Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) is accusing the provincial government of “endangering Métis rights across the province” with its “inexcusable” delay in approving the MNA’s application for credible assertion.
Credible assertion outlines nine points that if met by a Métis organization commits Alberta to consulting with that organization on Crown land management and resource development.
However, in a statement provided to Windspeaker.com, the MNA is holding its ground that credible assertion is a “narrow concept” that doesn’t accurately reflect Métis as a historic nomadic people.
It’s the position the MNA has maintained since February 2020 when it publicly stated it was “shocked and appalled” by Alberta’s approach to consultation with the Métis and the province’s use of the “deeply flawed” credible assertion process.
And at the very same time—February 2020—the MNA began the credible assertion process “on behalf of the regional communities it represents through its provincial, regional and local governance structures.”
The credible assertion process is “about a Métis organization establishing a credible assertion rather than the government granting it…of harvesting and traditional use activities,” said Olga Michailides, spokesperson for Alberta Indigenous Relations.
The process was established in 2019 and the province made it clear it was not tied to proof of recognition of rights but specific to consultation with a Métis organization “when natural resource development may adversely affect their credibly asserted Aboriginal harvesting rights and traditional use practices.”
Among the nine points that a Métis organization must meet are: being able to prove a Métis community existed in the region prior to effective European control; being authorized to represent a contemporary Métis community; and identifying community members as Métis.
Only one Métis organization to date has been successful in attaining the status.
In February 2020, the Fort McKay Métis Community Association (now known as the Fort McKay Métis Nation) was recognized with credible assertion status of Aboriginal harvesting rights.
Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis Nation, says there are now at least nine Métis communities, as well as the MNA, that are “working through” the credible assertion process.
“I know one community who is very close to the finish line of getting their assertion acknowledged,” said Quintal.
Indigenous Relations would not confirm numbers or identities of those involved in the credible assertion process.
“This process happens privately between the Government of Alberta and each organization seeking to establish credible assertion of harvesting and traditional use activities. We would only make that information available if and when a community has established a credible assertion,” said Michailides.
The MNA still accuses the province of using the credible assertion process as a “divide and conquer approach where Alberta determines what constitutes a Métis community and who represents the Métis communities it chooses to recognize.”
The MNA also pointed to a recent Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision where “the narrow concept of ‘community’ that Alberta has been pushing through the credible assertion process” was rejected.
The appeal is for two Métis hunters, Warren Boyer and Oliver Poitras, who were charged with unlawfully harvesting near land that had been previously described as constituting the historic “Métis community of Northwest Saskatchewan.”
Poitras was charged in 2012 and Boyer was charged in 2014, but their trials were held jointly.
During the trial, the judge offered a Mid-Trial Ruling agreeing with the Crown that Sect. 35 Aboriginal rights were site-specific and could not be brought to bear on a large geographical or province-wide basis. The Crown said that was in keeping with the Powley 2003 decision. The trial judge agreed that Métis harvesting rights are to be considered site-specific, using a regional approach.
That decision was appealed to the Court of Queen’s Bench and dismissed.
However, in its May 31 decision, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal allowed the appeals and ordered a new trial.
“The effect of the Mid-Trial Ruling was to prevent the consideration of evidence and argument directed to the question of whether the migratory and nomadic nature of the Métis peoples would permit a harvesting claim over the whole of the province or a large segment of it, even as a defence to the particular charge of harvesting where the accused had been hunting and fishing,” said the Court of Appeal.
The MNA says that decision shows Alberta is wrong in maintaining that “rights bearing Métis communities need to look like Indian Act bands or just local settlements.”
“The MNA will continue to resist the Kenney government playing ‘divide and conquer’ with Métis communities in Alberta. Our communities, government and the Métis people in this province are not going anywhere. We hope the next premier does not repeat the same mistakes as the current one and turns the page on Alberta’s failing ‘credible assertion process,’” said MNA President Audrey Poitras in a written statement.
The UCP government will select a new leader in September. That leader will serve as premier at least until the provincial election, which will take place on or before May 29, 2023.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.