By Lloyd Dolha
Delegates to the annual general assembly of the Manitoba Metis Federation unanimously voted to rescind a special honour they had planned to bestow on Premier Gary Doer, refusing to grant him the Order of the Sash, because of an ongoing dispute over harvesting rights.
“There’s a lot of anger,” said David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, from Brandon where the organization was concluding it annual assembly on September11, 2005.
In 2003, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, known as the Powley decision, recognized the status of Metis as a distinct aboriginal group with protected constitutional rights, upholding their rights to hunt, trap and fish without a provincial license in areas where they have historically lived.
However, while other provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have accommodated the ruling, others such as Manitoba have not.
Last year, the MMF believed Premier Doer would accommodate their new status and voted to grant him the prestigious Order of the Sash, the highest honour the Metis can bestow upon an outsider.
But problems over the implementation of those rights over the past year and comments made by Conservation Minister Stan Struthers, led the 2,000 delegates to refuse the premier the honour.
The Metis are upset that Struthers has yet to clarify the provincial government’s position on Metis rights in Manitoba.
Manitoba Metis don’t have the same rights as other jurisdictions to hunt and fish freely and dozens have been charged with illegal hunting, said MMF spokesperson Conor Lloyd.
Struthers was jeered as he took to the podium to address the assembly. While he spoke, dozens of Metis wearing T-shirts that read “Metis Rights Aren’t Wrong,” surrounded the stage in protest.
Struthers told the assembly that he respects the Powley decision, but offered no specifics on how or when hunting rights would be extended to the Metis of Manitoba.
“Our government is committed and has been committed to uphold the Powley decision,” he said.
Mr. Chartrand said he does not understand the approach of Minister Struthers.
“I’ve been in politics a long time.” Said Chartrand. “I can’t figure this guy out.”
There are two key issues: the first is the general conservation of wildlife in the province; the second is the issue of who holds Metis status.
Chartrand suggested the question of Metis status is being handled almost arbitrarily.
“Allow this family, but not that family,” he said and lashed out at the province on the question of conservation, saying the Metis are more careful than provincial bureaucrats in Winnipeg.
He noted that the province issues 176,000 hunting licenses each year, while the MMF hands out only about 800 to its members.
The honourary sash is two metres long and about 30 centimetres wide. The colours blue and white run through the middle, harkening back to the colours of the first Metis flag in the region during the early 1800s. The red, white and black represents Manitoba and the green signifies prosperity.
“He made a commitment to recognize these rights at last year’s annual general assembly,” said Lloyd, after the vote.