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This article was published 27/5/2016 (1179 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Manitoba entered Confederation, each Métis child in the province was promised land ahead of waves of incoming immigrants, but they never got it.
At a signing ceremony in Winnipeg Friday, Ottawa committed to correcting the historic wrong that came from not fulfilling a promise to Métis leader Louis Riel when he negotiated Manitoba's entry to Confederation.
The agreement Friday with the Manitoba Métis Federation and Canada is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work towards what could be the largest indigenous compensation package in Manitoba's history.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett signed for Ottawa, Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand for the Manitoba Métis and the witness was Manitoba's new Conservative Indigenous and Municipal Relations Minister, Eileen Clarke.
The purpose of the MOU is to see if Ottawa and Manitoba's Métis can find common ground to arrive at a mutually acceptable framework and then begin formal negotiations for a settlement.
The agreement was developed in response to a Supreme Court victory that followed years of courtroom battles for the land rights Riel negotiated with Canada's first prime minister in 1870.
Back then, Riel struck a deal with Sir John A. Macdonald's government in Ottawa for 1.4 million acres in the "postage stamp-sized" province in the Red River settlement which is now modern Winnipeg.
That package was so badly bungled, so mired in corruption and so slow, it condemned the founders of the province to the margins of modern Manitoba. In its 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court called it a stain on the honour of the Crown in its 2013 ruling.
In this century, the Métis fought for seven years in court to bring Ottawa back to this moment in history but the mood wasn't harsh Friday.
The MMF is expecting a multi-million dollar settlement that it wants to hold in a trust for future generations, from university tuition to business development. In addition to cash compensation, the Métis also expect land from crown parcels outside the city. The land in question from a century and a half ago has long been sold off and makes up much of modern day Winnipeg.
Métis won't displace anyone the way they were displaced, Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand vowed Friday.
"A hundred and forty six years in the making," Chartrand said.
"It's so hard to express the feeling as a Metis nation. We've been treated quite harshly in Canada yet we're such strong believers in Canada. There's a great pride in our hearts, inside our souls, on this particular day," Chartrand said.
A meeting room at the MMF offices on Henry Avenue was packed to standing room only. A solid black backdrop with a single bold print of a colourful beaded pattern, showed flowers in bloom. A table held binders with documents that were signed to the click-click rhythm of media cameras and dozens of iPhone photos flashes.
"This is a celebration of all of you in this room who have been on this journey for a very long long time, that there would be this kind of reconciliation. This is exciting," Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said.
"We're moving forwards on agreements that date back to the 1870s and it's a commitment on my part and the Prime Minister's part, to renew relationships on a nation-to-nation basis, not through the courts," Bennett said.
The two sides have the summer to work out details before a package is presented as early as this fall to the federal cabinet for review. A blue ribbon committee of Winnipeg's business leaders have been working behind the scenes for years to help the MMF craft components in anticipation of a settlement moving forward.
"Signing this memorandum of understanding means we are taking an historic step. It means the Manitoba Métis Federation and the government of Canada have agreed to a dialogue they will develop together to breath life into (constitutional) Manitoba Métis rights, into how to advance the Metis vision for self-determination and how to close the socio-economic gaps between non-indigenous and Métis Manitobans," the Indigenous Affairs Minister said.
"This is not tentative. This is a bold step," Bennett said.
Dignitaries included a who's who of federal Liberals from Manitoba, including Lloyd Axworthy a long-time cabinet minister whose political career stretches back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's father Pierre Trudeau, whose decision to repatriate Canada's constitution also led to the entrenchment of inherent aboriginal rights, including the ones the Manitoba Metis hope to flesh out starting with this MOU.
The federal political presence included Natural Resources Minster Jim Carr and Liberal MPs Dan Vandal and Robert Falcon Ouelette. National Métis Council president Clement Chartier represented Métis outside Manitoba.
Chartrand reviewed the chronicle of Métis marginalization in the past 150 years, set against their combat service by the thousands in both world wars.
"People have forgotten the contributions we've made. We've been a political football for a long, long time," Chartrand said.
"But our people never gave up on this country. They always believed in it," Chartrand said. "One of the most important things for us was to get our place in this country," he said. That day clearly was Friday for Chartrand and others in the room.
George Fleury, a Métis elder who opened and closed the signing ceremony with prayers in the Metis language, said the moment was a long time coming.
"I didn't know when this event would be happening," George Fleury said before he closed the ceremony. "But I had a vision I would be part of it. I couldn't be more grateful. In my heart, the event I prayed for has happened."
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.