Métis National Council President Clément Chartier Address to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Northern National Event Inuvik, NWT June 28, 2011
I thank the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for inviting me to this second national event on reconciliation as we pass the third anniversary of Canada’s apology to the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools System.
It was my honor to be in the House of Commons on that day three years ago, to witness and support the Prime Minister’s apology to the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools System and for Canada’s past policies of assimilation.
When I participated in that apology ceremony and when I twice appeared in the Senate, I pledged the Métis Nation was prepared and willing to do our part in Canada’s collective journey towards healing and reconciliation.
I wish I could report on a strong beginning of that journey during the past three years but for most Métis survivors, however, this is simply not true.
While the small number of Métis who attended schools recognized by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement are eligible for compensation, and hence reconciliation, the vast majority of Métis survivors are not.
Thousands of Métis attended church-run, government sanctioned schools, some of them boarding schools. The intent was the same as those schools covered in the agreement, to assimilate the citizens of the Métis Nation.
The Métis survivors of those schools endured the same forced separation from family and community, the same attacks on our culture and way of life, and in many instances, were victims of the same physical and sexual abuse.
I attended the Métis residential school in Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, and can personally attest to the horrors inflicted on our people. I attended that boarding school for ten years, and can speak in all honesty and testify that many, many of us suffered physical and sexual abuse. We suffered horrendous conditions in those schools. We suffered psychological trauma in those schools. We suffered from the dysfunction caused in later life as a result of that experience of forced assimilation, indoctrination and abuse.
Yet we are excluded from the Settlement Agreement, and therefore excluded from the June 11, 2008 apology by Canada, excluded from the common experience payment, excluded from the compensation from harms and abuses inflicted on us, and finally, excluded from the mandate of this Commission itself.
Why, after a historical and unprecedented outpouring of regret from Canada’s leaders, from millions of Canadians, are the Métis left out?
The answer to this question is well known to the Métis Nation. It has plagued us at every turn for generations and has continually impeded us from securing our rightful place in Canada ever since we first negotiated Manitoba’s entry into Confederation in 1870.
It is the jurisdictional wrangling between the federal and provincial governments.
The boarding schools attended by Métis survivors were for the most part funded by provincial governments or religious orders, and were thus not part of the federally funded Indian Residential Schools System.
Yet they were run with the same assimilationist intent and methods.
And today, neither the federal nor provincial governments are willing to accept responsibility for what happened. Just recently, the government of Saskatchewan sent a letter stating that the survivors of the residential school at Ile a la Crosse will need to litigate the issue, and that the province will not accept the invitation to join the survivors and the federal government at a common table to seek solutions to the issue. The federal government meanwhile maintains its position that it is not responsible for that boarding school as it is characterized as a religious order school.
This impasse over how to deal with Métis survivors personifies in real human terms the true cost of Ottawa’s persistent refusal to accept historical, constitutional and moral responsibility for dealing with the Métis people as a distinct Aboriginal people and nation.
The implications of this abdication of federal responsibility are seen in the daily lives of Métis people.
We are denied access to federal Aboriginal education and health care assistance.
We are excluded from the federal land claims resolution processes despite having been the victims of a systematic and fraudulent scheme of dispossession and displacement from our traditional land.
We are denied the use of test case funding which at least provided us with a modicum of assistance to pursue the resolution of our historic land claims through the courts.
Our Métis Nation WWII veterans are denied fair and just compensation.
We have had several meetings with the members of the TRC for which we are thankful. We have been invited to participate in the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But why would we want to do that?
No government has yet stepped forward and accepted responsibility for what was done to us.
There has been no apology.
There has been no offer of compensation.
There has not even been a willingness on the part of governments to sit down with us and seek potential solutions.
Given all of this, why would we want to or be expected to participate? In order for reconciliation to take place, there has to be someone to reconcile with. As stated earlier, all governments and religious orders have and continue to deny or acknowledge responsibility.
Our citizens who suffered the residential schools assimilationist policies and practices believe and feel that they are not inferior beings and should benefit from the positive developments accorded other Aboriginal peoples and not just be recipients of the negative policies, harm, dispossession, colonization and dehumanization suffered by all Aboriginal peoples and nations.
On the occasion of the first anniversary of the apology, I called on both chambers of Parliament to take up the call for the federal government to assert its jurisdictional responsibility for dealing with the Métis Nation.
As an alternative to costly litigation, I called upon the Senate to ask the Prime Minister to refer the question of whether the Métis are included in section 91(24) of the Constitution Act 1867 to the Supreme Court of Canada. This issue was resolved in that way for the Inuit in the 1930s.
I asked the Senate to recommend to the Prime Minister that he establish a Métis Claims Commission with a mandate similar to that of the Indian Claims Commission in order to restore the land base of the Métis Nation.
I also asked the Senate to strike a new committee or, alternatively, mandate the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples to convene a special hearing on the implementation of federal legislation which led to the dispossession of the Métis from our lands and resources.
I have also asked the Senate to advance processes to deal with the exclusion from the Settlement Agreement of the vast majority of Métis citizens who attended church-run, government sanctioned schools.
On April 28, 2010 I received a letter from the Senate which outlined accurately the priorities for resolution that the Métis Nation put forward, stating that they will bring them to the attention of the Federal Interlocutor for Métis, and because they are currently dealing with other legislative and policy work, they hope that at some later date they may be in a position to review the recommendations more closely.
Well, it is now 14 months later and we are still waiting.
The record of Canada-Métis Nation relations during the past three years is not all bleak however.
In September 2008, I signed the Métis Nation Protocol with Minister Chuck Strahl, the Federal Interlocutor for Métis, committing the Federal Government and the Métis National Council to work together on a range of bilateral issues, and where appropriate, it allows for multilateral discussions with the five westernmost provincial governments.
He has committed to do this on a government-to-government basis.
It is also encouraging that Minister Duncan has adopted the same commitment, and we look forward to continuing our relationship.
The Métis National Council hopes this Protocol will enable us to navigate through the jurisdictional quagmire and address the real and immediate needs of our people.
Promising as this may be, it does not address the long outstanding need for justice.
Justice for those who feel the effects of dispossession and landlessness in their daily existence.
Justice for those who experienced the horrors of the Métis residential school system. And,
Justice for those brave Métis WWII veterans who sacrificed so much and remain hopeful that they will one day receive the justice they so very much deserve.
So, why are we here today?
While we did not participate in the First National Event, I believed it was important that we make a statement here today so that we do not fall through the cracks of the TRCs final conclusions even if it is only an acknowledgement that there is still an Aboriginal Nation which remains to be dealt with.
Further, as the apology also addressed the assimilation policies of the past, and speaks to reconciliation as we move into the future, the Métis Nation, since at least the constitutional conferences beginning in 1984 has always maintained that we wish to move forward within Canada on the basis of our right of self-determination and the restoration of our land base.
At the very least, we expect that the government of Canada will live up to the Aboriginal and Treaty rights guarantees enshrined in the Constitution Act 1982 and in particular the implementation of the inherent right of self-government.
We expect that Canada deal with all Aboriginal peoples and nations on a government-to-government basis. We especially expect that they do so with the Métis Nation and its government as represented by the Métis National Council.
The traditional territory or homeland of the Métis Nation is now dissected by provincial and territorial boundaries, and falls within the current prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and extends into the Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the northern United States. The Métis Nation has historically co-existed within this geographic area with the several First Nations of the region.
In this connection, the Métis National Council is the sole and legitimate representative of the Métis Nation, and no one else can claim to represent its citizens.
As we move forward on the reconciliation road, the residential schools issues aside, the governments of Canada, federal and provincial/territorial, must move away from their position of meetings with organizations, to meetings at the inter-governmental levels with First Nations, Inuit and Métis governments, or mandated bodies representing First Nations governments and Inuit peoples.
In our case, we can unequivocally state that the Métis Nation government is a proper party at the inter-governmental tables.
We further state that this relationship must be on a distinctions-based approach, with mechanisms set in place to adequately address the respective rights of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and nations. A pan-Aboriginal approach and the inclusion of advocacy groups at the inter-governmental tables ensures that the federal and provincial governments do not have to deal with us on a government to government basis, as one of the three constitutional orders of government in Canada.
Let me be clear on this, there is a role for advocacy organizations, but not at the intergovernmental tables as part of the constitutionally mandated order of Aboriginal governments.
In conclusion, the Métis Nation wishes to keep the door to the Reconciliation Process open, and is still interested in finding some solution which will enable its voice to be heard, its stories to be told, and its violations to be recorded, even as it strives to elicit acknowledgement of wrongdoing and/or apology from government(s) and religious orders.
We do not wish to be out of sight, out of mind.