July 6, 2021 marked a historic day for the Manitoba Métis – one that will be celebrated for generations to come. After years of negotiations, the Manitoba Métis signed a Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement with Canada. Soon after, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief, Arlen Dumas, issued a statement expressing disappointment with Canada.
One of the criticisms was about the outstanding responsibilities of Canada to fulfill their treaties with First Nations, which he describes as the original treaty.
“What Grand Chief Dumas fails to consider is that the Manitoba Act, 1870 was also a treaty. When Louis Riel and Sir John A. Macdonald described in correspondence what they were negotiating, they said they were treating with the other party, and the result was often clearly described as a treaty,” said Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) President David Chartrand. “The Manitoba Act was the first treaty, and it was negotiated with the future of all Manitobans in mind, regardless of their race, creed, or religion.”
It is important not to forget that the Métis List of Rights, which was the foundation for the Manitoba Act negotiations between the Métis and Canada, demanded that treaties be concluded and ratified between the Crown and the First Nations.
“When Riel’s Provisional Government negotiated the Manitoba Act, their aim was to protect the rights of all those who called the Red River Settlement, and beyond, their home, including the small minority of First Nations that lived in the Settlement. There are estimates out there that say there were approximately 560 First Nation people living in the Settlement, whereas there were around 10,000 Métis,” said President Chartrand. “Riel knew that, though the Métis majority had utilized the prairies for generations, they did so while co-existing and sharing with First Nation people who also needed the lakes, forests, and plains to provide for their way of life and future of their nations.
“We also recognize this to this very day, and we have a great deal of respect and admiration for what Manitoba’s Chiefs and Grand Chiefs have accomplished for the betterment of their people,” President Chartrand said. “We are always open to working with our First Nation neighbours and relatives towards developing strategic partnerships to protect our Indigenous rights, claims, and interests.
“Make no mistake, in MMF v. Canada, the Manitoba Act was described as more than a treaty. It sets out ‘solemn promises which are no less fundamental than treaty promises.’ It was a set of constitutionally binding commitments in their highest form,” said President Chartrand. “Along with that, Section 31 of the Manitoba Act – the section that describes how land will be given to Métis children – has been described as the biggest defrauding of land in Canadian history. Not only did our Ancestors lose their land and the promise of land that was made as a condition of Canada entering the North-West, but we lost the economic possibilities that come with that land.”
Grand Chief Dumas goes on to say that recognizing Métis self-government puts First Nations’ interests at risk and undermines existing discussions on the resolution of First Nations’ treaty rights.
“This is not possible. As Paragraph 53 of the Manitoba Métis Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement says, our Agreement does not affect other Section 35 rightsholders. Our Agreement only recognizes our existing, inherent, Section 35 rights to self-government for the Manitoba Métis,” said President Chartrand. “This Agreement cannot unilaterally affect the rights of the First Nations, nor would we ever wish it to. Since the times of Cuthbert Grant, we have supported our First Nation neighbours, relatives, partners, colleagues, and friends.”
Grand Chief Dumas goes on to say that there have been several Métis self-government agreements in recent years, and that the First Nations must battle in the courts to defend their treaty rights.
“We too have had to battle in the courts. Canada and the provinces have taken an ‘empty box’ approach to Section 35 and every right we have had recognized has been a struggle in the courts. Until recently, the box has been tightly closed and locked, and court decisions are the key to opening the box, putting a recognized right inside, and obtaining justice,” said President Chartrand. “But one thing I know for sure is that the Manitoba Métis took Canada to court for 32 years to finally reach a decision on the landmark 2013 MMF v. Canada decision. This is no easy walk for us either, and any attempt to indicate otherwise is either misinformed or intentionally designed to stir up and divide Indigenous peoples. We must be united. We cannot be divided.
“It is a shame to see other Indigenous leaders attempting to tear each other down, instead of coming together and celebrating such historic occasions. For example, I was in the national media yesterday praising the Cowessess First Nation on signing the first ever Coordination Agreement with Canada,” said President Chartrand. “I truly believe that our self-government Agreement forges a new roadmap for others to follow when it comes to getting fundamental, inherent aboriginal rights recognized by the federal government.”