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Métis leader thinks report language weak
The “general language” used by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its recently released interim report is a disappointment to Clement Chartier, president of the Métis National Council.
“The report itself speaks in general terms. When one reads it, one would not think that Métis generally were excluded (from the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement),” said Chartier. “Canadians, I don’t think, would understand the specifics of this.”
One of the 20 recommendation calls for the parties to the IRSSA “to address the legitimate concerns of the former students who feel unfairly left out.”
In the preamble to Recommendation 12, the TRC discusses hearing from students who attended schools not on the prescribed list or students who attended residential schools but as day scholars. Métis students are not mentioned as a group.
However, speaking about the recommendation in a news conference following the release of the interim report, TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair said Métis students were among the “three broad categories of students” targeted in this recommendation.
As it stands now, Métis students are only covered through the Common Experience Payment and Independent Assessment Process, as outlined in the IRSSA, if they attended Indian residential schools, which are included on a prescribed list. Métis students covered number only a few hundred, which leaves thousands without compensation.
While Chartier sees the value in the recommendation, he questions its strength.
“I’m not sure how that would be translated into action. I’m not sure that the parties to the agreement would necessarily want or need to address that,” he said.
One reason the commission made the recommendation, said Sinclair, was that if “the purpose of the parties in setting up this commission was to try to achieve a better relationship with all Aboriginal people in Canada, then they need to consider a process that is inclusive of all Aboriginal people in Canada and to engage in a discussion about reconciliation with only part of that group is an exercise that may be futile if they’re not careful.”
“In order to have reconciliation there has to be more than one party at the table,” said Chartier. “Until some government or some church agency accepts responsibility for what happened to Métis who attended Métis residential schools, how can we participate?”
Chartier said the MNC met with the TRC in January 2010 and informed the commission that the MNC would not be participating in the process as the Métis are not part of the TRC’s mandate. The TRC interim report notes this meeting but not the outcome.
Chartier added that not only are Métis boarding schools excluded from the IRSSA, but Métis were also excluded from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology to former residential school survivors.
In 2008, the MNC signed a Métis protocol with the federal government, which included dealing with residential schools, but “nothing is happening on that front,” said Chartier.
“At the moment, really the only alternative is court action … but we can’t afford court action. We don’t have the resources for that,” he said.
Chartier is part of a class action lawsuit that was brought on behalf of 1,500 former Ile-a-la-Crosse students filed in 2005 by Regina lawyer Tony Merchant. Ile-a-la-Crosse, a Métis boarding school in Saskatchewan, which Chartier attended for 10 years, is not recognized under the IRSSA. The lawsuit is pursuing a separate agreement from the IRSSA.
“We actually try and engage with the (Saskatchewan) government as well and we received a letter from them a little over a year ago saying … ‘We’ll only deal with it if the courts tell us to,’” said Chartier. At this point, “the lawsuit is just sitting there. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with that.”
The MNC held a two-day conference in Saskatoon at the end of March to look at action the Métis could take in moving forward. Money for the conference was received from the TRC’s Commemoration Fund and the federal government.
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