Choosing not to wait for court rulings to act on aboriginal issues, the Alberta government announced Tuesday that it has signed a 10-year funding agreement that provides $85-million to help Métis settlements become self-sustaining municipalities.
Premier Alison Redford said the deal with the Métis Settlements General Council, meant to improve infrastructure, education, employment and local government accountability, places Alberta at the forefront of Métis relations. She said Alberta doesn't believe in waiting for legal rulings to launch talks and come to arrangements with aboriginal people.
"Very often, we've seen the federal government take a different approach in terms of their responsibilities," Ms. Redford told reporters in Edmonton. "We've always thought that it was most important to have constructive relationships and to look to outcomes."
This month, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Ottawa had failed in its obligations to the Métis under the 1870 agreement that brought Manitoba into Confederation. It potentially affects claims to about 566,000 hectares of land in and around Winnipeg. In January, the Federal Court of Canada issued a ruling that could double the number of people constitutionally recognized as aboriginal. It means Métis and "non-status" Indians could be in line for special negotiation rights and federal benefits. Ottawa has filed an appeal.
Jason MacDonald, spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, said the federal government has resolved more than 80 specific claims worth more than $1-billion.
"We have also demonstrated a willingness to work with partners to address historical grievances," he said.
Randy Hardy, president of the Métis Settlements General Council, called the deal with Alberta a "significant milestone in our history."
"The government of Alberta, more so than any other government in this country, has stepped up to the plate and took the initiative and claimed responsibility for the Métis in this province," he said.
In 1938, Alberta became the first – and remains the only – province to set aside land specifically for Métis people. About 4,800 Métis people reside on eight settlements, which stretch over 512,121 hectares from central to northern Alberta.
In 1989, the parties signed an accord designed to move toward Métis self-sufficiency and local autonomy. Talks ramped up in 2011, but negotiations don't end with the deal signed on Tuesday. Details about how the money will be used, and accounted for, still need to be worked out.
But Mr. Hardy expected most of the cash will go toward upgrading dated and crumbling infrastructure. He said future negotiations would also look at securing natural resource revenue for Métis people, but he wasn't making any promises.
"Sometimes when we negotiate," he said, "it's give and take."