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After the Fur Trade

Education not Annihilation

The Métis are a dynamic people who have encountered many changes following the Fur Trade. Many Métis settled and focused their agricultural talents on a mixed farming approach. Many had fields, livestock, and gardens in addition to the hunting and fishing that occurred throughout the year. Life was hard, but life was good. When the Great Depression hit, the Métis were increasingly displaced by non-Aboriginal settlers who were pursuing good crop lands. Displacement led entire Métis communities into states of disease, illiteracy, and deepening poverty. Throughout the west, the seeds of political and cultural power were taking root as a result of the dire situation of Métis. Discussion in the community led to the need for organization.

Alberta is a perfect example of how the Métis gained momentum using organizational skill and determination. Local Métis meetings were held in St. Paul and in St. Albert. In addition, prominent Métis advocate Adrian Hope traveled to Calgary to meet with other Métis to gauge their interest. Métis political activism resulted in the formation of L’Association des Métis D’Alberta et des Territories du Nord Ouest on 28 December 1932. This group of activists for the Métis and their grievances was led by Métis political activists Joseph Dion, Malcolm Norris, Felix Callihoo, Pete Tomkins, and James Brady. These men formed the first governing body of the Métis, and this organization later was named the Métis Nation Association of Alberta. The lobbying of this group led to the provincial government’s response of appointing the Ewing Commission in 1934 that would ultimately lead to the Population Betterment Act of 1938.

The Population Betterment Act established Métis agricultural settlement throughout central and northern Alberta. Initially, twelve Métis settlements were set aside: Peavine, Caslan, Cold Lake, East Prairie, Elizabeth, Fishing Lake, Gift Lake, Kikino, Paddle Prairie, Touchwood, Marlboro, and Wolf Lake. Currently, there are eight remaining settlements: Buffalo Lake, East Prairie, Elizabeth, Fishing Lake, Gift Lake, Kikino, Paddle Prairie, and Peavine.

In 1982, the Métis were successful in gaining national recognition in the Constitution of Canada. Métis were reaffirmed as a part of the Aboriginal definition. Section 35 of the Constitution recognizes Aboriginal peoples as "Indians, Inuit and Métis." This provided Métis people with distinct rights and constitutional protection. With the exception of Alberta – which has set aside land for self-governing Metis Settlements, and has signed an interim agreement with Metis Nation of Alberta to legally permit year-round harvesting to Métis rights-holders – the Canadian government and other provinces have done little to legally recognize the Aboriginal rights of the Métis.

There have been a number of legal challenges that have tested and challenged the constitutional commitment made to Métis in 1982. For example, in December 1998, a northern Ontario Métis was charged with hunting without a license. Ontario Judge Charles Vaillancourt acquitted this person on the grounds that Métis have Aboriginal hunting rights. This case was a precursor to another legal challenge that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1993, Steve Powley and his son Roddy were arrested in southern Ontario for hunting moose without a license and outside the provincial hunting season. They argued that they were acting within their constitutional rights to hunt for food. In section 35, the term ‘Métis’ refers to distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own customs, way of life, and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit and European forebears." On 19 September 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that indeed, as a Métis, Powley was exercising his Aboriginal rights. The highest court in the land affirmed what Métis have long known they are a distinct Aboriginal people with constitutional rights.

 


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