The first-of-its-kind interprovincial land claim is for an area of about 122,000 square kilometres. Plaintiffs are looking to redress the scrip system, a government-run land claim process for Metis people that took place throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Despite the large swath of land separating the northern communities of Île-à-la-Crosse in Saskatchewan and Fort McKay in Alberta, Jim Durocher and Ron Quintal were surprised by the similarities between their communities.
“Our Metis people are the same,” said Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Metis Community. “Our communities are almost exactly the same by way of culture, sense of humour, language and our ability to practice on the land.”
That connection was apparent Wednesday morning as the pair joined about 20 other plaintiffs in filing a massive land claim against the federal government. Those gathered in the lobby of Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench were told they had arrived so early they would have to wait until the office opened to submit their 33-page claim.
“It’s been 150 years so far, what’s another five minutes?” one man joked, and the room filled with laughter.
The plaintiffs represent a coalition of Metis communities from across northwest Saskatchewan and northeast Alberta, filing a first-of-its-kind interprovincial land claim for an area of about 122,000 square kilometres, most of it in oilsands territory.
With the claim, the 60 plaintiffs seek to redress the scrip system, a government-run land claim process for Metis people that took place throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The intention of the process was to provide equitable settlements for Metis people in Canada, but Metis people say it dispossessed them of land and resources. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada called scrip “a sorry chapter in our nation’s history.”
A 2013 Supreme Court ruling opened the door for land claim negotiations with the federal government by finding the government had failed to follow through on a land deal it made with Metis people in Manitoba.
“This is a long overdue action that could have been avoided if successive governments had simply done the right thing and admitted the scrip process deprived Metis people of what the law promised to us,” Quintal said.
There are about 20 Metis communities within the claim boundary and the filing is open to other communities to join on as plaintiffs as well. Although First Nations have land within the boundary of the claim, Quintal said they have nothing to worry about and talks will only involve land as it pertains to the Metis.
The action speaks to a larger matter of Metis people being able to assert autonomy and speak on their own behalf, Quintal said, especially in regard to negotiating with resource extraction companies about activity taking place. MORE