Edmonton Journal

Métis deserve right to forge their own path

Ottawa's Bill 53 critical to ensuring that happens, Karen Collins writes.

- Karen Collins is the Citizens' Representa­tive for the St. PaulCold Lake Métis (District 12) of the Otipemisiw­ak Métis Government ( formerly the Métis Nation of Alberta).

As a Métis woman, I have respected the paths of other Indigenous peoples and their right to self-determinat­ion. Today, we as Métis are asking for the same respect and support in our fight for rights recognitio­n as Indigenous peoples.

I am from the Elizabeth Métis Settlement and our community borders the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement, Frog Lake Cree Nation, Kehewin Cree Nation, and Cold Lake First Nations. We are neighbours in the truest sense of the word. For generation­s, we have seen marriages between citizens of the neighbouri­ng communitie­s. We support each other in community celebratio­ns, cultural events, and ceremonies. We honour each other's traditions and attend each other's wakes and funerals. There is no inherent division. We are all Indigenous people, and we support each other through life's triumphs and hardships.

The only divisions that have arisen are a direct result of destructiv­e laws, regulation­s, and policies of non-Indigenous government­s — policies that have harmed friendship­s, family relationsh­ips and even marriages. As someone who grew up in friendship centres and spent much of my profession­al life serving as an elected Métis representa­tive, I believe the way forward is clear: Allow each collectivi­ty to forge its own path of reconcilia­tion and self-determinat­ion. This would allow for a coexistenc­e based on respect, recognitio­n, and acknowledg­ment.

Historical­ly, the Métis have not been afforded this opportunit­y. Despite the express inclusion of the Métis as a distinct rights-holding group in the Constituti­on, we have been largely ignored. For over 200 years, the relationsh­ip between the Métis and the Crown has been one of broken promises, false starts, dismissal, and denialism.

It appears, however, that our relationsh­ip with Canada is finally turning a corner.

The federal government recently introduced Bill C-53, legislatio­n which affirms and implements the self-government agreements that the Métis Nation of Alberta, the Métis Nation- Saskatchew­an, and the Métis Nation of Ontario each signed with Canada. The bill recognizes Métis self-determinat­ion over internal matters of Métis governance, such as Métis citizenshi­p, Métis elections, Métis government structures, and Métis child and family services. It will also give legal force and effect to the self-government treaties our Métis government­s continue to negotiate with Canada.

This legislatio­n is critical for current and future generation­s of Métis people. Future Métis children will be born into a nation of people with distinct recognitio­n of our own language, history, and vibrant culture. The legislatio­n will give us the ability to take care of our own, to nurture our culture and traditions, and to determine our needs. It will allow us to sustain our well-being as a people.

Bill C-53 will ensure that program funding is going where it is truly needed most. It will allow, in concrete terms, the Métis to have a say in our future.

In 1991, I was recruited to join the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, where I worked as a senior policy analyst. Our team developed and put forward a list of recommenda­tions regarding Canada's relationsh­ip with the Métis. I have always been proud of the work of this historic commission and have remained optimistic that one day the recommenda­tions will be adopted. I am thrilled to see that some of our key proposals are on the cusp of coming to fruition; particular­ly the self-government agreements and a path forward to modern-day treaties.

I have spent my life advocating, supporting, and representi­ng the causes of Indigenous people in this country. It is my dream that my family, my relatives, my unborn grandchild­ren, and future generation­s will live in a Canada that recognizes, acknowledg­es, and supports our right to live as Métis people. The rights that affirm our ability to live the way our ancestors fought for and envisioned.

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