Métis leaders are starting the negotiations that they say will lead to respect and recognition from Ottawa, but many of their goals are more tangible: supplemental health care, postsecondary education, housing and aboriginal rights.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed a Canada-Métis accord on Thursday that includes his commitment to meet with Métis leaders annually and his promise that cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and other federal officials will be available throughout the year to discuss issues of concern to the Métis Nation.
Mr. Trudeau and six ministers then met with Métis leaders behind closed doors for more than two hours, emerging with what David Chartrand, the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, described as “good feelings, trustable feelings” – and an understanding that there will be more meetings.
“We can see change coming, and I do trust this prime minister,” Mr. Chartrand told reporters. “Over all, the message we got from the Prime Minister was that he takes this very seriously, he takes this in his heart and he wants to make a difference.”
It has been a year since the Supreme Court issued the historic ruling in what is known as the Daniels case, confirming that the Métis are aboriginal peoples of Canada, along with the First Nations and the Inuit, and that they fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
The ruling did not obligate the government to create new legislation with respect to the Métis or to extend to them any specific rights or benefits. But, in the hours after that decision was handed down, Métis leaders made it clear that they would be asking Ottawa for some of the same privileges that have been granted to the two other recognized Indigenous groups.
The March budget contained money for “off-reserve” housing, women’s shelters and child care, which could be accessed by the Métis along with other Indigenous people, and $84.9-million over the next five years to help “build the governance capacity” of the Métis National Council and its five provincial members.
It did not address Métis health, education or housing. For now, Métis leaders say they are fine with that. But they want the 2018 budget to do more.
“We believe that what we would see as objectives coming out of Daniels – federal programs, services, transfer payments to our governments – is going to take place,” said Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council. “But we’ll know better a year from now, or at the next summit with the Prime Minister, because we’re going to be engaging in intensive negotiations.”
When the Daniels decision came down, it was estimated that it could affect 450,000 Canadians who self-identify as Métis. The government and the Métis leaders say the real number is smaller and that to be Métis one must descend from a distinct people who populated the Métis Nation Homeland in communities across Western Canada and northwestern Ontario during the 18th and 19th centuries.
People who believe they are Métis and can prove their ancestry are having their names recorded in a registry that will be used, among other things, to determine who qualifies for any benefits.
The federal government, meanwhile, says it is pressing ahead with the promises it made to treat the Métis as a distinct, rights-bearing Indigenous group.
The meeting on Thursday was “unbelievably positive,” said Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. It helped highlight the ways “we go forward nation to nation,” she said, “how we are working to change the fiscal relationship.”
The Métis leaders largely agree with that assessment. But they also expect to see real change happen soon in terms of social benefits for their people.
“I am hopeful that we’re going to see some movement fairly quickly,” said Margaret Froh, the president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, who said health benefits such as prescription medications are a priority. “From my perspective, we’re looking to see some real movement early on.”Report Typo/Error