Two years after Canada's top court ruled Manitoba's Métis were duped and stonewalled out of thousands of hectares of land, there's been no movement on a settlement agreement.

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This article was published 14/2/2015 (2696 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two years after Canada's top court ruled Manitoba's Métis were duped and stonewalled out of thousands of hectares of land, there's been no movement on a settlement agreement.

But tensions between the Métis and First Nations over competing land claims are on the rise, sparking worry the federal government will pit the two indigenous groups against each other.

MMF president David Chartrand says a map of available Crown land is the first step.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

MMF president David Chartrand says a map of available Crown land is the first step.

"What I'm seeing is potential threats," said Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand. "Hopefully, common sense will prevail, and if we work with them, they'll work with us."

Two years ago next month, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled government delays and ineptitude, as well as land speculation and swindlers, blocked thousands of Métis children from receiving much of the 566,000 hectares of land promised by the federal government when Manitoba entered Confederation. The government's bungling of the land disbursement has impacted thousands of descendents of the original Red River Settlement.

'What I'm seeing is potential threats. Hopefully, common sense will prevail, and if we work with them, they'll work with us' ‐ Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand

The justices didn't tell the federal government how to fix the 140-year-old problem. But the court called the matter an "ongoing rift in the national fabric," that threatens reconciliation and constitutional harmony.

Chartrand said Ottawa is morally obliged to negotiate an eventual settlement, which could include a trust worth millions or even billions earmarked for education bursaries, venture capital for Métis-run businesses or home-ownership programs.

He said the first step is creating a map of available Crown land, something the MMF is working on now, and negotiating the terms of reference for future talks with Canada on a compensation agreement. So far, Ottawa has been unwilling, said Chartrand.

"They haven't moved an inch in that direction," he said. "(Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard) Valcourt's position is just stall, stall, stall, and eventually there's going to come a time when the government has to deal with it."

Instead, Ottawa has told First Nations leaders it must begin consulting Métis communities as part of the treaty land entitlement (TLE) process -- a complex and sluggish process set up to give land to bands still owed thousands of hectares from treaties signed more than a century ago.

In Manitoba, 15 bands such as Brokenhead and Norway House are still owed a total of 200,000 hectares of land. Several other bands were also shorted thousands of hectares. A formal process was set up in 1997 to begin identifying Crown parcels and converting them to reserves, but progress has been glacial.

In the last two years, only a 0.046-hectare plot in the town of Swan River was converted to reserve status for Sapotaweyak Cree Nation.

Causing delays are new rules created by Ottawa that say all aboriginal groups, such the Métis, within a 70-kilometre radius of a band's TLE selection, must be consulted before Ottawa will agree to convert the land to reserve.

Many parcels of land bands have asked for under the TLE process encompass traditional Métis communities or are important to the Métis for trapping, hunting and spiritual practices.

Treaty Land Entitlement Committee president and Sapotaweyak Chief Nelson Genaille wrote to the federal government last year decrying the delays.

Both Genaille and Treaty Land Entitlement Committee executive director Chris Henderson fear Ottawa is using Métis land claims to delay an already slow process. Genaille also worries Ottawa may be pursuing a "divide and conquer" approach that could pit First Nations people against the Métis as both lay claim to the same land.

"That tactic has been used many times in history," said Genaille.

Historic tensions have flared recently between First Nations leaders and the Métis over a blockade still underway by Sapotaweyak Cree Nation on land it claims as part of its TLE.

Last month, in a bid to stop construction of Manitoba Hydro's Bipole III power line, band members set up a small blockade in the path of crews cutting a 200-kilometre stretch intended for the line.

The crews work for a Métis economic development company that won the contract to clear the land, which is also claimed by the Manitoba Metis Federation.

"The brakes are coming," warned Chartrand. "I have the same right to that land as they do."

Henderson said what may be needed is a consultation protocol agreed to by First Nations and the Métis that could speed up the process and quell the perception Ottawa is happy to use the Métis to stall First Nations land claims.

"If this is the new requirement going forward, we would have to be patient and accommodating as well," said Henderson.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca