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Métis 2011: A Year of Triumphs, and Heritage Pride

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As 2011 opened, the mixed-race aboriginal group, comprised of descendants of fur-trading settlers and aboriginals, had declared 2011-2020 the Decade of the Métis Nation with the idea that a 10-year plan “will allow the Métis nation to plan strategically and highlight and focus on specific issues within the Métis nation,” the group said in a release.

Métis National Council (MNC) president Clément Chartier promised to “continue to push for recognition and rights of our Métis citizens across the homeland” as he garnered a third three-year term in December and to focus on Métis veterans, rectify the legacy of residential schools, uphold harvesting rights and push for a Métis constitution.

“The Decade of the Métis nation is a continuation of the legacy we began last year when 2010 was recognized as the Year of the Métis nation,” Chartier said. “It is important that we keep the momentum and continue along the path to success.”

Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet added to that auspicious start with an appearance of her 16-minute short film, Wapawekka, at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was screened several times. The movie highlights the generational rift between a traditional Cree father and his urbanized, hip-hopping son during a trip to the family’s isolated cabin in northern Canada. The English portions are subtitled in Cree, and the Cree sections are subtitled in English.

Although Goulet is Métis and the characters are Cree, the film was based on her experiences growing up, the filmmaker told CBC News. Set in Saskatchewan, the film was shot at Lake Wapawekka, near where she was raised.

In February the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear a major land-claims case. It was argued in December, and at year’s end the Métis were awaiting a ruling. It would be the end of a three-decade fight on the part of the Métis to reclaim 22,000 square miles of land they say was promised to them in 1870. They were to divide it among 7,000 Métis children living in Manitoba and agreed to the terms as a condition of Manitoba’s joining Canada as a province. However, the Métis claim, the land was given out piecemeal, making the construction of a homeland impossible and further fragmenting their communities.

A major flap erupted in February when it came out that the Canadian government had contracted with an outside firm to compile a list of Métis identifying criteria so as to “give the government a way to ensure the registration systems in place in the five Métis provinces are satisfactory,” as the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) put it. Since the Métis hadn’t been consulted on this contract, their leadership was concerned that the Canadian Standards Association had been hired to develop a verification strategy for Métis identification purposes.

The whole fracas stemmed from the 2003 Powley decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, which outlined Métis constitutional rights and mentioned the need for identifying criteria so Métis could register for their status.

The end of February brought collaboration between Métis and the British Columbia government, with the aboriginal group signing a historic memorandum of understanding to develop Métis-led “holistic, culturally appropriate” services for children and families, the province announced.

Also in March the Métis announced an economic-stimulus deal that would net the British Columbia Métis $1.45 million to improve its Métis Skills and Employment Centre in Abbotsford, the Métis Nation of British Columbia said, increasing the number of trained, employable Métis. The Alberta Métis were promised $3.5 million toward a cultural interpretive and gather center at Métis Crossing, a historic site northeast of Edmonton that is becoming a tourism hot spot.

“The Métis Nation has waited more than two years to hear these announcements so today’s news is very welcome especially for our Métis citizens in B.C. and Alberta,” said Métis National Council President Clément Chartier in a release on March 25. “I am especially pleased that Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept his promise made last month, to ensure Métis do not fall through the cracks.”

The Ontario Métis saw their own economic-funding breakthrough in June, when the provincial government put $30 million behind an initiative to assist in the economic development of the Métis of the province. The historic agreement culminated years of work by the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) to create an economic development arm that supports Métis entrepreneurs and businesses.

The parties created the Métis Voyageur Development Fund and signed a memorandum of understanding on economic development between the MNO and the provincial government. Under the agreement, the Ontario government has committed $3 million per year over 10 years to buttress economic development for Métis businesses. The two parties will also work together to procure fund contributions from the federal government.

Métis Lend Support to Chile’s Besieged Rapa Nui Nation
In August, Chartier served on a four-person observer team sent to monitor conflict between the Rapa Nui Nation, on what is known as Easter Island, and the Chilean government. Conflict between the two had escalated over the previous year,

“The bravery of the Rapa Nui people and the clan leaders in face of the repressive armed forces and police of Chile is truly a testament to their determination to secure their rights to land and self-government,” said Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, in a statement after the mission. The trip was organized by the Indian Law Resource Center out of Washington, D.C., and Observatorio Ciudadano of Chile.

On September 19, 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Métis, as a distinct aboriginal group, had legal harvesting rights. The landmark case capped a 20-year battle to get Métis rights recognized along with those of other aboriginals as laid out in section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act, according to the Métis of Alberta and the Métis National Council (MNC), and the date was celebrated again in 2011.

The court’s unanimous decision affirmed that Section 35 of the act applies not only to First Nations and Inuit but also to Métis. Although Section 35 ostensibly included the Métis, who are descendants of colonial fur traders and Indians, the latter group found themselves struggling for the same level of recognition as their Inuit and First Nations counterparts.

Various Métis excelled in sports in 2011, as always. A standout in that category was Sheldon Souray, a Métis hockey player who made it back to the NHL after a stint in the American Hockey League, where he had been sent in 2010. Hailing from Elk Point, Alberta, he had been a dominant presence in 13 NHL seasons.

A fund-raising campaign was started for a Métis veterans memorial at Batoche, Saskatchewan, the site of a historic 1885 battle between aboriginals and the Canadian government, a pivotal event in Métis history especially. Métis across Canada are raising the $400,000 needed to build the monument. Funds are being collected by the Gabriel Dumont Institute.

The year ended on a note of pride as the Métis argued their land-claims case before the Supreme Court. They knew an answer would take a while, but as Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) President David Chartrand told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), the Métis found renewed inspiration in the telling.

“We won it already,” Chartrand said of the case. “What we won was that we were able to tell the story of the Métis people. We were able to tell [of] our terror that we’ve been through, the suffering that the Métis people faced and the challenge that we lost our economic opportunity as a people. It also brings the true perspective of the Métis.”