The Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) is not the undisputed voice for Métis people off-settlement in the province.
A decision rendered by Court of Queen’s Bench Alberta last week said that not only had the MNA failed to prove itself as the sole representative of off-settlement Métis in Alberta, but the court would not force the provincial government to continue negotiations with the MNA on the Métis Consultation Policy (MCP).
“The requested declaratory relief (by MNA) requesting Alberta to continue negotiations … is coercive in nature as it seeks to compel Alberta to enter a negotiation process,” wrote Justice Bernette Ho in her 75-page decision Jan. 4.
“Moreover, I am of the view that the relief sought by the MNA is inappropriate because it seeks a determination of issues that exist, not just between Alberta and the MNA, but between other stakeholders as well.”
On June 17 and 18, 2021, the MNA challenged Alberta Indigenous Relations in court for doing an “about face”, deciding unilaterally to end negotiations that had been ongoing for five years on the creation of a MCP.
MNA said the United Conservative Party had “breached the honour of the Crown” and had given insufficient reasons for terminating negotiations.
Indigenous Relations suggested that negotiations for the MCP could be picked up at a later date and until then, consultation with the Métis would be guided by the revamped credible assertion process with other Métis groups on a case-by-case basis.
The credible assertion process, updated in December 2019 by the UCP, outlines nine points that if met by a Métis organization commits Alberta to consulting with that Métis organization on Crown land management and resource development. The credible assertion process is not proof or recognition of rights.
In the fall of 2015, Indigenous Relations was given the mandate by the then New Democrat government to engage with the MNA and other stakeholder groups to work toward the development of an MCP.
Documents presented to the court show that throughout the five years of discussions, which spanned two different provincial governments, MNA President Audrey Poitras asserted that the MNA had established itself as “the” voice of Alberta’s off-settlement Métis.
Among the documents drawn on by the MNA to validate its position was the Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement (SGA), which the MNA signed with Canada in July 2019.
However, Ho did not view the document as validation, pointing out that the SGA “speaks only to Canada’s recognition of the MNA for the purpose of addressing Métis issues on the federal level.”
Ho also noted that the SGA said the MNA was able to represent the “Métis Nation within Alberta,” which was a term defined by the document, as was the term “Métis government.” Finally, she pointed out that the self-government implementation date was to be set by a federal order-in-council, which had not yet been proclaimed.
The province continued to maintain it was conducting talks with the MNA, Métis locals and other non-settlement Métis communities, especially as it became clearer that some Métis organizations and communities did not want the MNA to speak for them.
This point was highlighted in early 2019 when the Fort McKay Métis terminated its relationship with the MNA. A year later, the Fort McKay Métis Nation became the first Métis organization to receive “credible assertion” of Aboriginal harvesting rights.
Also in 2020, Fort McKay Métis Nation was joined by Willow Lake, Athabasca Landing, Owl River, Lakeland, Chard and Edmonton in splitting from the MNA to form the Alberta Métis Federation.
“(Poitras) opined that there could only be one provincial policy for dealing with non-settlement Métis, and that it must be developed in collaboration with the MNA,” wrote Ho in her decision.
When the UCP came to power, at least one meeting and a number of communications happened between Poitras and the Indigenous Relations ministry. Engagements concluded in September 2019 with new Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson saying that “(at) this time, Alberta will not be moving forward with the draft consultation policy …”
The MNA argued it engaged in negotiations with the province and had not simply had policy discussions, as the government asserted. Ho agreed that the depth and length of the “engagement between the parties was more than a mere policy discussion.”
However, she did not agree that the honour of the Crown had been breached.
“Alberta’s intention to deal with the MNA in a respectful, transparent and cooperative manner in developing the MCP are thoroughly documented in the Record,” said Ho.
Ho also did not agree with the MNA that when Alberta broke off negotiations that an agreement was about to be reached.
The Justice pointed out that the MNA “consistently sought a commitment from Alberta to be recognized as the sole entity authorized to act as the point of contact under the MCP” while “Alberta was aware that various non-settlement Métis were not in favour of representation though the MNA, and some locals took the position that even within the MNA structure, it was the locals, as opposed to the regional or provincial representatives, who should have a voice ….”
Ho said the “record demonstrates that Alberta continuously stated it was not in a position to tell the Métis how they were to be represented for the purpose of consultation” and that disputes should be resolved within the MNA’s governance structure.
“The MNA has not provided a conclusive answer to the question of who speaks for the non-settlement Métis,” said Ho.
Ho added that Alberta’s decision although reasonable could have been “more fulsome (but) perfection is not the standard.”