Metis, B.C. gov't sign 'historic' accord
Friday, May 12, 2006
VANCOUVER -- A row of dancing Metis, accompanied by two merry fiddlers set the tone Friday at the signing of the Metis Nation Relationship Accord.
The accord commits the province and B.C.'s Metis leaders to work together to achieve results in areas such as health care, housing, education, employment opportunities, Metis identification and data collection.
Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Tom Christensen said that although the agreement doesn't include any specific financial commitment, that is not its purpose.
"It provides the foundation which we are both committing to be working together, and that is historic,'' Christensen said. "We assume there's always -- or certainly should have been -- a functioning, working relationship but that simply hasn't been the case.''
Christensen and Bruce Dumont, president of Metis Nation British Columbia, both wearing tan suede vests handmade by a Metis elder, sat down together to sign the account.
The dancers didn't have to try hard to uplift the spirit of the crowd, made up mostly of members of the Metis Nation and government officials, who were there to watch the agreement come together.
The new accord is a continuation of what was established in the Kelowna agreement, Christensen said, despite that accord's uncertain future.
The Kelowna accord, signed last November by former prime minister Paul Martin, the premiers, territorial leaders and aboriginal organizations, was a shared commitment to action by all parties and a 10-year dedicated effort to improve the quality of life of natives.
However, it was not mentioned in last week's Tory budget, leading to speculation of its demise.
The accord with the Metis Nation didn't win praise throughout the province.
Leaders of various First Nations bands said it went ahead without any consideration for the interests of their people.
"How can the province even attempt to negotiate with a special interest group when they have yet to deal with the inherent Aboriginal rights and title of First Nations peoples in British Columbia?'' Chief Steward Phillip of the Penticton Indian Band said in a statement.
Chief Fabian Alexis of the Okanagan Indian Band accused the government of pitting their rights and interests in limited resources against those of the Metis.
But Dumont called Friday's accord a first step in helping to solve many significant issues for B.C.'s Metis.
He hopes it will also bring general awareness to all British Columbians about the Metis people and their culture.
"We are struggling as Metis people with education and health and housing. Economically, socially, we need this (accord).''
Dumont noted that many Canadians aren't aware that Metis are a unique Aboriginal culture, a status that was amended in the Constitution of Canada in 1982.
"We are a distinct culture. We have our own culture. We have our own language. We're recognized by Canada as a distinct Aboriginal group,'' he said.
Dumont added that in B.C. alone, there are 45,000 Metis people with the Metis Nation B.C. servicing up to 40 communities throughout the province.
Senator Gerry St. Germain, who is also Metis, was on hand to watch the signing of the agreement.
"(The accord) adds to the greatness of our country by recognizing some of the original peoples of this land. Their culture is being recognized.''