Métis Nation of Alberta mounts court challenge to Manitoba Métis self-government deal
The Alberta branch of the Métis Nation has signed an updated self-government deal with Canada, even as it is in court challenging a similar agreement between the Manitoba Métis and Canada.
In a Federal Court judicial review filed in 2021, the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) argued the Manitoba Métis Federation's (MMF) self-government deal stoked conflict and breached the honour of the Crown.
The Alberta association wanted the agreement set aside or at least "read down," it said in court files, alleging it empowered the Manitoba federation to potentially supplant other collective Métis associations by luring away their members.
MNA President Audrey Poitras, in a statement provided to CBC News on Friday, said productive talks held amid the court challenge sparked the updated deal, which addressed many of the MNA's concerns.
"Now that our updated self-government agreement with Canada has been signed, we will assess how we will proceed with our lawsuit," she said.
The 47,000-member MNA initially sought an injunction blocking the 44,000-strong MMF from trying to poach citizens on what the MNA claimed as its exclusive turf.
"The MMF has claimed that it now represents citizens of the Métis Nation within Alberta, and has supported the creation and development of a new Métis organization within Alberta known as the Alberta Métis Federation, to act as a satellite of the MMF and ultimately to displace the MNA," its filing said.
The allegations are untested in court.
The court filing named the MMF and the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations as respondents. The minister and MMF filed notices of appearance but no comprehensive responses.
The MMF declined to comment directly on the case. In a general statement provided to CBC News, President David Chartrand rejected the idea the MMF's jurisdiction stops at Manitoba's border.
"Red River Métis are coming home to our government in the thousands, because they know we stand strong in defence of our distinct identity, culture and nationhood," Chartrand said.
"We will not be stopped by anyone seeking to steal our identity."
The 2021 Manitoba Métis Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement affirms the MMF as the democratic government of the Manitoba Métis, historically known as the Red River Métis.
Saskatchewan Métis to back MNA
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller's office did not respond to questions about the court challenge by publishing time.
In a news release Friday, he said Alberta's new deal will "revitalize and transform our government-to-government relationship."
Meanwhile, the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) applied to join the MNA's case in March 2022, saying it shared Alberta's concerns, with its intervener motion scheduled for May 8.
The MN-S similarly alleged the MMF's deal effectively allowed the federation to supersede the MN-S on its home territory.
"Canada's decision to sign the MMF Self-Government Agreement has exacerbated internal divisions across the Métis Nation," its motion said.
The MN-S declined to comment further when contacted about the case. The MN-S has also signed a self-government agreement with Ottawa.
The MMF, MN-S and MNA are together the three founders of the Métis National Council, created in 1983 on the eve of a constitutional conference on Indigenous rights. Forty years later, the council is fractured.
The MMF broke from the national organization in 2021 following years of internal factionalism and conflict among top Métis leaders. Disputes about core issues of identity and governance continue to rage amid lawsuits and political power jockeying.
MNA constitution faces court challenge
Nevertheless, the various branches of the Métis nation are trying to get back to business.
The MNA in December voted to ratify its Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution, but the process faces a court challenge from the Métis Settlements General Council, which governs more than eight Métis settlements occupying more than 500,000 hectares of territory in Alberta.
The general council rejected the MNA's authority and called the constitutional ratification an "illegitimate strategy to dispossess the Métis settlements of their self-government, their constitutional rights and their lands" in a November 2022 application for judicial review.
This allegation has also not been tested in court.
To the east, the Métis Nation of Ontario is holding a province-wide plebiscite on whether to boot from its registry more than 5,400 members who lack documentary proof of Métis ancestry.
MNO President Margaret Froh, while declining to comment directly on matters before the court, said the various Métis governments must respect each other.
"I am one of those Métis tied to the West and a great deal of my ancestry is grounded in the Red River valley, and I would say, definitely, the MMF does not represent me," Froh said in an interview Thursday.
"It's up to the Métis people to determine which Metis government they choose to be a citizen of."