Metis Settlements celebrate 80th anniversary

Chris Clegg
For the Lakeside Leader

The culture, contributions and constitutional firsts of the Metis people were recognized as Alberta’s eight Metis Settlements marked their 80th anniversary Dec. 3 at a ceremony in Edmonton.

Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan and Gerald Cunningham, president of the Metis Settlements General Council, joined leaders of the eight Settlements to celebrate the milestone. Three of the eight Settlements are in the Lesser Slave Lake area.

The ceremony was held to honour Alberta’s commitment to a renewed relationship with Indigenous communities, and to mark eight decades of history.

“This is a significant milestone,” said Feehan in his remarks, “and a testament to the important role Metis Settlements have in the success of our province.”

The Settlements were created through the Metis Population Betterment Act of 1938. Alberta remains the only province in Canada with a dedicated Metis land base and government structure that is entrenched in provincial legislation.

In his speech at the ceremony, Cunningham spoke of the vision of early Metis leaders Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont; he said the current leadership follows that vision of “a Metis land governed by Metis people, and respected as distinct…from other Indigenous communities.”

Recognized at the ceremony were five men dubbed ‘The Big Five,’ who created the foundation for a Metis homeland in 1938 – Joe Dion, Peter Tompkins, Malcolm Norris, Jim Brady and Felix Callihoo. The vision of these pioneers was continued by the Alberta Federation of Metis Settlements, formed in 1975 by a group called ‘The Fathers of Federation’ – Adrian Hope, Maurice L’Hirondelle, Lawrence Desjarlais, Sam Johnston and Richard Poitras.

According to the news release on the anniversary celebration, the federation created a relationship between Alberta and Metis that resulted in legislation proclaiming the right to self-government for the Settlements.

There are over 114,000 Metis people living in Alberta, the largest such population in Canada, says the release. Work continues, with the government and settlements collaborating on programs to improve things in those communities; listed in the release are such items as climate leadership program, aimed at creating jobs and reducing energy costs.

In 1990, legislation established constitutional protection for 1.25 million acres of settlement lands, the development of local government structures and provincial financial commitments. The three Metis Settlements in this area are East Prairie (southeast of High Prairie), and Peavine and Gift Lake (both north of High Prairie. Each is run by a five-person elected council.

The chair of each is selected by the council members.

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