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This article was published 21/7/2016 (1485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As roadmaps go, a federally commissioned report released Thursday lays out a clear and detailed process on how Ottawa should proceed to recognize Métis rights in Canada.
The report also focused on the role of Manitoba Métis as leaders in the reconciliation process with Canada.
In his report, lawyer Thomas Isaac confirmed Métis rights are constitutionally protected and equal to Indian status rights and set out 17 recommendations to guide Ottawa on the road to honour federal obligations on a nation-to-nation basis.
"A few individuals noted the misconception that treaty rights 'trump' Métis rights, even though there is no law that supports, and existing law contradicts, this proposition," Isaac said in his summary.
Isaac, a noted aboriginal rights lawyer who was a key architect in the creation of Nunavut, was appointed by the Conservative Stephen Harper government in 2015 as Canada's Special Ministerial Representative on Métis rights. His job was to clarify Métis rights under Section 35 of the Constitution, which provides protection for aboriginal rights.
Isaac submitted his report a year later to federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett under the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau.
"The attached report addresses the mandate you provided to me to meet with the Métis National Council, its governing members, the Métis Settlements General Council, provincial and territorial governments, and other aboriginal organizations and interested parties to map out a process for dialogue on Section 35 Métis rights," Isaac wrote in his June 14 cover letter to Bennett.
"The mandate also directed me to engage with the Manitoba Métis Federation to explore ways to advance dialogue on reconciliation with Métis in Manitoba in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2013 Manitoba Métis Federation decision," Isaac wrote.
The landmark decision found the federal government failed to live up to obligations to Manitoba's Métis at Confederation.
Bennett's office responded Thursday with an email statement that said the foundation for the federal relationship with the Métis is based on recognizing Métis rights and working co-operatively with Métis governments.
"Canada agrees there is no hierarchy of aboriginal rights under Section 35. Métis are one of three recognized aboriginal peoples in Canada, along with First Nations and Inuit whose existing aboriginal rights are equally protected under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982," Bennett's office said.
Isaac's findings are already having a direct impact on the way provinces deal with Métis issues on the Canadian Prairies. Northern and aboriginal affairs departments have long set Métis policy through local Métis councils set up under the provincial governments.
Northern Métis communities will now expect their own seat at government tables that discuss resource and land issues, Isaac pointed out in his report.
The report also addresses the specific history of Manitoba Métis — leader Louis Riel was hanged as a traitor in 1885 after a failed rebellion to compel Ottawa to honour claims of Métis-held lands prior to Confederation and negotiated as part of the deal to make Manitoba a province.
The report called on Ottawa to fix that and confirmed the MMF is the collective representative in government for the Métis people in Manitoba in the process.
Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand said the report is everything the Métis wanted.
"The Manitoba Métis Federation, the official self-government of the Métis Nation’s Métis Community, welcomes this report and its recommendations," Chartrand said in a statement. "(It) recognizes and reconfirms our Section 35 Métis Rights and that the MMF is the representative government (for) Métis interests in discussions and negotiations with the Crown."
"Based on these recommendations, we will continue to move forward in finalizing a Framework Agreement with Canada on settling the collective claim of the Métis of Manitoba. We also expect the province of Manitoba to no longer follow the bad advice in the past regarding not consulting with the MMF on important matters such as treaty land entitlements," Chartrand said.
In an interview Chartrand ticked off the findings as stepping stones on the path to reconciliation: Recognition that the MMF is the government of the Métis in Manitoba, recognition that Ottawa has constitutionally guaranteed responsibilities to the Métis, including programs and services like that of First Nations and recognition that Ottawa owes the Manitoba Métis compensation for the 1.4 million acres which Métis children were collectively promised when Manitoba entered confederation and never received.
"The rights of the Métis are no less than the First Nations. Where the problem lies is in the delivery of it. Because we’ve never been treated in an equal fashion for over 100 years all the infrastructural programs in Health Canada, whether it’s education, services in economics, housing. We’ve never had that process evolved and developed for us. That is a very important finding for us and one that will show clarity," Chartrand said.
The report also clarified a distinction between the Métis and people of mixed ancestry, a finding that means the Métis people of the West, which includes parts of Ontario, are a nation of people with constitutional protection. People of mixed ancestry in Quebec and Eastern Canada may have rights to programs and services but they are not Métis people protected under Section 35 of the constitution, the report said.
The majority of Canada’s 400,000 Métis live in Western Canada, with 80,000 in Manitoba.
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