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Gary headshot
MNO President Gary Lipinski speaks
about the Supreme Court of Canada’s
decision on Manitoba Métis land rights.

Fort Frances resident Gary Lipinski, who is president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, was among the provincial and national leaders at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on March 8 when it handed down its decision in the Manitoba Métis Federation case.

And though he noted it’s early in the process, Lipinski is optimistic and hopeful that Rainy River District and the Province of Ontario will benefit from the historic ruling—not necessarily by individual compensation but by the example that’s now been set.

“As Canada began to develop as a country, Métis were instrumentally involved certainly in the fur trade but also, in this particular case, in negotiating Manitoba’s coming into Confederation,” Lipinski explained.

“And part of those negotiations resulted in certain promises and provisions which are included in the Manitoba Act, which formed Canada’s Constitution,” he noted.

“And those promises included things such as that there would be 1.4 acres of land set aside for the Métis children. Those promises were never fulfilled,” he stressed.

Lipinski said it has taken nearly 30 years to reach this decision. “The Métis people have continued to raise the point with government that we have unresolved matters that need to be dealt with, but the government failed to deal with them or take them seriously,” he charged, saying the highest court of the land now has recognized there are historical grievances for the Métis people.

“The Crown has failed to ‘live up to the honour of the Crown,’” he remarked.

Lipinski said it was exciting to be part of such a historical moment. “We knew [the ruling] was going to be released at 9:45 a.m., so ourselves and the lawyers involved were eagerly waiting by the clerk’s office to get the decision,” he recalled.

“As soon as we had word that it was a win, people just erupted with cheers. It’s quite an exciting moment to be there when this historic decision came down, to be part of it,” Lipinski enthused.

“Those cheers were on behalf of the Métis people right across our homeland.”

Now that the decision has been made, Lipinski said the next step will be a process where the government will need to negotiate compensation with the Manitoba Métis Federation.

“It will be taken up directly with MMF, but I would expect it would probably unfold similar to how First Nations’ land claims have gone forward,” he explained.

That likely would include a long negotiation period and perhaps an outcome of some land—Manitoba has some Crown land—as well as some monetary compensation.

“But those are details that would come out in negotiations, so it’s not really fair to speculate at this point,” Lipinski warned, noting negotiations will determine who the beneficiaries are and what the settlement will be.

“But without question, with 100 percent certainty, people in this area, and across a number of communities in Ontario and a number of provinces, would be able to trace their ancestry back to that time period,” he noted.

However, Lipinski said what’s more important than individual compensation is the precedent set by this case.

“There are historic grievances for Métis people in Ontario, as well in other parts of our homeland,” he remarked, citing the Métis Nation of Ontario and the Métis Nation of Alberta were able to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada.

“What has been missing at the federal government level is a process for dealing with historic Métis grievances,” he continued.

“We have them similar to First Nations, but the difference is the First Nations have had a comprehensive land claim process set up for a number of decades, where they have a process for dealing with those grievances.

“That has not been available to the Métis people,” Lipinski stressed.

“The federal government needs to establish a process for dealing with historic Métis grievances,” he argued. “That would allow situations where promises were made to Métis people in Ontario, as well, to be begin to be addressed in that form.”

Lipinski is hoping residents in Ontario will keep up-to-date with the negotiation process regarding this case.

“But I would also say from past experiences watching other things unfold that things don’t move as quickly as people like to think they are going to,” he warned.

“The negotiation process could be quite a while, so it isn’t going to change anybody’s lives overnight. I think what’s important for folks to understand is Canada is a unique, wonderful country,” Lipinski said. “But as it developed as a nation, there were promises made to the aboriginal people as part of Canada becoming the country we all know and love. And those promises need to be fulfilled.”