On Wednesday, July 4th Minister Carolyn Bennett of Crown-Indigenous Relations travelled to the Fishing Lake Metis Settlement. Minister Bennett and the Métis Settlements have been engaged in a dialogue about a framework agreement for over a year.
This was Minister Bennett’s first visit to a Métis Settlement. It also served to be the Métis Settlements’ first opportunity to demonstrate the real impact that decisions made in Ottawa and Edmonton actually have in a remote Indigenous community like a Métis Settlement.
The day began with a breakfast and meeting between the Metis Settlements General Council Board which consists of the chairs of all eight Metis Settlements and Minister Bennett.
A number of issues were raised with the Minister but two key issues include sustainable long-term funding for the Settlements to deliver essential services and protecting Settlement lands by entrenching them in the Constitution of Canada.
Following the meeting, the Minister was taken on a tour of the Settlement so that she could have a truer sense of what life in the community is like. Finally, the visit wrapped up with a round-table discussion that included Settlement elders and youth.
The organizers who made the visit possible in Fishing Lake Settlement were pleased with the outcome and felt that it gave the Minister a clear snapshot of life in the community.
It’s one thing to read reports and hear presentations in the boardroom attached your office in Ottawa, and entirely another to get out into a community and see with your own eyes the things you’ve been told. This visit presents us with an important opportunity to really demonstrate to the Minister what the conditions in the Settlement are like and how our people live. – Gerald Cunningham, President, Metis Settlements General Councilé
The Métis Settlements are often caught between the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada as the implications on jurisdiction are clarified in light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision on the Daniels case.
The decision effectively asserts that Canada has similar jurisdiction over and responsibilities to Mtis people that they have with First Nations. The Métis Settlements are at the beginning of a new relationship with Canada and visits like the one to Fishing Lake further help build understanding between the two parties.
Make no mistake, the members and government of the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement have immense pride in their community. But, this does not diminish the fact that we have very real challenges. We have a disproportionate number of our members dealing with addictions, with mental health challenges, with the long-term effects of Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop. We have failing infrastructure and very limited resources to address these needs. It is imperative that we come to agreement with Canada to move forward as partners. – Herb Lehr, Chairperson, Fishing Lake Métis Settlement
Minister Bennett listened intently and took notes throughout the meeting and round-table. She noted that when the Government of Canada talks about nation-to-nation relationships, it is important to meet with Indigenous organizations but that a government-to-government relationship is important with the communities.
When asked about the draft framework agreement currently being discussed with MSGC, the Minister said that draft is being reviewed to ensure that all parties are on the same page but that they want to sign something as soon as possible.
In December of 2017, Minister Bennett and the Métis Settlements committed both parties to an open process that would develop the guidelines for a framework discussion when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding. These processes are intended to advance the discussion about Canada’s recognition of the Métis People’s Section 35 Rights found in the Constitution of Canada.
There are eight Métis Settlements – Buffalo Lake, East Prairie, Elizabeth, Fishing Lake, Gift Lake, Kikino, Paddle Prairie, and Peavine – scattered throughout Northern Alberta. Currently, the Métis Settlements are the only legislated land-based Métis communities in Canada, which makes them unique.