A small Métis community in the middle of Northern Alberta’s oil patch has declared self-government, setting off negotiations with Ottawa that its members hope will give them the power to control their future.
The Fort McKay Métis began the process toward self-government two years ago, punctuated by the $1.6-million purchase of 150 acres of boreal forest in March, 2018, that gave the community its own land. On Thursday night, the community of about 100 north of Fort McMurray voted unanimously to adopt a constitution and declare self-government. They say they are the first local Métis group to seek such an agreement with Ottawa.
Felix Faichney says the declaration will create a new future for his three-year-old son and the community’s next generation. The 22-year-old is an elected member of the community’s board, responsible for the youth portfolio.
“I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it for my son, his kids, our community. It brings me a sense of pride that I can tell my son one day to look at what we have, embrace it, take advantage of our opportunities now,” he said after the vote.
“Future generations will have the same opportunities as everyone else. Our community is here and it’s going to be here forever,” he added.
The announcement follows a pivotal Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2016 that examined Métis rights in Canada. The court ruling in the so-called Daniels case concluded that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” within the definition of Canada’s 1867 Constitution. Where Métis communities had often fallen under provincial or territorial administration before, the ruling allowed those groups to apply to the federal government for social benefits and land claims.
The Fort McKay Métis moved quickly to implement the decision. Over two years of extensive local conversations, the community decided what self-government should look like and drafted legislation to run elections, control membership and establish governance, according to community president Ron Quintal.
Now comes the hard part: getting recognition from Ottawa and working out an agreement.
“We want to be masters of our own destiny,” Mr. Quintal said. “It was a huge night for us. We’re over the moon. I had to go home last night, sit down and digest it. This is two years in the making, and we got it done. Now we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
He said a formal relationship with the federal government would reflect what the community, which has enjoyed some prosperity due to the oil sands projects that surround it, has been doing. Along with buying land from the province and building homes on it, the community has been looking to start businesses and has established a judicial council to deal with local disputes.
Along with self-government, the community will be looking to Ottawa to get funding for education, health care and housing programs. A land claim for the group’s broader traditional territory could also be part of negotiations, according to Mr. Quintal.
“There are people from our community who have hunted and trapped for generations with neighbouring First Nations, worked together with them, drank the same water and breathed the same air. Our traditional territories mirror each other,” he said.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada did not respond to questions about the declaration. A spokesman for Alberta’s Indigenous Relations Ministry declined to comment.
Clément Chartier, the president of the Métis National Council, said the community has his support. He helped them throughout the process and provided advice as they drafted their constitution.
“I believe it’s a good step in the right direction. I support the right of every community to exercise their right of self-determination and self-government, within the context of the Métis nation as a whole,” he said.
Mr. Chartier said he doesn’t know if other communities are looking to following Fort McKay’s lead, but they have set a good example through intensive discussions and the strong legislation they have drafted.