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Thursday , 15 April 2021

Métis Settlements face bankruptcy if agreement not reached

Impacts could be felt by the four local Metis Settlements.

Métis Settlements in Alberta could be facing bankruptcy in the next two years if a new funding agreement with the provincial and federal governments is not agreed upon soon, said Herb Lehr, the President of the Métis Settlements General Council.

According to Lehr, the general council is currently in talks with the province to modernize the Métis Settlements Act, which is the piece of legislation governing the eight Métis Settlements in Alberta: Elizabeth, Fishing Lake, Kikino, Buffalo Lake, Peavine Métis Settlement, Gift Lake Métis Settlement, East Prairie Métis Settlement, and Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement.

The Métis Settlements are the only land based Métis people in Canada. They are not affiliated with the Métis National Council or the Métis Nation of Alberta.

According to Lehr, because the provincial act is ameliorative it improves things in Alberta by creating a framework for the Métis and the province to work, but it also hinders the Métis settlements from being able to move forward with the federal government on their Section 35 rights, which include a range of things including cultural, social, political, and economic rights like land, fishing and hunting.

“We’re still like that proverbial football, because of the crown and between the province and the federal government and how they have to work with each other,” said Lehr.

He said as part of the modernization Alberta Minister of Indigenous Affairs Rick Wilson and Premier Jason Kenney are pushing hard to reduce the number of representatives from each community from five down to three, as well as reduce the number of positions on the General Council’s executive.

In an e-mailed statement, Minister Wilson said the Metis Settlements Act is 30-year-old piece of legislation that needs to be modernized.

“Settlement members have been very clear that they want a more accountable and less costly leadership structure. We have been involved in ongoing conversations with settlement leaders, including the Metis Settlements General Council, about how we can use the legislation to reach that goal.”

Also at issue is the long term funding agreement for the Métis Settlements. In 1990, the Settlements received a 17-year out of court settlement of $310 million from the province.

“And then from that settlement of money, they dictated to us and gave us the money on a yearly basis over 17 years as to how the money was to be expended. A certain percentage would go towards capital and certain would go towards operation and all that type of stuff,” said Lehr.

Over those 17 years, the Métis Settlements also put some money away in a Future Fund, with the intention of investing the money.

But Lehr said one of the big problems with the Métis Settlements Act was that any significant investment required the agreement of all eight settlements, which was hard to do since usually it would have a bigger impact on one community or another.

At the end of the 17 year agreement, there was a period of time when the Settlements did not receive any funding from the province and the Future Fund was used to finance their operations.

Following another litigation against the province, the long term funding agreement was reached in 2013.

Under the agreement, which applies for 10 years, the Settlements would receive a grant of $10 million per year for the first seven years, and then $5 million per year in the last three.

The minister’s office did not make any statements clarifying the status of the funding agreement, including the Future Fund which Lehr alleges has been reduced to approximately $27 million from $130 million.

According to Lehr, Minister Wilson has written to the federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennet “stating that the province isn’t going to be giving us any more money. So the premier has said very much that the LTA [long term agreement] is a finite deal,” said Lehr.

According to a spokesperson for Minister Bennet’s office, the Government of Canada is committed to renewing the relationship with the Métis, “through the affirmation of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”

“Canada recognizes and respects the unique history of the Métis Settlements General Council and we look forward to continuing our discussions with Alberta and the Métis Settlements General Council on matters important to them.

In December 2018, Canada and the Métis Settlements General Council signed a Framework Agreement for Advancing Reconciliation, which includes a commitment to explore options for the long-term sustainability of the Métis Settlements with the full participation of Alberta.

The agreement also commits the parties to work in full partnership with Alberta to explore options and concepts for federal recognition of its membership, governance structures and institutions.

A trilateral technical working group was established in 2020 between the Government of Canada, Metis Settlements General Council and the province of Alberta to advance discussions on the long-term sustainability of the Settlements and other subject matters of interest.

We look forward to continuing to work together in these Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination discussions toward shared and balanced solutions.”

But Lehr says with the federal election resulting in a minority government, Trudeau’s decision to prorogue Parliament over the summer and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have stalled those discussions with the federal government.

“So now you’re running out of time, you’re going to have communities that potentially face bankruptcy within less than two years,” said Lehr.

He said in an effort to prevent that, the General Council has taken an emergency ask to the federal government but hasn’t yet received any decision one way or another.

“So if the [provincial] minister wants to do Métis Settlement Act modernization, that modernization should be focused on vacating so that the federal government can live up to their responsibilities and then the province doesn’t have to foot the bill for the Métis,” said Lehr.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.