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Feds signing memo with Metis in Ontario to open ‘nation-to-nation’ talks

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks in Gatineau, Que., on Dec. 7, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government was poised to sign a memorandum with Metis in Ontario on Friday that aims to pave the way for advancing their rights and settling various claims.

The document kickstarts discussions toward a tentative agreement — to be reached by September — that will set up negotiations on Metis self-government, lands, rights and other outstanding claims against Canada.

Margaret Froh, president of the Metis Nation of Ontario, called it an "incredibly important" event, even though the memorandum of understanding is just a commitment to more talking.

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"This is a whole bright new day and not just for Metis in Ontario, but for all the Metis Nation," Froh said in an interview ahead of the signing.

"It is the beginning of developing a true nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship between Canada and the Metis Nation."

The Metis trace their origins to early unions between First Nations people — usually women — and European settlers. They later developed a distinct culture. While they have historically had an "enormous" part to play in the formation of Ontario and Canada, Froh said, formal recognition of the Metis as a nation has largely been lacking.

"We have been standing on the outside looking in," Froh said. "The fact that we've got a federal government that acknowledges us...is a remarkable shift."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was slated to sign the memorandum of understanding on behalf of the federal government, with her Ontario counterpart, David Zimmer, Metis dignitaries and others in attendance at a downtown hotel ceremony.

"This is an historic step forward in achieving lasting and meaningful reconciliation on a nation-to-nation, government-to-government basis for the benefit of the Metis Nation of Ontario and all Canadians," Bennett said in a statement.

In November 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directed her to advance a nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship with the Metis. In April last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Metis are one of the three constitutionally recognized indigenous groups — along with First Nations and Inuit — making Ottawa responsible for negotiating with them as a nation.

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Trudeau had planned to meet with Metis on Parliament Hill on Monday for what was to be the first permanent bilateral Metis Nation-Crown summit but the mosque massacre in Quebec City scuttled that plan.

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