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Northern Sask. and Alberta Metis groups pursuing 'unprecedented and historic' land claim
SASKATOON --Metis leaders from northern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan are taking the federal government to court over a 120,000 square-kilometre piece of land spanning both provinces, saying it was fraudulently taken away.
“We need to do something about getting our land back,” said Jim Durocher, president of the local Metis in Ile a La Crosse about 468 kilometres north of Saskatoon. “Our resources are disappearing from us and we are getting nothing in return.”
Joined by 21 Metis leaders from Saskatchewan and Alberta, Durocher and company filed a 33-page claim in federal court, seeking to “redress the process dating back to the late 1800s, that saw Metis people wrongfully deprived of land that was promised to them by the government at the time,” the group said in a media release. Sixty-two plaintiffs were named in the claim.
The lawsuit claims Canada’s colonization scheme for land allocation was called scrip, and the scrip system promised 160 to 240 acres of land or money to purchase land to every Metis individual. However, the group claims the method was rife with abuse, mismanagement and outright fraudulent actions which prevented the Metis from benefitting from the land and the money scrip allocations.
The land claim seeks the following:
- A declaration that the plaintiffs have existing Aboriginal rights, including Aboriginal title, within the claim area, which are recognized and affirmed in section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, and which have never been lawfully surrendered, extinguished and in particular the Aboriginal title and rights to ownership, possession, occupation, use and benefit of those lands and resources in the claim area which they require to sustain them as a distinct Aboriginal people.
- A declaration that the defendant has an obligation to negotiate with the plaintiffs, in good faith, to conclude a mutually agreeable land claim agreement, including self-government, within the meaning of section 35(3) of the Constitution Act 1982; and
- A declaration that the defendant did not fulfill the honour of the Crown in its creation, implementation and supervision of the scrip system and distribution imposed on the citizens of the Metis nations within the claim area.
The plaintiffs claim this is a long overdue action that could have been avoided if successive governments had simply done the right thing and admitted that the scrip process deprived Metis people of what the law promised them.
In the claim, the plaintiffs say Metis applicants did not benefit from the scrip coupons which should have been delivered to them. Almost every scrip application was signed with an “X” as the vast majority of Metis there could neither read nor write in either English or French.
In 1905 the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were established, thereby creating an artificial boundary between the Metis community of what is now northwest Saskatchewan and northeast Alberta. This completed the dissection or dismemberment of the Metis Nation homeland which began in 1870 with the establishments of the province of Manitoba, the claim says.
According to the land claim, in 1930 the federal government transferred most of the Crown lands to the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan without consulting the Metis within those two provinces.
The plaintiffs say the defendant has wrongfully alienated lands and resources within the claim area to the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta without the free, prior and informed consent of the plaintiffs, and without first providing a secure land and resource base for the plaintiffs or their ancestors. The effect has been the denial of the use and benefit of the Aboriginal rights, including the aboriginal title of the plaintiffs, the claim says.