Métis rights tops agenda at Ile-X gathering

Geordy McCaffrey (left), executive director of Gabriel Dumont Institute, spoke about economic development opportunities during the Métis gathering held near Ile-a-la Crosse on the weekend. Also pictured is event co-chair Jim Durocher.

Geordy McCaffrey (left), executive director of Gabriel Dumont Institute, spoke about economic development opportunities during the Métis gathering held near Ile-a-la Crosse on the weekend. Also pictured is event co-chair Jim Durocher.

by Phil Ambroziak

By working together, great things can be accomplished.

That’s what northwest Saskatchewan’s Métis population has come to discover following a recent gathering near Ile-a-la Crosse designed to promote cooperation amongst peers, as well as raise awareness and garner support for land and harvesting rights, economic development opportunities and more.

“Overall, I believe everyone is satisfied with how the weekend is going,” remarked Brennan Merasty, president of A La Baie Métis Local 21 when contacted Sunday morning. “We’ve had a great turnout, the facilitators have given some very good presentations and provided a tremendous amount of information to the Métis people of the Northwest.”

Merasty said the three-day gathering, which took place July 24-26 at South Bay War Veterans’ Park south of Ile-a-la Crosse, also allowed those in attendance an opportunity to provide feedback to Tom Isaac, head of Osler’s Aboriginal Law Group who was appointed by the federal government as the ministerial special representative to lead engagement with Métis.

“The basic message being shared this weekend is how Métis people can be engaged when it comes to such things as resource management, development and, most importantly, Métis rights,” Merasty continued.

Close to 100 people attended the event while other special guests included Kathy Hodgson-Smith of the Métis Legal Research and Education Foundation, Métis National Council president Clem Chartier, Dr. Kenichi Matsui of Tsukuba University in Japan, Gabriel Dumont Institute executive director Geordy McCaffrey and more.

“Representatives from Métis locals in Alberta also came out to share their experiences in asserting Métis rights,” Merasty said.

The Alberta contingent included Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis Community Association and president of the Wood Buffalo Métis.

“As a collective, Métis rights have never really been the focus in this country or in Alberta and Saskatchewan,” Quintal noted. “This event is a great opportunity to bring people together to discuss common issues. We live in Alberta, but a lot of the issues we face are mirrored in Saskatchewan. We’re here to share some of the successes we’ve had with the Métis people in this province and vice versa.”

The main subject discussed Sunday was economic development and Quintal said it was his desire to enlighten the Métis people from the Northwest about how to both prepare and adapt to deal with future industry development.

Ile-a-la Crosse mayor Duane Favel, meanwhile, expressed his gratitude for such support.

“To be able to come together and discuss economic development opportunities is always exciting for us,” Favel said. “We’re always looking for ways to engage the economy and to bring prosperity to the Métis community.”

The weekend gathering was hosted by the Northwest Saskatchewan Métis Council, a reinvigorated group originally formed in the 1990s.

“The formation of such a council is provided in the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) constitution and basically features two regions encompassing the entire Northwest,” Chartier explained.

For the last two years, however, Chartier said the council no longer held meetings regularly. It wasn’t until recently, area Métis leaders felt passionate enough to revive the organization.

Merasty described the Northwest Saskatchewan Métis Council as an affiliate of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.

“Some northern Métis leaders got together in Alberta recently for a Métis rights and economic development symposium,” he said. “A suggestion was made at that time to revive the council, to rejuvenate it and to look at bringing back to life the Northwest Métis land claim.”

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