Isaac report provides ‘road map’ to reconciliation with Métis

Métis groups and aboriginal lawyers are praising a report released today that makes 17 recommendations to the federal government on how to advance reconciliation with the Métis Nation.

Isaac's report, entitled, "A Matter of National and Constitutional Import” was released today. He was appointed in June 2015 to meet with Métis Nation governments, provinces, territories and other interested parties in order to assess the current state of affairs and provide independent advice and recommendations on Métis Section 35 Rights — the part of the Constitution that recognizes and affirms aboriginal rights.

“It was a tough thing to do, but it’s important work,” says Isaac. “What I was trying to get at in my report is that Métis people fall under the same mandate that Inuit and First Nations people do, yet the attention they are shown is utterly disproportionate in a negative way.”

Some of that, Isaac says, is due to lack of treaties, but when it comes to Aboriginal Peoples who hold Section 35 rights, it became apparent to him that more work needs to be done, especially in light of the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has not indicated Métis rights should be treated any differently from a broader reconciliation approach from Inuit or First Nations.

“That was the fundamental message I was trying to get at,” he says.

“Because of the Constitutional element of it, it needs to be prioritized. We voluntarily amended the Constitution in 1982 to include Métis. My repeated references to ‘Section 35 Métis rights’ was very deliberate.”

In a statement, Métis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh offered thanks and appreciation to Isaac for the recommendations in the report.

"The MNO commends Mr. Isaac for his important work. As the home of the first and only Supreme Court of Canada decision — R. v. Powley  — that has recognized Section 35 Métis Rights, this report is extremely important to the MNO who advanced this landmark Métis harvesting rights litigation on behalf of the Métis community in the Sault Ste. Marie region from 1993 to 2003. It is also gratifying that Mr. Isaac's report recognizes the MNO as a 'Métis government' and a leader on advancing Métis rights across the Métis Nation," said Froh.

Isaac was also focused on reconciliation in the report. In it, he states: “Reconciliation is more than platitudes and recognition. Reconciliation flows from the constitutionally protected rights of Métis protected by Section 35 and is inextricably tied to the honour of the Crown, and must be grounded in practical actions.”

Isaac's report makes 17 recommendations and includes key findings to help guide future federal action on Métis Section 35 Rights issues, including the need for:

• Development of a Section 35 Métis Rights Framework that will be implemented with Métis communities who meet the legal framework set out in the R. v. Powley case.

• Métis inclusion within existing federal claims processes available to other Aboriginal Peoples or the development of a new Métis-specific claims process to address unresolved Métis claims like the “Treaty 3 [Halbreed] Adhesion” and other breached Crown promises to the Métis.

• A “whole-of-government” approach for improved information and knowledge about the Métis and Métis Section 35 Rights among federal officials and indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada regional offices, including improving Crown-Métis consultation processes.

• Timely, stable and long-term federal funding to support Métis governments like the MNO, including permanent support for the MNO centralized registry.

• A comprehensive review of existing federal programs and services available to indigenous peoples as well as all future federal initiatives to ensure they deal with the Métis distinctly and equitably.

Indigenous rights lawyer Jason Madden, partner with Pape Salter Teillet LLP, says despite Powley in 2003, Manitoba Métis Federation v. Canada in 2013 and Daniels v. Canada in 2016 in which the Supreme Court has been saying reconciliation with the Métis has to happen, now an appointed independent expert has said it needs to happen, too, and here is a way to go about doing it.

“He’s being quite assertive and putting down some solid markers,” says Madden.

“The wonderful thing about Mr. Isaac’s report is he sets out a road map with practical mechanisms. Now we have the trifecta of the Métis case law: Powley that deals with Métis Section 35 rights, Manitoba Métis Federation that says Métis have outstanding land claim related claims, and Daniels that says the federal government has jurisdiction for them like all aboriginal people. You put those pieces together and there is the inevitable conclusion that reconciliation needs to happen with the Métis, negotiation of a claims process, etc.”

Madden also notes that there is also now “a government in Ottawa that is a willing party on all of this.”

On Tuesday, Isaac was also appointed ministerial special representative regarding the Akaitcho Dene First Nation and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation negotiations and overlapping interests regarding one of the last outstanding land claims in the north.

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