Métis candidates look forward to historic deals with Ottawa, but past battles loom

The Métis flag. Wikimedia Commons.

With the province’s Métis election now less than a week away, candidates say they want to leave behind years of turmoil and push forward toward new partnerships with the federal government.

But beneath the surface, the animosity is still raw.

The Métis Nation-Saskatchewan has struggled through repeated infighting, which deepened into a constitutional crisis soon after the last elections in September 2012. A dispute between two factions on the Provincial Métis Council (PMC), the group’s main decision-making body, ground its operations to a halt. The council lost quorum, stopped calling assemblies and descended into a slough of litigation, prompting the federal government to cut off funding.

Elections were repeatedly delayed, and council stayed in office well past its four-year term. The nation finally succeeded in scheduling a vote for May 27. The current slate of candidates – some new, some veterans of council – say that now is the time to move beyond the bitterness.

“To me the only way we’re going to build this nation is if we come together as one,” said Tammy Mah-Fiddler, who’s running for secretary.

“I’ll respect the wishes of the people,” said vice-presidential candidate Darren Deschambeault. “I’ll work with anybody and everybody – whoever the people decide.”

And presidential candidate Karen LaRocque: “Once we start getting leaders at the table who have the community’s interests at heart, and leave their egos at the door, then we’re going to start seeing nation-building.”

They all call for a unified front to represent Saskachewan’s Métis in talks with the federal government.

This April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed the Canada-Métis Nation Accord with leaders from national and provincial Métis organizations. It lays down a list of priorities – a new fiscal relationship, improvements in education and health care – but makes few specific commitments.

The newly elected president will go back to that table and help fill in the details. The new councillors will need to approve the result. They’ll also help negotiate a region-specific agreement focussing on land claims, hunting rights and self-determination.

“The president that wins here will be taking what the PMC wants to Ottawa,” said Mah-Fiddler. “So whoever gets in as president it’s very important that they work with their council. I don’t care if you don’t like me – I’m sitting at this table and you’re going to hear what I have to say.”

For more on this story, see the May 23 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.