Potential billion-dollar deal for Metis as feds address historic land dispute
Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, May 27, 2016 10:07PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 27, 2016 11:22PM EDT
A potential settlement expected to reach billions of dollars could be presented to Manitoba’s Metis as early as September after the Liberal government signalled it is taking steps to fulfill a 146-year-old disagreement over land.
On Friday, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett quietly stepped away from the Liberal party convention in Winnipeg to sign a memorandum of understanding with Manitoba’s Metis.
The document outlines the government’s intention to finally honour a promise made under Sir John A. Macdonald to distribute 5,565 square kilometres of land, including what later became modern-day Winnipeg, to the Metis.
“It is, I think, as a government my solemn commitment and that of the prime minister to end the status quo, renewing Canada’s relationship with the Metis nation,” Bennett said Friday at the memorandum signing in Winnipeg.
The signing of the memorandum signals that “the parties are taking a historic first step toward a shared and balanced solution that advances reconciliation between Canada and the Manitoba Métis Community,” Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said in a press release.
The milestone comes nearly three years after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6-2 that the federal government failed to appropriately carry out its promise made in 1870. The 2013 ruling lent legal heft to the possibility of land-claim negotiations.
Experts estimate that the settlement could be worth billions.
Sources told CTV News that the modern-day treaty has been months in the making, with the Liberal government preparing to carry out the commitment since it came into office last fall.
Sources also said the memorandum of understanding, signed Friday, was written months ago. They added that a framework agreement on the potentially massive settlement could come as early as September.
And while plenty of details have yet to be hammered out, Metis leaders celebrated the historic step towards finally resolving the longstanding dispute.
“We waited 146 years for this. The future is going to change for generations to come, and we are no longer going to be sitting on the sidelines,” said Manitoba Metis federation president David Chartrand. “This is the new era of our nation.”
The disagreement stems from a promise made by Sir John A. Macdonald's government in 1870 to set aside land for 7,000 Metis children from the Red River Settlement.
The Metis have argued that it took more than a decade for the government to begin distributing the 5,565 square kilometres of farmland and about 1,000 Metis children never received any of the promised plots.
In many cases, the land was randomly handed out by lottery and displaced the recipients from their ancestral land.
The deal was part of the Manitoba Act of 1870, which Canada’s first government crafted in attempts to end the Red River Rebellion led by Metis forefather Louis Riel. The act also helped Manitoba become a Canadian province.
Another landmark ruling for the Metis came in April when the Supreme unanimously ruled that Metis and non-status aboriginals are “Indians” under the Constitution. The decision opened the door for an estimated 600,000 Metis and non-status Aboriginals to gain access to federal First Nations programs previously denied to them.
With a report from CTV’s Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon