Protocol agreement between Métis settlements and Alberta cements a ‘perpetual’ relationship
On Wednesday, March 29, the Métis Settlements General Council signed a protocol agreement with Alberta that commits them and the province to work together to enhance the long-term sustainability of the settlements’ social, economic and cultural objectives.
Alberta is the only province to have land-based Métis communities. Approximately 5,600 people live in the eight settlements in northern Alberta, which cover an area of 1.25 million acres.
There is no funding attached to the protocol agreement, says Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson. However, he points out, the Métis settlements were allotted $6 million in funding in the 2023 Alberta budget.
That figure, he says, is higher than what the settlements were receiving by the end of the 2013 long-term agreement which was “top-loaded” and concluded with settlements getting only $5 million in the last years. That 10-year $85-million long-term financial agreement has now expired.
“This is perpetual. No timeframe,” said Dave Lamouche, president of the Métis Settlements General Council. “I think the best thing we can have is that continued relationship with the province.”
Wilson said the settlements will also be benefitting from $2 million in dedicated funding through the Aboriginal Business Investment Fund (ABIF) in 2023, and loan guarantees that are made possible from the Alberta Indigenous Opportunity Corporation for large developments in the resource, agricultural, transportation and telecommunication sectors.
“We are looking at working together so we can keep our partnership going…We want to make sure (the settlements) are sustainable and successful in the future,” said Wilson.
The minister points to a joint venture between 23 Indigenous communities which bought a minority stake in seven northern Alberta Enbridge pipelines in 2022. That investment will create about $31 million of revenue for communities for the next 30 years, he says. Four Métis settlements were involved in that venture.
“We’re just getting started. I’ve got some really big (projects) coming up this year…As we go along with those, we’re making sure the Métis settlements are involved with those…That’s guaranteed income they’re making themselves because they're partners in the project,” said Wilson.
ABIF provides between $150,000 and $500,000 to support the capital costs of community-owned development projects. Wilson says his department is working with the settlements to ensure their grant submissions are successful and there are “a couple of really goods one that are pretty exciting.”
“(The settlements) are always asking me for a hand up and not a hand-out and this literally is a hand up because now they’re in control of their own destiny,” said Wilson.
Lamouche says he supports this approach to moving forward with the province.
“I think it’s a renewed relationship that we’ve established with the government…We’ve got a lot of stuff we’ll be talking about. It’s about community development, economic development, social development. Sustainability is the big thing and access to programs,” he said.
Wilson also presented the settlements council with $550,000 in a grant from money “leftover” from the budget. He says it works out to about $63,000 for each settlement.
The remaining $50,000, he says, is for a health coordinator for the settlements’ health board to help address concerns such as a lack of a full-time physician in any of the settlements.
Wilson says Alberta Health will be running a mobile clinic between Kikino and Buffalo Lake Métis settlements, which may become a more common approach in the future.
The province is also putting more money into training physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners, as well as attracting foreign physicians. Wilson says nurse practitioners are the most likely scenario for the settlements right now.
“Our idea is if we can train the people from the local communities, especially from the more northern communities, they’d be more likely to go back to their community and work there. That’s not going to happen overnight, of course,” said Wilson.
The protocol agreement guarantees the Métis settlements at least one annual meeting with Premier Danielle Smith, as well as bi-annual meetings with Wilson. Those meetings with Wilson are an opportunity to collaborate with other ministries to address concerns the settlements may have.
The 2023 budget also provided the settlements with $1 million for consultation capacity building and $1 million to support the central office.
In addition to the protocol agreement, the settlements council signed a statement of intent on enhanced community policing with Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mike Ellis. They received $2 million through the provincial budget to ensure dedicated policing in these communities. On top of that funding, the settlements have access to a $30,000 grant to examine policing capacity in their communities.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com