American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Métis Nation Accord

In 1992, Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and the Métis nation of Canada, represented by the Métis National Council (MNC) and provincial Métis representative bodies, signed the Métis Nation Accord. The Accord set out provisions requiring all signatories to negotiate the implementation of aboriginal self-government. Unfortunately for the Métis, the Accord was directly tied to the success of the Charlottetown Accord (1992), which called for comprehensive changes of Canada's Constitution. These changes were designed in part to enable the First Nations political participation and representation in Canada, as well as formal recognition of the right to aboriginal self-government. It also represented a commitment on Canada's part to address the appropriate roles and responsibilities of governments as they relate to the Métis. The Charlottetown Accord was rejected in referendum by the Canadian people in 1992.

The Métis nation evolved during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from the miscegenation of French and Scottish fur traders with Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteaux, and Assiniboine women. The Métis developed as a unique people, distinct from Native people and Europeans. Today an estimated 200,000 Métis live in Canada, accounting for more than 20 percent of the aboriginal population living in Métis communities and urban centers. The Métis have long claimed national status and a unique culture, a distinct language, a unique economy, and enduring philosophies, but Canadian officials historically refused to accept this position. However, in 1982, the Canadian Constitution was amended to recognize the Métis as one of the country's groups of aboriginal peoples (along with Native Americans and the Inuit). By the end of the 1980s it appeared as though federal officials were willing to consider the social, political, and economic issues of the Métis.

The Métis Nation Accord represented a significant first step in relationship building between the federal government and the Métis nation. With the proposed constitutional changes in mind, the Métis National Council and its governing members initiated consultations with the Métis nation in September 1991. These discussions led to various MNC submissions to the federal constitutional processes through the spring of 1992. Central to the Métis strategy was forcing the federal government to assume its responsibility for the Métis's social and political betterment. The federal government responded by agreeing that the Charlottetown Accord would be amended to explicitly include the Métis. Resulting from this successful lobby, the Métis Nation Accord was established as a modern-day treaty between the federal government, all provinces west of Ontario, and the Métis nation.

The Métis Nation Accord was an impressive political accommodation that would have resolved many of Métis's legal questions and outstanding claims, including:

  1. Agreement on a definition of Métis.
  2. The establishment of tripartite self-government negotiations among the federal government, the Métis governments, and the respective provincial governments, as well as a commitment of financial resources for the negotiations.
  3. A commitment on the part of government to negotiate a land and resource base for Métis.
  4. A commitment on the part of government to undertake an enumeration of the Métis and establish a central registry.
  5. A commitment on the part of government to devolve programs and services to the Métis, provide transfer payments to the Métis government to support these programs and services, and to preserve existing funding and services already provided to the Métis.
  6. Provisions for the protection of the Alberta Métis settlements.

Following the failure of the Charlottetown Accord, none of the Accord signatories expressed a willingness to engage in multilateral discussions, leaving the Métis with few choices in their fight to see their aboriginal rights recognized. They may pursue recognition of these rights in the Canadian courts, or they can remain on the political periphery as provincial and federal officials engage in jurisdictional wrangling. Litigation proved successful, and in 2004, after more than a decade in the courts, the Métis were recognized by Supreme Court of Canada as possessing aboriginal rights. The case resulted from a Métis father and son, Steve and Roddy Powley, being charged in 1993 with hunting moose without a license and unlawful possession of moose meat, contrary to Ontario's Game and Fish Act. The Métis nation of Ontario determined to use this case to establish the existence of the Métis hunting rights. In 1998, a two-week trial resulted in the trial judge's determining that the Métis community at Sault Ste. Marie had an existing aboriginal right to hunt, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Métis Nation Accord was a progressive policy of accommodation that would have committed provincial and federal governments to negotiate: self-government agreements, lands and resources, the transfer of the portion of aboriginal programs and services available to Métis, as well as cost sharing agreements relating to Métis institutions, programs, and services. For now, the Métis will have to endure the complexities of Canadian Indian bureaucracy.

Yale D. Belanger


Further Reading
Chartrand, Larry. 1992. "The Métis Settlement Accord: A Modern Treaty." Paper presented at the Indigenous Bar Association Annual Meeting. Montreal, ON.; Chartrand, Larry. 2000. "Agent of Reconciliation: The Supreme Court of Canada and Aboriginal Claims." In The Judiciary as Third Branch of Government: Manifestations and Challenges to Legitimacy. Edited by M. Mossman and Ghislain Otis. Montreal, ON: Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice.; Critchlow, Donald T. 1981. "Lewis Meriam, Expertise, and Indian Reform." The Historian XLIII (May): 325–344.; Hodgson Smith, Kathy, and Jason Madden. No date. "A Re-Engaged Métis Nation Multilateral Process: A New Journey Begins." Otipemisiwak-Voice of the Métis Nation in Alberta: Issue 1, Volume 1.; Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). "Proposed Métis Nation Accord." Available at: http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/sg/sj5d_e.html. Accessed March 1, 2005. .
 

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