Eight set­tle­ments in Al­berta are still the only rec­og­nized Métis land base in Canada

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Stephanie Cram

Eight set­tle­ments in Al­berta are still the only rec­og­nized Métis land base in Canada

THERE ISN’T MUCH to see along the stretch of High­way 855 about 150 kilo­me­tres north­east of Ed­mon­ton other than trees, tar­mac and a sign wel­com­ing you to a type of com­mu­nity that doesn’t ex­ist any­where else in Canada but Al­berta. “Wel­come to the Buf­falo Lake Metis Set­tle­ment,” it says, with no men­tion that along with seven other set­tle­ments scat­tered across north­ern Al­berta — East Prairie, El­iz­a­beth, Fish­ing Lake, Gift Lake, Kikino, Pad­dle Prairie and Peav­ine — it makes up the coun­try’s only rec­og­nized Métis land base, which with an area of 512,121 hectares is only slightly smaller than Prince Ed­ward Is­land. That this is the case would prob­a­bly sur­prise most Cana­di­ans, given the promi­nence of Man­i­toba and Saskatchewan (site of the Red River and North­west re­sis­tances, re­spec­tively) in Métis his­tory. But it’s Al­berta and not its Prairie sib­lings, Bri­tish Columbia, the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries or On­tario (all of which are considered part of the Métis home­land) that has set aside land for a peo­ple who have long been with­out any. At the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury and in the wake of the failed North­west Re­sis­tance of 1885, Métis across the Prairies had trouble find­ing a place to call home. They weren’t per­mit­ted to live on First Na­tion re­serves, and many felt they didn’t be­long in ci­ties. They re­sorted to squat­ting on Crown land set aside for roads and rail­ways, cre­at­ing makeshift set­tle­ments known as Road Al­lowance com­mu­ni­ties. Rec­og­niz­ing that the liv­ing con­di­tions in these com­mu­ni­ties were not ideal, in 1938 the gov­ern­ment of Al­berta passed the Métis Pop­u­la­tion Bet­ter­ment Act, which set aside land for Métis. The set­tle­ments helped pre­serve the tra­di­tional Métis way of life, which in­cludes hunt­ing, fish­ing, trap­ping and berry pick­ing, says Ger­ald Cun­ning­ham, pres­i­dent of the Metis Set­tle­ments Gen­eral Coun­cil, the gov­ern­ing au­thor­ity for the eight com­mu­ni­ties and the body that holds the ti­tle to the land (an ar­range­ment un­like the one be­tween First Na­tions and the Crown, which holds ti­tle to re­serve lands). Even though the eight set­tle­ments re­main con­nected through the coun­cil, Cun­ning­ham says the his­tory of each is unique. Buf­falo Lake, for in­stance, was es­tab­lished in 1951 with the in­tent to pro­vide land for Métis veter­ans of the First World War and Sec­ond World War. Since then, Buf­falo Lake has come a long way. Harold Blyan, vice-chair­man of the com­mu­nity’s coun­cil, re­calls ar­riv­ing as a four-year-old with his fam­ily in 1966. “There was just one gravel road, which came in from Caslan,” he says. “From there, there were just wagon trails that went out in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.” Blyan says that liv­ing in Buf­falo Lake now is no dif­fer­ent than city liv­ing — “We have Wi-fi and ca­ble TV,” he jokes — but he and his fel­low Métis know that the set­tle­ments are about much more than mod­ern con­ve­niences. “With­out land, you will never have lo­cal au­ton­omy and self-re­liance,” says Cun­ning­ham. “With­out land, you won’t have a place you can call home.

Harold Blyan, the vice-chair­man of Al­berta's Buf­falo Lake Métis Set­tle­ment, looks out over the wa­ter near his home.

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