of historical research, according to FMMCA lawyer Dwayne Roth.

"We've also done extensive genealogical research to show that the modern day community members are historically connected to the people that lived in and around Fort McKay before the date of effective control, which the province has said is 1900."

Roth said the three-year process involved nine different government ministries. 

Last May, the Fort McKay Métis put in place a self-governance structure after members voted to adopt a constitution, elections act, membership act and governance act.

The governance act allows the community to have its own governing bodies — a Fort McKay Métis Nation Council and Fort McKay Métis Nation Assembly — supported by an elders council, women's council and youth council.

Roth said that structure was put in place to ensure transparency.

"More importantly, I guess, the real victory here is that no third-party, outside organization can come in and claim that they represent the Fort McKay Métis community in matters of consultation," Roth said. 

'Appalled' by decision

But the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) said Thursday in a statement it was "shocked and appalled" by the decision. The MNA called it a "breach of honour of the Crown."

MNA's legal counsel, Jason Madden, said the group will examine all of its options. That includes a judicial review of the government's decision, which he calls "inconsistent with the law." 

MNA president Audrey Poitras said the group has represented the interests of the Métis Nation in Alberta for more than 90 years and that its democratically elected members represent all areas of the province. She said she worries this decision could lead to confusion and division by fracturing the nation.

"Any group that wants to incorporate themselves as a community association, as any kind of group, has the opportunity now to become one of those people that have to be consulted with," Poitras said. 

"It's about rights. It's about Indigenous rights. We 100 per cent support community associations to do community activities, but it's not a rights-based agenda."

Poitras said there had been ongoing discussions with the provincial government about how best to represent the 42,000 Métis people in Alberta but the former NDP government walked away from negotiations in September 2018. 

"I'm really disappointed that a community association that represents very, very few people would have all of a sudden had a letter and an announcement that the government of Alberta has decided that they pass the test," Poitras said.

The Fort McKay Métis Community Association includes about 124 members. Not all of its members belong to the MNA.

When asked about the reaction from the MNA, a spokesperson for Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson said his office had no additional comment.