Last week marked a low point in the longstanding relationship between the Métis people and the Alberta Government. Instead of working in partnership with the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA), the government decided to unilaterally terminate the Interim Métis Harvesting Agreement (IMHA) that has effectively accommodated Métis harvesting rights for the last two and a half years.
Starting July 1st, the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development (SRD), under the command of Ted Morton, will attempt to implement a paternalistic and regressive regime where the government will decide who is Métis and who has Métis harvesting rights in Alberta. This new approach is fundamentally flawed and will result in legitimate Métis harvesters having to be fearful and most likely being charged for exercising their constitutional rights. It will also result in the Alberta taxpayer, Métis and non-Métis like, paying the litigation price tag over the next few years because of Mr. Morton’s ill-conceived and unconstitutional policy.
I want fellow Albertans to know why these recent developments are so upsetting to the Métis people. Métis live, work and pay taxes throughout this province. We are your neighbours, family and friends. Since the creation of Alberta, our people have made and continue to make important contributions to the social, cultural and economic fabric of this great province. We are not a ‘special interest group’. We are a distinct Aboriginal people with constitutionally protected harvesting rights. These harvesting rights are fundamental to how we continue to practice and preserve our culture and way of life. That is why they are protected in Canada’s Constitution.
Instead of continuing to respectfully accommodate our constitutional rights, Métis harvesting has been strategically politicized. Mr. Morton made cancelling the IMHA part to his failed leadership bid. Further, Mr. Morton, the Alberta Fish and Game Association and the usual commentators who rally against all Aboriginal rights, have spread misinformation about Métis harvesting in an attempt to move public opinion.
The unfortunate result of this deliberate campaign was creating a perceived need in the Alberta Government to terminate the IMHA, even though the MLA Committee tasked with looking at this issue recommended our agreement be “amended through further negotiations” and confirmed that there was “no documented evidence” of Métis abuse of natural resources. In January 2007, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench held that the IMHA fulfilled Alberta’s “constitutional imperative” to accommodate Métis rights, but that SRD needed to incorporate the agreement into Alberta regulatory regime to make it “legally enforceable”. Of course, Mr. Morton made sure that did not happen.
Through all of this, the Métis Nation has focussed our efforts on what we believe were good faith negotiations. While others were out to score political points, we were at the table, with the Alberta Government, in order to find an accommodation that worked for the Métis Nation and all Albertans. We believed this was the right thing to do because, over the last decade, we have had a fair and strong partner in this government. Unlike other jurisdictions, where litigation and heightened rhetoric seem to dominate Crown-Aboriginal relations, we focussed on finding ‘made-in-Alberta’ solutions to our challenges.
We have much to show for this past partnership approach: targeted training for Métis in order to respond to Alberta’s labour shortages, improved educational outcomes for Métis students, the development of a Métis interpretative centre to support Alberta’s tourism growth, a national reputation for being a leader in Crown-Métis relations and the IMHA.
This is why these recent actions are so disheartening. Crass politics have overtaken partnership and principles. The Métis are just the latest casualty of Mr. Morton’s divide and conquer tactics in this province. While we do not want the next decade of Alberta-Métis relations to be defined by the courts, we simply cannot accept the current Alberta Government’s approach of ignoring our rights, shirking its constitutional obligations and disregarding the law.
The Métis people will continue to stand up and exercise our rights in this province, regardless of whether the current politics of the Alberta Government can respectfully accommodate our rights. We did not choose this new approach. It has been chosen for us. We want our neighbours, family and friends to know that we still believe partnership is key to building a stronger Alberta in the 21st century. We only hope that partnership, based on honesty, fairness and collaboration, will back on the Alberta Government’s agenda with respect to Métis harvesting in the future.