Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett signed a framework agreement with the Métis Settlements General Council, a group that represents eight Métis settlements in Alberta, touting the move as an important step on the road to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
The Métis settlements, which include about 5,000 people over tens of thousands of hectares across the province’s north, have long sought self-determination and an improved relationship with the federal government.
The agreement, co-developed over two years, paves the way for further negotiations with Ottawa as it looks to bolster self-government.
The council — which is not affiliated with the Métis National Council, another organization that represents Métis elsewhere — is also looking for greater financial supports to provide social services like health, housing, education and child and family services on their territories.
The governing council wants constitutionally protected Indigenous and treaty rights, which fall under section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, to also apply to their Métis landbase.
While Métis peoples have lived on the land for generations, the settlements were only formally established as entities by the province of Alberta between the 1930s and 1950s. So these Métis have had little interaction with the federal government and its programs, which largely have applied exclusively to First Nations.
Gerald Cunningham, the president of the council, praised the agreement Monday, saying it “opens doors for us that have never been opened before.”
“We will work together to provide for the preservation and enhancement of our Métis culture and identity,” Cunningham said.
Harold Blyan, vice-chair of the Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement, 160 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, Alta., said the Métis settlements are eager to make governance changes to spur more economic development.
“Historic agreements like this one are the beginning of the next chapters of the story of the Métis settlements. We have to write the story the best way we know how, so it’s truly meaningful for our members,” Blyan said.