I am a very proud member of the Métis Nation of Alberta.
As many people are unfamiliar with the history of the Métis, I've decided to share some of our history.
“Métis” means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Indigenous peoples, is of historic Métis Nation ancestry, and who is accepted by the Métis Nation.
Métis people are a post-contact Indigenous nation, born from the unions of European fur traders and First Nations women in the 18th century. The descendants of these marriages, the Métis, would form a distinct culture, collective consciousness, and strong Nationhood in the Northwest.
Distinct Métis communities developed along fur trade routes that made the Métis Nation Homeland. Today, the Homeland includes Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, parts of British Columbia and Ontario, the Northwest Territories, and the northern United States.
We were here before Canada existed.
The Métis are a robust, thriving community and one of three legally, politically, and culturally distinct Indigenous peoples of Canada, recognized by s. 35 (2) of the Constitution Act, 1982. Métis people have a unique identity, culture, language, way of life, and historic self-government.
My middle & last name come from my Great-Great Grandfather, Samson Breland. My great-great Grandmother, Samson's wife, was Clemence Bellehumeur. The photo of the couple at the top, middle of this page, is of the two of them. In the photo just to the top left, is my grandmother Dorothea, as a young girl. With her, sitting, is her grandmother Clemence, and standing, an aunt. Dorothea was my fathers mother; my grandmother. Samson & Clemence departed the Red River settlement by ox-cart, which has become a symbol of the Métis people, in the late 1800's. They made their way west across what was then called Rupertsland. Eventually, they settled along the banks of the Battle River in the Laboucane Settlement. With the coming of the railway, a small village named Duhamel was formed on the north side of the river and Samson & Clemence moved there. Together, they spent the rest of their days in Duhamel as active and respected members of their community.
THE FUR TRADE
The history of the Métis is entwined with the history of the fur trade, both as origin and as livelihood.
The Métis were at the heart of the fur trade. We acted as guides, interpreters, clerks, canoe men, fur packers, trade negotiators, and provided provisions to the Hudson’s Bay Company, Northwest Company, and European fur traders. The Métis were expert hunters themselves and developed York Boats and Red River cart systems for transporting goods and furs. Métis communities settled along fur trading routes in Canada’s historic northwest, with the largest being the Red River Settlement in Manitoba.
Métis Nation Flag
In a gift-giving ceremony in 1814, Alexander Macdonnell of the North West Company presents the Métis Nation with a flag. The infinity symbol in the flag’s centre represents the joining of two cultures—Indigenous and European—and the immortality of the new Nation. Over 200 years later, the Métis Nation continues to fly the flag with pride.
The Battle of Frog Plain: The Birth of the Métis Nation
The colonial authorities in the Red River attempt to restrict the trade in pemmican. In response, a group of Métis led by Cuthbert Grant capture Fort Brandon, a Hudson’s Bay Company post. It’s a victory to the Métis that cements our status as an independent nation. Known to Canadians as the Battle of Seven Oaks, the Métis remember it as the Battle of Frog Plain.
THE BUFFALO HUNT
The Métis developed a unique political and legal culture with strong democratic traditions, including elections of buffalo councils for organized buffalo hunts. Laws of the hunt were created and enforced by the Buffalo Councils.
The creation and initiation of these laws were the first steps towards Métis self-government and the earliest known form of government in Canada. Traditional Laws of the Buffalo Hunt:
No buffalo to be run on the Sabbath day
No party to fork off, lag behind, or go before without permission;
No person or party to run buffalo before the general order
Every captain with his men in turn to patrol the camp and keep guard
For the first trespass against these laws, the offender to have his saddle and bridle cut up
For the second offence, the coat be taken off the offender’s back and be cut up
For the third offence, the offender to be flogged
Any person convicted of theft, even to the value of a sinew, to be brought to the middle of the camp and the crier to call out his or her name three times, adding the word “thief” at each time.
The Sayer Trial: "Le commerce est libre!"
Pierre-Guillaume Sayer, a Métis man, is charged with illegally trading furs in Rupert’s Land. During his trial, a large group of Métis surround the courthouse. Though Sayer is convicted, he is not punished. The assembled crowd celebrates, chanting a rallying cry, “le commerce est libre!” The Hudson’s Bay Company effectively loses the ability to use the courts to enforce its supposed trade monopoly.
Canada Expands in the Métis Nation Homeland
The Hudson’s Bay Company transfers Rupert’s Land and the Northwestern Territory—which include present-day Alberta—to the newly created Dominion of Canada. Concerned that Canada will not respect their rights and freedoms, the Métis resist. Under the leadership of Louis Riel, the Métis establish our own provisional government in the Red River. The Métis negotiate a treaty with Canada, parts of which become enshrined in the Manitoba Act, 1870. The province of Manitoba is created. The Métis are promised, among other things, 1.4 million acres of land for their children. The Crown fails to fulfill this promise honorably.
The Métis Nation Petitions for its Rights
Following the incorporation of the Northwest Territories into Canada, dozens of petitions are sent to the federal government asking that Métis land rights in the territory be formally recognized. Canada’s responses are non-committal. Métis want title to our lands to be formally recognized so that we are not disposed by newly arriving Euro-Canadian settlers, as happened in Manitoba following the Red River Resistance.
In the face of Canada’s failure to fulfil its promises to the Métis or to respect our rights, the Métis establish the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, under the leadership of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Canada crushes the Métis government in what is remembered as the Battle of Batoche. Louis Riel is captured and later executed.
Beginning in 1885, Canada offers scrip (a certificate traded for land or money to purchase land) to Métis residing in the Northwest Territories, including present-day Alberta. The scrip system was rife with fraud and abuse. The bulk of scrip ends up in the hands of land speculators; the Métis receive next to nothing for it. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that “the history of scrip speculation and devaluation is a sorry chapter in our nation’s history.”
TRAGEDY OF MÉTIS SCRIP
Beginning in 1885, Canada began offering scrip to the Métis residing in the Northwest Territories, including present-day Alberta. Scrip was meant to address Métis claims to land and was a certificate that could be traded for land or money to purchase land. The scrip system was rife with fraud and abuse. The bulk of scrip ended up in the hands of land speculators who resold scrip certificates, often fraudulently through Métis impersonators, for profit and left the Métis with next to nothing, including our rights and claims to the land. Many Métis were pushed out of their homes and lived along road allowances and railway lines. More than a century later, the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged this dark past and said, “The history of scrip speculation and devaluation is a sorry chapter in our nation’s history.”
In November 2017, Canada took steps to repair this tragedy by co-signing the MNA-Canada Framework Agreement, which included a priority to explore ways of settling outstanding Métis land claims.
St. Paul des Métis
In 1896, Father Lacombe, with the backing of the federal government, establishes a reserve and school for Métis who were left destitute after taking scrip. Within little more than a decade, however, the school is closed, the lands are taken over by French Canadian settlers, and the Métis are forced to relocate.
St. Albert Métis Association
Métis in present-day Alberta establish the St. Albert Métis Association. It is formally organized, has an elected president, and conducts meetings using parliamentary procedure. The Association advocates for the fair handling of Métis land claims and petitions Ottawa for improvements to the scrip system.
Criminal Code Amended to Prohibit Prosecution of Métis Scrip Fraud
Alberta Métis seek justice in the courts, pursuing a case for fraud in relation to Métis scrip against a prominent Alberta land speculator, Richard Secord. Senator James Lougheed, grandfather of Premier Peter Lougheed, argues that “there were a good many irregularities amounting to fraud and perjury in connection with the location” of lands that were supposed to have been issued to the Métis under the scrip system, but that the Criminal Code should be amended so scrip fraud cannot be prosecuted. The amendment passes. The Métis are left without legal recourse to challenge scrip fraud.
Association des Métis Alberta et les Territoires du Nord-Ouest
Led by Charles Delorme, Métis in the Cold Lake area organize in response to the federal government’s decision to transfer control of natural resources to the province. They are concerned about the impact of the transfer on Métis living on Crown land. They form the Association des Métis Alberta et les Territoires du Nord-Ouest.
The Métis Association of Alberta
In 1932, the Association des Métis Alberta et les Territoires du Nord-Ouest is organized more formally and becomes the Métis Association of Alberta (MAA), including31 locals across Alberta. Joe Dion was its first president, with Malcolm Norris, Felix Callihoo, and Pete Tomkins serving as vice-presidents, and James Brady as Secretary Treasurer. They advocate to alleviate Métis poverty and create a secure Métis land base in Alberta.
The Ewing Commission
In response to MAA lobbying, Alberta appoints the Half-breed Commission to examine and report on Métis health, education, homelessness, and land issues. Judge Albert F. Ewing is appointed chairman, and the commission becomes known as the Ewing Commission. Joe Dion, Malcom Norris, and Adrian Hope consistently attend the Commission’s hearings on behalf of the MAA. After a two-year investigation, the Commission recommends the province provide Métis with a secure land base and adequate services.
Métis Population Betterment Act
Responding to pressure from the MAA and the Ewing Commission’s recommendations, Alberta adopts the Métis Population Betterment Act, creating the province’s 12 original Métis colonies (known as Métis Settlements).
Métis Serve in the Second World War
Métis serve in the Second World War, fighting for Canada. While overseas, they experience being treated as equals and are exposed to emerging international concepts of human rights and self-determination.
In keeping with an international trend towards decolonization and self-determination after the Second World War, Indigenous people across North America mobilize in defense of their rights. In Canada, the Métis Nation is at the forefront of this movement.
Métis Association of Alberta is Formally Registered
Under the leadership of Adrian Hope, the MAA formally registers as an association under provincial legislation, giving the MAA access to federal funding. The organization is revitalized. Membership is open to any “Metis, non-treaty Indian, or any person of mixed White and Indian blood.”
The Métis Association of Alberta’s Regions are Created
The MAA Bylaws are amended, for the first time creating six Zones (precursors to today’s Regions).
Constitution Act, 1982
After intense consultations with the MAA, Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed proposes the final wording for what becomes section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982: “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” “Aboriginal peoples of Canada” is defined to explicitly include the Métis.
MAA Establishes Regional Offices
Regional offices are established in each of the MAA’s six Regions, significantly increasing the MAA’s capacity to serve our citizens across Alberta.
MAA Membership Restricted to Métis
In response to the inclusion of “Métis” as an Aboriginal people with s. 35 rights, the MAA restricts our membership to Métis persons, excluding non-status Indians.
MAA-Alberta Framework Agreement
The Province of Alberta and the MAA sign our first framework agreement. The MAA becomes the only Métis government in Canada to have a framework agreement with a provincial government. The framework agreement provides the MAA with stable, predictable funding to pursue the priorities of the Métis Nation within Alberta.
The Métis Nation of Alberta
The MAA changes its name, officially becoming the Métis Nation of Alberta Association (MNA). The name change is an clear assertion of Métis nationhood. It also plainly signals the kind of relationship the we intend to have with the federal and provincial governments: nation-to-nation, government-to-government.
MNA Adopts National Definition of Métis for Citizenship - August 23, 2003
The MNA Annual Assembly formally adopts the National Definition of Métis for Citizenship within the Métis Nation into our Bylaws. We begin the process of re-registering all our citizens. This work ensures that all MNA citizens are rights-bearing Métis individuals.
September 19, 2003
R. v. Powley
The Supreme Court of Canada confirms that s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 protects Métis rights. The Court urges Métis groups to standardize their registration systems to identify Métis rights-holders in an objectively verifiable manner.
Interim Métis Harvesting Agreement
Alberta and the MNA sign the Interim Métis Harvesting Agreement, which allows MNA citizens to harvest throughout the province.
New MNA Membership Cards
The MNA issues its first new citizenship card, based on the requirements of the National Definition of Métis for Citizenship within the Métis Nation, to MNA President Audrey Poitras.
Alberta Cancels Interim Métis Harvesting Agreement
Alberta cancels the Métis Interim Harvesting Agreement and unilaterally imposes a new provincial policy on Métis harvesting in Alberta.
MNA Assembly Adopts Métis Harvesting Rights Action Plan
The MNA Annual Assembly rejects Alberta’s unilateral Métis harvesting policy and adopts a four-part Métis harvesting rights action plan: 1) to exercise the Métis Nation’s rights by organizing hunts; 2) to defend Métis rights by challenging charges brought against Métis harvesters in court; 3) to undertake political action; 4) to educate the public. We called this our hunt for justice.
R. v. Hirsekorn
Garry Hirsekorn is charged under Alberta’s Wildlife Act for shooting a mule deer in the Cypress Hills. The Provincial Court of Alberta convicts Mr. Hirsekorn, holding that there was no historic Métis community in the Cypress Hills and, as a result, there are no current Métis hunting rights in that part of the province. The court recognizes a historic Métis community in central Alberta. Ultimately, this decision is upheld on appeal.
July 21, 2011
Alberta v Cunningham
The Supreme Court of Canada confirms “[t]he right of the Métis to their own non-Indian culture is confirmed by the Constitution Act, 1982, s. 35.”
March 8, 2013
Manitoba Métis Federation v Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada confirms the Manitoba Métis community has an outstanding collective claim against the federal government flowing from the promise of 1.4 million acres of land in s. 31 of the Manitoba Act, 1870. The Court also recognizes the Manitoba Métis Federation’s standing to advance this claim based on the authorization it receives from its citizens. This decision sets the stage for a possible Métis claim relating to scrip in Alberta.
August 10, 2013
MNA Red & White Cards Cancelled
The MNA Annual Assembly cancels all old “red and white” membership cards because they do not meet the documentation requirements of the National Definition of Métis for Citizenship within the Métis Nation.
February 20, 2015
Douglas Eyford, Ministerial Special Representative on Renewing the Comprehensive Claims Policy, recommends that “Canada should develop a reconciliation process to support the exercise of Métis section 35(1) rights and to reconcile their interests.”
April 14, 2016
Daniels v. Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada confirms that the federal government is responsible for dealing with Métis issues.
July 14, 2016
Thomas Isaac, Ministerial Special Representative on Métis s. 35 Rights, finds that Métis governments, having received expressed legal authorization from Métis s. 35 rights holders, “have the ability to govern in respect of their unique Métis heritage and Section 35 rights.” Isaac recommends Canada develop a policy “that expressly addresses Métis Section 35 rights claims and related issues.”
August 7, 2016
New Objective: Negotiating a Modern-Day Treaty
The MNA Annual Assembly amends our bylaws to include negotiating a modern-day treaty on behalf of Métis in Alberta as one of our objectives and to adopt a new Oath of Membership. The new Oath provides clarifies our mandate to advance Métis rights and claims on behalf of Métis in Alberta.
January 30, 2017
MNA-Canada MOU on Advancing Reconciliation
Canada and the MNA sign the Memorandum of Understanding on Advancing Reconciliation (MOU), putting us on track to negotiate a modern-day treaty for Métis in Alberta. In part because of our new objective and Oath of Membership, the MOU acknowledges that “the MNA is mandated to advance Métis rights, self-government and self-determination in Alberta.”
February 1, 2017
MNA-Alberta Framework Agreement
Alberta and the MNA sign a renewed 10-year Framework Agreement, in which Alberta “recognizes the MNA’s representative role on behalf of its Citizens.” The Framework Agreement includes commitments to deal with Métis harvesting, consultation, and other rights-related issues.
April 13, 2017
Canada-Métis Nation Accord
Canada and the Métis National Council and its governing members, including the MNA, sign the Canada-Métis Nation Accord. The Accord confirms that the Métis National Council’s governing members are mandated and authorized to represent the Métis Nation’s citizens to deal with collectively held Métis rights and claims against the Crown.
November 16, 2017
MNA-Canada Framework Agreement on Advancing Reconciliation
Canada and the MNA sign the Framework Agreement on Advancing Reconciliation. This marks the beginning of formal negotiations recognizing Métis rights, resolving long-standing grievances (such as those relating to the scrip system), and establishing modern self-government for the Métis Nation within Alberta.
Initial Constitution Engagements
The MNA hosts engagements on self-governance with citizens across Alberta. A series of townhall-style workshops are held in each region to gather input on governance, priorities, and values—the first steps in shaping our constitution.
June 15, 2018
Skills and Employment Training Sub-Accord
Métis National Council and Canada sign the Métis Nation Skills and Employment Accord, which provides a framework to jointly implement the Métis National Labour Market Strategy. The strategy focuses on enhanced employment services, skills development, and job training to improve the overall well-being of the Métis Nation. The signing follows a $625 million commitment over 10 years from Canada for the Métis Nation stream of the Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program.
July 19, 2018
Métis National Housing Sub-Accord
Métis National Council and Canada sign the Métis National Housing Accord. The accord outlines Canada’s commitment of $500 million over ten years to support the implementation of a Métis Nation Housing Strategy. As a result, in October 2019, our housing branch, Métis Capital Housing Corporation, launches four new housing programs to support Métis families and students including rental supports, home repairs, and down payment assistance.
July 31, 2018
Indigenous Peoples Open Doors Program
MNA President Audrey Poitras and Parks Canada officials sign an agreement offering the Indigenous Peoples Open Doors Program to MNA citizens, allowing free access to national parks and national historic sites in Alberta.
March 12, 2019
MNA-Alberta Métis Harvesting Agreement
The MNA and Alberta government sign the Métis Harvesting Agreement. This agreement enables the implementation of the Métis Harvesting in Alberta Policy (2018), which replaces a 2010 policy. The new policy and agreement recognize the rights of eligible MNA citizens to hunt, fish, and trap for food in four regional harvesting areas in central and northern Alberta. The agreement also recognizes our authority to issue identification to eligible Métis harvesters and commits Alberta to further discussions about recognizing Métis harvesting rights in southern Alberta.
June 27, 2019
MNA Signs Historic Self-Government Agreement
After more than 90 years of perseverance and struggle, we sign the Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement (MGRSA), the first ever self-government agreement between the Government of Canada and a Métis government. The MGRSA explicitly recognizes the Métis Nation within Alberta as having an inherent and constitutionally protected right to self-government. It also creates a process for us to be recognized as an Indigenous government in federal legislation.
Constitution Commission Formed
Following an application process, the Métis Nation of Alberta Constitution Commission is created. This panel of five MNA citizens is tasked with drafting an MNA Constitution based on past and present citizen feedback, engaging with citizens on the draft Constitution, and overseeing the ratification process of the Constitution and the MGRSA.
January 14-16, 2020
The Métis governments of Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan hold a Métis government meeting, marking the first gathering of elected representatives from the MNA, Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) since each signed their own Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement (MGRSA) with the federal government.
At the meeting, the three governments discuss how they can collaborate to advance their visions of Métis Nation self-government in their respective provinces. The three governments also call for more transparency and accountability of the Métis National Council (MNC).
March 9-10, 2020
Otipemisiwak: A National Conference on Métis Self-Government
The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) hosts the MNA and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) in Gatineau, Quebec for the first-ever conference on Métis self-government. Métis citizens from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario attended the conference to learn and discuss Métis history, the trials and triumphs of self-governance, and the strides made in recent years.