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The first-ever Métis self-governance agreements have been signed with the federal government marking a significant step toward independence and self-determination for a prominent group of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

The Métis Nation of Alberta, the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan, and the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation Ontario (MNO) signed deals with Ottawa on Thursday at a ceremony near Parliament Hill to acknowledge that they are Métis governments.

Until now, the groups have been treated as special-interest organizations that delivered some services, such as housing and labour assistance, but did not have the right to make laws or speak as the voice of the Métis people who are their constituents.

The Manitoba Métis Federation, where there are also large numbers of Métis, is expected to sign its own agreement at a later date, but that deal is more complicated because it involves a large land claim.

“By signing these historic agreements today, our government is taking a fundamental step to advance reconciliation and transform our relationships with the Métis Nation of Alberta, the Métis Nation of Ontario and the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan,” Carolyn Bennett, the federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said in a statement.

“We are committed to advancing self-determination as we strengthen our government-to-government relationships.”

While there are many people across Canada who self-identify as Métis, the agreements signed Thursday, and that anticipated agreement with Manitoba, cover the Métis as defined by the Supreme Court in its 2003 Powley decision. They are people who identify as Métis and have a historic connection to one of the pre-Confederation communities of Métis – descendants of early European settlers who paired with members of First Nations – that sprang up in northwestern Ontario and across the prairies. These communities have their own distinct culture, language and way of life separate from First Nations and their non-Indigenous forebears.

Their most famous leader was Louis Riel, the voice of his people and the leader of the Red River Rebellion, who was controversially executed for treason in 1885.

“Since the Powley case, the Métis have been repeatedly successful in advancing their rights and claims at the Supreme Court of Canada. These agreements respond to strong judicial directions that the Métis can no longer be ignored or not treated as a constitutionally-recognized Indigenous people,” said Métis lawyer Jason Madden, who represented the Métis Nation of Alberta and the Métis Nation of Ontario in their negotiations with Canada.

In Alberta, there are eight identified Métis settlements that could form a land base for the Métis in that province. The Métis in the remaining provinces also hope to establish territories of their own, and obtaining their own governments is a first step toward that goal.

The deals put in place an annual fiscal transfer from the federal government that does not need to be renegotiated. And they open the door to negotiations that could result in the Métis becoming the providers of such things as education and health care for their people.

The new agreements also mean that the provinces will also have to deal with the Métis as separate levels of government, as they do with the First Nations. And companies wishing to develop resource and other projects near Métis settlements will have to consult with the new governments.

“This self-government agreement is a testament to the strength and the determination of the MNO’s citizens and communities,” said Margaret Froh, the MNO’s president. “Our citizens have always been united in wanting to protect and preserve our unique history, culture and identity for generations to come. With this agreement, we have secured a way forward to do that.”

Audrey Poitras, the president of the Alberta Métis, said her people have shared Louis Riel’s vision for the Métis to be self-governing and independent on their homeland.

“Now, after 90 years of perseverance and struggle,” she said, “the work of our ancestors and the goal of our citizens has been realized.”

Greg McCallum, the president of Métis Nation – Saskatchewan, called the deal a momentous move toward reconciliation.

“This historic agreement,” said Mr. McCallum, “is a major step toward guaranteeing our rights to our land, our resources, our education and our culture. It is real progress for our people.”

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