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Decades in the making

A Métis Nation of Alberta Constitution will help define guiding principles, values, rights and freedoms, and mark a bold new direction for Métis governance.

Christian Villeneuve, Biamonte LLP

It will be a formidable achievement — 90 years in the making. The Métis Nation of Alberta is working towards adopting a constitution, having signed a Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement with Canada in 2019. 


In the 1920s, the Métis started to organize in Alberta, holding meetings to discuss the many issues they faced: poverty, health problems, lack of education and the loss of their land base. The Métis Association of Alberta (now the Métis Nation of Alberta or the MNA) was formed out of L’Association des Métis d’Alberta et les Territoires du Nord Ouest in 1932. The leaders of the movement, Felix Calliou, Joseph Dion, Jim Brady, Malcolm Norris and Peter Tomkins, were later dubbed the "Big Five" or the "Métis Famous Five." 


The Métis Constitution represents a culmination of their efforts at establishing a permanent, self-governing Métis Nation within Alberta.      


The constitution provides the Métis with an opportunity to define their guiding principles, values, rights and freedoms, and establish the machinery of Métis governance. Métis Citizens will have an opportunity to express their hopes and dreams for nationhood, while building an effective structure to ensure self-governance for generations to come.  


The constitutional process has gone through extensive citizen consultations, including Otipemisiwak, a National Conference on Métis Self-Government, held in March 2020, before Covid-19 befell us all. However, the Métis Constitution is not a done deal. It will be up to Métis citizens to ratify it.   


If and once the constitution is enacted, the Métis Government in Alberta will be on the same footing as the Federal Government and the Province of Alberta, effectively a third order of government. It will then be a matter of determining who has responsibility over specific areas of jurisdiction. 


Canada will retain jurisdiction over criminal law and procedure, banking, national defence and the usual list of s.91 areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction. 


Provincial laws of general application will continue to apply to Métis citizens. The Métis will have exclusive jurisdiction over citizenship and governance, internal structures, operations, procedures and financial management. Beyond this, the field is wide open for the Métis to negotiate additional jurisdiction implementation agreements with Canada in areas such as education, child and family services, the administration of justice, housing, health, the environment, etc. Canada and the Métis will also develop an intergovernmental relations agreement, a fiscal financing agreement and a transition plan.  


While the Canada Métis Agreement and the constitution are significant steps towards reconciliation, the agreement is not a treaty or a land claims agreement. However, Canada is committing to consider the potential constitutional protection of the agreement under section 35(3) of the Constitution Act, 1982 in the future.  


One question that arises is: What about the Province of Alberta? Alberta is not a signatory to the Agreement, nor has it entered into any other comparable jurisdictional agreements with the Alberta Métis. The Canada Métis Agreement makes an oblique reference to Alberta's reticence to engage when it states twice that "the Parties are prepared to enter into discussions with the Government of Alberta."


The contours of Alberta's relationship with the Métis under Premier Jason Kenney have yet to be written. We still need to work out a provincial framework for consultation and determining how Métis can harvest their rights. However, without Alberta's involvement at the table with the Métis, industry will have little guidance on what's needed to consult with the Métis going forward. Uncertainty is never a great direction, and clarity on these issues from the province would go a long way.  


The Métis Nation of Alberta has worked tirelessly for this moment and the decision to ratify the constitution will be determinative of the direction forward for Métis people. If the constitution is adopted, the Métis Nation within Alberta will be one step closer to achieving the dream of the Métis Famous Five.