Métis communities threaten legal action over Métis Nation of Alberta constitution

Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, signs a self-government agreement in Ottawa on June 27, 2019. (Métis Nation of Alberta - image credit)
Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, signs a self-government agreement in Ottawa on June 27, 2019. (Métis Nation of Alberta - image credit)

Fourteen Métis communities are threatening legal action against a proposed constitution that would pave the way toward self-governance for the Métis Nation of Alberta.

Ratification of the Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution would turn the MNA into an official government with four branches and would subdivide the territories of the Métis Nation into districts with their own councils.

Voting began Nov. 1 and ends today. A date has not been set for the release of results.

The proposed constitution says the MNA will seek to repatriate land and to protect and hold land. It also outlines how education, culture, language, and health would be governed. The final document was approved by the MNA at its 94th Annual General Assembly in August.  The 24-page document is available to read online.

The constitution has created conflict and prompted threats of legal action if it is ratified.

Fourteen Métis communities and settlements, including Fort McKay Métis Nation, Lac Ste. Anne Métis Community Association and Lethbridge Métis Local 2003, have opposed the constitution.

Adam Browning, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta local for Lethbridge, said he supports self-governance but doesn't believe the MNA properly consulted Métis communities and settlements on the constitution.

Browning also says that if the constitution is ratified, he worries how the association will manage the distribution of federal money to smaller and secluded communities.

"Some of our communities are at risk of shutting down and the local community level is going to be extinguished with this proposed constitution," he said.

Voting has been open to 56,000 MNA members age 16 and older. Statistics Canada says as of 2021, more than 127,000 people in Alberta identify as Métis.

The ballot asks voters to answer yes or no to one question: "Are you in favour of ratifying the Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution?"

The vote follows an agreement signed between Ottawa and the Métis Nation of Alberta in 2019, in which the federal government recognized the nation's right to self-governance. At the same time, the federal government signed self-government agreements with the Métis Nation of Ontario and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.

The Alberta agreement was considered a major breakthrough for the province's Métis communities, who have long demanded that their Indigenous rights, including land and trapping rights, be respected by the federal government.

The second page of the constitution notes describes the goals of the MNA toward self-governance.

"We seek to negotiate a modern-day treaty with the Crown, on a nation-to-nation, government-to-government basis, that recognizes our inherent rights to self-determination and self-government as well as our jurisdiction as a distinct order of Indigenous government within the Canadian federation," it says.

In early November, leaders from Métis communities, Nations and settlements met to discuss opposition and legal action they plan to take if the constitution is ratified.

The meeting, held at River Cree Resort and Casino at Enoch, outside Edmonton, resulted in what leaders called "unparalleled solidarity" against the constitution.

Katarina Szulc/CBC
Katarina Szulc/CBC

"The leaders represented at the meeting in Edmonton are democratically elected.  They represent their communities.  The MNA has no authority to claim governance over anyone. They are a provincially incorporated society — not a government," the communities said in a joint news release.

The communities involved are as follows:

  • Fort McKay Métis Nation.

  • Willow Lake Métis Nation.

  • Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement.

  • Peavine Métis Settlement.

  • Kikino Métis Settlement.

  • Lac Ste. Anne Métis Community Association.

  • Cadotte Lake Métis Nation Association.

  • Athabasca Landing Métis Nation.

  • Lakeland Métis Community Association.

  • Owl River Métis Community Association.

  • Chard Métis Nation.

  • Lethbridge Métis Local 2003.

  • Edmonton Métis Community Association.

  • Mountain Métis Local 1994.

The communities have also sent letters to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller requesting a moratorium on the constitution.

"The federal government needs to ensure that public dollars that are given to the making nation Alberta are used appropriately," Browning said.

CBC sought comment from Miller but did not receive a response.

Garrett Tomlinson, senior director of self-government implementation for the MNA, said he has seen little criticism, and it has come mostly from non-members.

"I don't get the sense that there is a significant amount of pushback there," Tomlinson said. "There's some organizational leaders within the settlements and within some of those communities who are pushing back.

"I think it's disappointing. This is a historic and positive step forward for MNA citizens in the path towards self-determination and reconciliation … we don't claim to represent people who don't want to be represented."

Tomlinson also added he believes the association did conduct comprehensive consultation.

"For almost three years now we've done public consultation with our citizens and engagement," Tomlinson said.

Alberta in unique situation

Josie Auger, an associate professor at Athabasca University who specializes in First Nation governance, attributes the conflict to the effects of colonialism and the way in which land was distributed among Métis people in the province..

"What's happening in Alberta is unique and it's not the same in other areas. Alberta is the only place that has given land away to Métis people in the way they did," Auger said.

In 1930, the Natural Resources Act was passed, transferring control over Crown lands and natural resources to Alberta, B.C., and Manitoba.

Auger explained how eight years later, Métis leaders in Alberta were heard by the Ewing Commission, leading to the creation of 12 Métis settlements, something Auger said disregarded the land treaties and led to an "unorganized distribution of land."

Auger said historical land decisions have complicated current Métis relations and politics, leading to "an adversarial relationship between the MNA and the settlements."

"This conflict is especially confusing because it's adversarial and these proceedings lead people to think that there must be winners and losers and where one must conquer to prevail, which is contrary to Indigenous beliefs of trying to maintain peace and harmony," she explained.

Auger said that when Indigenous people govern with colonial models, "they are set up for failure," making it difficult to achieve self-governance in a way everyone is satisfied and feels represented.

"It's bureaucracy, it's colonialism — and we now have a lot of work to do within our own governance systems."