Against the backdrop of the historical Upper Fort Garry site in downtown Winnipeg, the Trudeau government announced it has formed a new relationship with the Manitoba Metis Federation, making it the official voice of the Métis people in Manitoba.

Against the backdrop of the historical Upper Fort Garry site in downtown Winnipeg, the Trudeau government announced it has formed a new relationship with the Manitoba Metis Federation, making it the official voice of the Métis people in Manitoba.

The almost two-hour ceremony on Tuesday, replete with a fiddle player, prayers, speeches and gifts, was called a historic step in recognizing the Métis nation’s right to self-government. Critics said it's a sure sign an election is around the corner with the Trudeau government using a longtime ally, federation president David Chartrand, in its quest to solidify its position ahead of a fall vote.

"Very clearly, we are the government of the Métis people," Chartrand said after the outdoor signing of what he called a "modern-day treaty" with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, who participated virtually from Toronto.

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand gives a thumbs-up after signing the agreement, which gives the MMF formal recognition to lead the Manitoba Metis and represent them.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand gives a thumbs-up after signing the agreement, which gives the MMF formal recognition to lead the Manitoba Metis and represent them.

"The agreement is historical and represents a critical step along the Manitoba Metis Federation's path towards self-government," Bennett said. It helps to address issues raised in a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2013, which recognized Ottawa's duty to fulfil its promise to provide land to Métis people as outlined in the Manitoba Act, which brought the province into Confederation in 1870.

"Our government is committed to building a new type of relationship with Métis by advancing reconciliation, providing opportunities for respecting your traditions, language and culture," the minister told the crowd of close to 100 attendees, who were masked and physically distanced.

"Very clearly, we are the government of the Métis people." — MMF President David Chartrand

"Canada has a long way to go toward bringing an end to colonial violence still being felt today," she said, acknowledging the hundreds of unmarked graves discovered at residential school sites in recent weeks. "Through this agreement, Canada recognizes the Manitoba Metis Federation as the government of the Manitoba Métis, as well as its jurisdiction over its own affairs, including citizenship, leadership selection and government operations," she said.

Following the ceremony, Chartrand explained what it means for Manitoba Métis.

Chartrand speaks at the signing ceremony that was held at Upper Fort Garry Heritage Provincial Park in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chartrand speaks at the signing ceremony that was held at Upper Fort Garry Heritage Provincial Park in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

"This actually sets the foundation now of the future, where our government will be treated like provincial governments," Chartrand said. "We will no longer be treated like a corporation or an organization," he said. "We will have our own fiscal transfers, we're working on taxation issues right now with Canada." He expects to have a treaty with Canada signed this fall, saying it's 95 per cent complete.

"It will be the next evolution step to a much bigger transition of governance control," Chartrand said.

"This actually sets the foundation now of the future, where our government will be treated like provincial governments." — MMF President David Chartrand

Not everyone celebrated the agreement. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs complained the Liberal government is playing favourites — and politics.

"As the original treaty partners to the Crown, First Nations have yet to be given the right to self-governance on matters such as citizenship, elections, and the unencumbered operations of their own governments," Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said.

Chartrand (centre) and Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal hold arms up in victory at the signing ceremony as Clement Chartier (left), Leah LaPlante, and Will Goodon look on.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chartrand (centre) and Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal hold arms up in victory at the signing ceremony as Clement Chartier (left), Leah LaPlante, and Will Goodon look on.

"With the signing of this agreement, Canada has now clearly signalled it prioritizes the Metis over First Nations as the Liberal party seeks a majority with another federal election looming nearer," Dumas said in a press release.

Chartrand was flanked by his federation cabinet ministers; Clement Chartier, president of the Metis National Council; and Winnipeg Liberal MPs, including Dan Vandal, the northern affairs minister, who is Métis; Jim Carr, Kevin Lamoureux and Terry Duguid.

Chartrand told the crowd that Métis in this province have been fighting for self-determination for 151 years and won't give up, even if there's a change in government.

"I hope every party listening out there, Conservative, NDP, Green, you name 'em... If you're going to challenge this agreement, challenge it now before the election," Chartrand said. "I better not hear a government coming against us later saying they don't recognize this agreement."

If the Tories, for instance, defeat the Liberal government, University of Manitoba political studies adjunct professor Christopher Adams doesn't think it would scuttle Tuesday's agreement with the Manitoba Metis.

"Agreements can be signed and they can be destroyed," Adams said. However, neither the federal Conservative party nor its leader, Erin O'Toole, have shown anti-Métis bias, he said. Chartrand, Adams noted, has been "very supportive" of the Trudeau Liberals since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred to the Manitoba Métis as a "nation" before he took office.

"David Chartrand is very vocal in affirming his appreciation of what the Trudeau government has been doing for Métis people," said Adams. Tuesday's agreement also solidifies the Manitoba Metis Federation's jurisdiction, so that other organizations claiming to represent Canada's Métis can't say they represent Manitoba's Metis. "There can't be other entities that would undercut that," said Adams, who called Tuesday's agreement "significant."

"The Manitoba Metis Federation is on track to be recognized as a third order of government," he said. "It's a good day for David Chartrand and it's a good day for the Manitoba Metis Federation."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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