Friday, March 08, 2013

"The honour of the Crown is thus engaged here."

Thus says the Supreme Court of Canada about the failure of federal governments to fulfill an 1870 commitment to the native Metis, i.e., to distribute and convey title to an appropriate land allocation to them in what is now Manitoba.  The CBC has a good summary:

The Métis argued that Ottawa reneged on its promises under the Manitoba Act, which created the province and brought it into Confederation.
The Manitoba Act, made in 1870, promised to set aside 5,565 square kilometres of land for 7,000 children of the Red River Métis. That land includes what is now the city of Winnipeg.
The land transfer to the Métis outlined in the Act was to be a "concrete measure" to reconcile with the Métis community, the ruling agrees, calling its "prompt and equitable implementation... fundamental."
The land grants were meant to give the Métis a head start in the race for land in the new province, and that meant the grants had to be made while a head start was still possible, the justices wrote. "Everyone concerned understood that a wave of settlement from Europe and Canada to the east would soon sweep over the province."
The land deal was made in order to settle the Red River Rebellion, which was fought by Métis rebels struggling to hold onto their land amid growing white settlements.
However, it took 15 years for the lands to be completely distributed, while the Métis rebels faced hostility from large numbers of incoming settlers.

Lower courts found in federal government's favour

The federal government ultimately distributed the land through a random lottery, destroying the dream of a Métis homeland.
"Section 31 conferred land rights on yet-to-be-identified individuals – the Métis children," the ruling says. "Yet the record leaves no doubt that it was a promise made to the Métis people collectively, in recognition of their distinct community. The honour of the Crown is thus engaged here."

The Metis are not asking for the land allocation (which would include all of Winnipeg!) but for compensation.  How long will that take?

1 comment:

  1. The events of the Red River Rebellion had been set in motion when both Metis and the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders found government surveyors on their farms, who told them that their land titles would not be recognized by the Canadian Government after it purchased Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay company. This was why the Rebellion was much more than a Metis issue, and was from the very beginning a movement uniting Highlanders, Metis, and an assortment of Irish, Cree, Ojibway, and even a few Germans and Norwegians. An emergency meeting of these farmers, who had homes and farms at risk of being taken from them, settled on young Louis Riel as a spokesman, since he had studied Law in the East. All of these people were settled on farmland that they rightfully felt was their property. All of them were perfectly happy to be incorporated into Canada, provided their land titles would be secure, but Ottawa had repeatedly ignored requests for a proper land registry, and consistently behaved as if it had the intention of seizing their farms and handing them over to settlers from Ontario. Their suspicions were correct. Even after the rebellion was over, the Feds simply treated the negotiated promises as a fiction that could be safely ignored.

    Even to this day, most Canadians have the vague impression that it was only Metis who rebelled, and that these were primitives wandering about in an empty wilderness. The Metis and Highlanders of Red River had a small, but prosperous town at Fort Gary, modest but solid and modern victorian houses, churches, schools, roads, ferries, flour and lumber mills, and farms no different from those in Quebec or Ontario. But in Canada (still a distant foreign country to the inhabitants of Red River), it was assumed that their claim to their own property could be ignored,and that they could be casually swept aside.