After five years without a Métis Nation Legislative Assembly (MNLA) some members of the grassroots leadership are taking the future of the Métis Nation Saskatchewan (MN-S) into their own hands.
A handful of Métis Local Presidents gathered outside the Central Urban Métis Federation (CUMFI) building in Saskatoon Friday morning to call for a general assembly for all Métis citizens of the province.
“Why are we doing this? Because not only have our leaders, Provincial Métis Council (PMC) failed us, but as well the provincial justice system of Saskatchewan has failed us,” local president for Green Lake, Kelvin Roy said.
“Because of all the governance conflicts that have happened in the courts and the failure of the justice system to resolve those conflicts, we are encouraging all Métis citizens of Saskatchewan to attend this meeting to discuss issues affecting our nation – provincially, regionally, and locally.”
The general assembly will be held in Saskatoon on Sept. 26 at the CUMFI building starting at 1 p.m.
“It is our hope that we find our way to a MNLA,” Roy said. “Our rights as indigenous people have and are being denied by our leaders and the provincial justice system. Therefore we, the grassroots people, are taking steps to insure the collective voices of our nation are being heard and respected”
The local leadership called for all Métis citizens to come out to discuss the recommendations the local presidents will bring forward. Those include a recommendation to establish fixed dates for general assemblies and MNLAs; a recommendation to establish a Métis court to resolve internal governance issues; and to implement a mail-in ballot for the 2016 election to reduce costs.
There is a long history of political infighting at MN-S which resulted in the PMC not holding any meetings, which are required to set a date for MNLAs, and therefore no date was set for a legislative assembly since 2010.
In October 2014 the federal government halted funding to the group because of its failure to hold up to its financial agreement which requires two assemblies a year. Without the $416,000 annual federal operating grant, MN-S let its employees go and locked the doors this past March.
At the start of September, a Queen’s bench justice ruled that MN-S Vice President Gerald Morin and the PMC were not in contempt of court when they failed to hold a meeting to set an MNLA.
The application was brought to court by MN-S President Robert Doucette.
In the ruling, Justice Brian Scherman described the case as “today’s Métis battles do not pit muskets, Sharp and Winchester rifles against government troops, military carbines and Gatling guns. Instead, the field of battle consists of partisan politicking and strategic posturing reinforced with court proceedings, Métis against Métis. The weapons of choice are injunction applications and contempt proceedings. To some, this may seem civilized compared to the battles of 1885. The veneer of civility is thin.”
“That this should be happening in the land of Batoche, the cultural and aspirational centre of the Métis people’s struggles, surely dishonours the memory of Riel, Dumont and all their compatriots,” Scherman said in his ruling.
Roy said Justice Scherman’s ruling was like a “huge slap in the face” and that the courts failed them.
“For the judge to come out with a ruling basically slapping all Métis citizens in Canada in the face by comparing what’s going on here today to the 1885 rebellion with Louis Riel , Gabriel Dumont, and the federal government,” he said.
Fish Lake local president Bryan Lee said in response to the courts ruling it’s become clear that it is time for the grassroots to step up.
“We feel that a general assembly of the Métis people, the grassroots people, should and must have a voice. With that voice, they can set the MNLA because the PMC is derelict in them calling the MNLA,” Lee said.
“Any person who is of Métis heritage, whether they’ve gone through the objectively verified registry or they self-declare as Métis, is welcome to attend the AGM, all including the Morin faction.”
With all of the MN-S funding cut, Lee said they believe they can work with the federal government to get around $300,000 for an MNLA if they can show the government that “we have resolved to the issues, we can do this if there is a willingness of the Métis people.” He said they would hold the MNLA at a low cost facility in Prince Albert or Saskatoon and delegates would largely pay their own way.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) has said that funding would be reinstated to MN-S if a successful assembly was held. MN-S represents about 100,000 Métis people in the province.