The Moot Times UCalgary Law
Métis Nation of Alberta Votes to Ratify their Constitution
By Jamie Dublanko
In November of 2022, the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) voted to ratify the Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution. 15,729 votes were cast, with 96.9% voting “yes” to adopting the Constitution. The Constitution will come into force at the next general election of the MNA, which will be held in September 2023.
The Constitution represents an important step towards self-government for the Métis Nation within Alberta. It also brings the MNA one step closer to a modern treaty with Canada within the framework of the self-government agreements of 2019 and 2023.
2019 Self-Government Agreement
The 2019 Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement (MGRSA) was the first ever self-government agreement between any Métis government and Canada. Similar agreements have followed between Canada and the Métis Nations of Ontario and Saskatchewan, as well as the Manitoba Métis Federation. The federal Crown, for the first time, recognized a Métis right of self-government under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and acknowledged the MNA is mandated to represent the Métis Nation within Alberta.
The MRGSA also outlined the steps required to transition the MNA from being incorporated as a non-profit under Alberta’s Societies Act to being recognized as a government in federal legislation. Ratifying the Otipemisiwak Constitution was one of these steps.
2023 Updated Self-Government Agreement
On February 24, 2023, an updated self-government agreement was signed by Canada and the MNA. The Métis Nation within Alberta Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement (Agreement) builds upon the MRGSA, and officially recognizes that the MNA is a Métis government with jurisdiction over internal and core governance matters. It does not address harvesting or land related matters.
The 2023 Agreement also commits the parties to negotiations towards a self-government Treaty between Canada and the MNA within the next two years. A requirement to implement the Treaty, which will supersede the 2019 and 2013 self-government agreements, is that the Métis government have a constitution (see sections 12.02 and 13.01). The recent ratification of the Constitution brings the MNA one step closer towards governance on a nation-to-nation basis with Canada.
Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution
The Otipemisiwak Constitution establishes a new fiscal relationship with Canada, whereby the MNA can provide Métis designed support to citizens in health, housing, language, education, training, economic development, and justice.
The MNA states the Constitution will also improve the services the MNA provides to its citizens, including supporting those with disabilities and mental health issues, as well as delivering culturally appropriate child and family services.
The Constitution itself begins with a “Declaration of Self-Determination and Self-Government,” which speaks to the Métis’ history, values, and goals. Declarations, known as “preambles” in non-Indigenous Constitutions, are featured in many Indigenous Constitutions in Canada.
The rest of the Constitution is organized into seven parts:
Bill of Rights
The Otipemisiwak Métis Government
Alberta Metis Settlements
Officers and Institutions
Part I changes “Métis Nation of Alberta” to the more inclusive “Métis Nation within Alberta,” emphasizing the Métis Nation within Alberta’s role as one part of the broader Métis Nation. Also new is the introduction of the five Territories of the Métis Nation within Alberta.
Part II lists the inherent, collective rights of the Métis Nation within Alberta which includes but is not limited to “Aboriginal rights” protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Individual rights of Citizens in relation to the Otipemisiwak Métis Government are listed here too. This includes the right to vote, access information, and retain Citizenship in the Métis Nation within Alberta regardless of place of residence.
In Part III, the Constitution establishes a structure for the Métis government, the branches of which are The Citizens’ Gathering, the District Councils, the Citizen’s Council, and the Judicial Branch (see section 11.1).
All Citizens have a right to attend and participate in the Citizens’ Gathering, a forum which brings Citizens together each summer to share in Métis social, cultural, political, and spiritual activities. Citizens are updated on the operations and finances of the government, and have an opportunity to pose questions and provide feedback (see section 14.1).
District Councils are governance structures made up of an elected District Captain and an indeterminate number of Councillors (see section 15.6). The Districts themselves are subdivisions of the five Territories, whose exact boundaries will be established by Otipemisiwak Métis Government Law to ensure flexibility over time. District Councils within each Territory are responsible for coordinating Crown consultation (see section 15.8). Governance structures at the District Level are accountable to the District Councils, while governance structures at the Provincial level will be accountable to the Citizens’ Council.
The Citizens’ Council is composed of an elected President, Women’s Representative, Youth Representative, and one Citizen Representative per district (see section 16.1). The Citizens’ Council’s authority “extends to all matters not assigned to District Councils related to the good governance of the Métis Nation within Alberta and the advancement and protection of Métis lands, rights, interests, and claims.” Pursuant to this authority, the Citizens’ Council has exclusive power to enact laws (see section 16.20).
Lastly is the Judicial Branch. While the structure of the judicial bodies is not specified, the Otipemisiwak Métis Government must “maintain one or more laws establishing one or more impartial bodies to decide and prescribe the resolution of disputes.” Put broadly, the Judicial branch will ensure that all Otipemisiwak Métis Government laws are consistent with the Constitution, and that the actions of the government follow the law (see section 17.1).
Parts IV through VII expand on matters including Metis Settlements and land dispossessions, and includes a non-derogation clause that indicates the Constitution should not be interpreted to diminish or limit any existing Métis rights (see section 27.1).
The Otipemisiwak Constitution has not been without criticism. A number of Métis Nations, settlements and communities have expressed concern that the now ratified MNA Otipemisiwak Constitution will take away authority from non-MNA members.
In solidarity against the constitution, leaders from 14 communities gathered in early November 2022. The leaders discussed legal action they would take if the constitution were ratified, stating in a joint press release that the “MNA has no authority to claim governance over anyone. They are a provincially incorporated society – not a government.”
The Yellowhead Institute expressed similar concerns, noting that the Constitution effectively makes the MNA the de facto negotiating body for Métis in Alberta. While the MNA is the largest representative body of Métis in Alberta, it does not which does not reflect the distinct and historic Métis communities with their own representative bodies. They find evidence of homogenization in the language of Constitution itself. Specifically, section 16, which declares the Citizen’s Council will be responsible for “negotiation, on behalf of the Métis Nation within Alberta, of a modern-day treaty relationship with the Crown through a land claims agreement or other arrangement as called for and contemplated within the meaning of section 35(3) of the Constitution Act, 1982.” The Yellowhead Institute recognizes the importance of the MNA, but emphasizes that the broader Métis community must be included on the path to self-governance.