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Maurice L'Hirondelle

Former President, FMSA


Métis Association-government relations 1930-41


   Alberta has the only legislated land-base for the Métis in Canada

Canada, in the Manitoba Act, 1870, 33 Victoria, c.3, committed to the "extinguishment of the Indian Title to the lands in the Province ... to the extent of one million four hundred thousand acres thereof, for the benefit of the families of the half-breed residents ..." (Sec. 31) . For various reasons, security of Métis land ownership and economic well-being in Manitoba and elsewhere have remained serious issues.

In the late 1920s and early 30s after a great deal of tough political work by many including Charles Delorme of Fishing Lake (Frog Lake also used), many Métis associates, various MLAs (L. Joly, L.A. Giroux - Liberal, Grouard; Joseph .M. Dechene - Liberal, St. Paul; D. M. Duggan - Conservative Leader, R. G. Reid and his Deputy Minister in the Department of Land and Mines), MP (P.G.Davies), a Senator (P.E. Lessard), the Church (Arch Bishop H. O'Leary - "who never tired of giving his advice" [Alberta Archives, Accession #75.75 Box 5 - letter to F.J. Buck from Dion, September 10, 1940] - the church was not all that supportive), and Joseph Dion of Gurneyville, Alberta, the Métis Association gained political presence as a "movement".  Although it had little self-generated funding, it had experienced organizers on an elected Executive Council and a fairly robust membership list. 

The Association was not  incorporated until 1961 although attempts to register it were made in 1935 and 1940.  However, in various forms it has been active since the late 1890s [see Sawchuck, 1998].  For example, here is a list of active Councillors of the 'Halfbreed Association of Northern Alberta' as of Nov. 1932.

Throughout the early 1930s, the United Framers of Alberta, later the CCF, is the government and contains a proponent for the Métis in Richard Gavin Reid, at times the acting Premier and Minister of Lands and Mines, as well as other things. Premier Brownlee (Reid becomes Premier in mid-1934 when Brownlee is forced to resign) is reluctant to support action on Metis issues. However, during a debate on a motion put forward by Liberal Dechene, Brownlee verbally commits in the legislature on April 14, 1934 (Edmonton Bulletin, page 9 April 16, 1934) to appoint a "committee of three" to study the issues.  Dechene's specific motion calling for government action is defeated 37-14. 

The Ewing Commission is not appointed until December 11, 1934, when Reid is the Premier. In 1936 the Commission reports on Métis living conditions, making recommendations on how to remedy the situation.

As a result, 12 farm colonies were set aside in 1938 and 1939 for the Métis.  These lands were intended to reduce relief costs for the government by providing segregated land for destitute Metis on which they might become self-sufficient.  The Métis Population Betterment Act 1938 provided the administrative vehicle. With this Act the only land-base for the Métis in Canada was in place. By 1960, four of the original 12 colonies had been revoked.

Over time, issues of ownership, governance and funding continued to arise and various actions on the part of government, amendments to the original Act, Ministerial Orders and Orders-in-Council, changed the political environment and shifted thinking among the Metis to increasing the local sense of autonomy and self-determination.

For example, in 1968 Poitras et al initiated a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Alberta for misappropriation of Trust Funds. The suit, although dismissed in 1969, was reactivated in 1975 and the Crown began to move slowly toward assessing the new political environment. One step along the way was a committee chaired by Grant MacEwan, a Joint Métis-government Committee (1982), to review the Metis Betterment Act.  In 1984 the committee made recommendations to improve relations with government and increase self-government. 

By 1990, negotiation between the Federation of Métis Settlement Associations and the government produced a new set of 4 Acts, in particular the Métis Settlements Act.  A revised local "ethnic" (as opposed to "public") governance structure was initiated so that now each Settlement has a reorganized Council; a new General Council provides overall policy guidance to individual Settlements and the Crown provides guidance, through the Act, to both these levels of local governance.

The remaining 8 Settlements (the former colonies) have a total area of about 1.28 million acres, oddly close to the area mentioned in the Manitoba Act.  But, contrary to the Manitoba Act, it is clearly noted in the recent Alberta legislation and agreements that they were never intended to address aboriginal rights or title claims.

Active in the process of governance are the Métis Settlements Ombudsman and the Métis Settlements Appeal Tribunal both of which answer to the Crown.

Summary points:

  • 8 settlements  (1.28 million acres) held in fee simple by the Métis collectively through the General Council
  • Métis-specific legislation prescribes governance structure and processes
  • Identity is based on collective, not individual identity
  • A Ministry of the Alberta government administers the legislation and regulations
  • Members of each settlement may be granted occupancy
  • Originally 12 Settlements set aside as farm colonies 1938/39 by Alberta Orders-in-Council, intended to emulate Indian Reserves
  • Population living on the Settlements' lands: 5100 in 2003 (unreliable stats)
  • Economic development continues to be an issue
  • Alberta has largest number of Métis of any province in Canada just over 63,000 (2001 census)
  • Considerations as you read through these pages

    Consider territorial isolation as it relates to the Settlements.

    Economic, educational and general welfare: are these still issues for people on the Settlements?

    Consider the governance structure of the Settlements.

    Is Settlements' governance like other local governance in Alberta?

    Could the Settlements operate without specific legislation?

    Consider the financial relationships between the Settlements and government.

    Consider the  policy and legislative relationships.

    Consider Métis identity both individual and collective in the context of the Alberta Settlements.