OTTAWA — The federal government has appointed a special representative to work with the Métis on implementing a more than two-year-old Supreme Court decision on Metis rights.

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This article was published 4/6/2015 (2589 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The federal government has appointed a special representative to work with the Métis on implementing a more than two-year-old Supreme Court decision on Metis rights.

"This is the first breakthrough for us in over two years," said Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand.

The federal government is moving forward with finding a settlement with the Manitoba Metis Federation.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The federal government is moving forward with finding a settlement with the Manitoba Metis Federation.

In March 2013, the Supreme Court ruled the government had not lived up to its duty in the Manitoba Act of 1870 to set aside 1.4 million acres of land for Métis children. The high court disagreed with both a Manitoba court and the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which had dismissed the MMF land claim. The court case began in 1981 and took more than three decades to resolve.

At the time of the ruling Chartrand said he was waiting by the phone for a discussion with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and for negotiations to begin in earnest. It never happened.

Instead Chartrand says the government kept telling them the court didn’t give any direction about what the federal government was supposed to do.

He says that has now changed, and the special representative will be working with the MMF to map out how to negotiate a settlement for that claim.

The MMF is expecting a multi-million dollar deal from the ruling. The land in question has long been sold off and makes up much of modern day Winnipeg. The MMF is looking for cash settlements and land from other crown parcels.

The MMF tried to negotiate with the federal government but ultimately ended up in court asking for a declaration the Crown had not lived up to its fiduciary responsibility when it doled out the land promised to more than 7,000 Metis children between 1870 and 1885.

The land was promised in Section 31 of the Manitoba Act of 1870, in return for Red River settlers agreeing to become part of Canada. Métis leader Louis Riel led the negotiations.

MMF president David Chartrand.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

MMF president David Chartrand.

The Supreme Court found the purpose of section 31 was to "give the Métis a head start in the race for land and a place in the new province. This required that the grants be made while a head start was still possible." However, by the time the land was doled out, settlers had taken most of the best land.

It took more than 10 years for the Crown to make the allotments of land, and 15 years for the Métis children who did not receive land to receive money instead. The money was based on 1879 land prices, which by 1885, could not buy nearly the same amount of land as the children would have received.

In 2013 the government said it was reviewing the ruling. Today’s appointment of a special minister’s representative, made by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, is the first real movement on the file since the ruling.

Chartrand called it "a massive break through."

"What you see here, this will one day lead to a settlement," he said.

The representative is also assigned to work with Métis organizations to figure out a way forward on another court ruling that will address who is in fact Métis.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Timeline: The history of the Métis Nation in Manitoba