The Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) represents the political, socioeconomic, cultural and educational interests of the province’s Métis through a representative system based on twelve regions and approximately 130 locals (see Map). The governance structure includes a constitution, an Elders’ advisory council, the MN-S Senate, and a cabinet—the Provincial Métis Council—which is composed of a four-member executive, as well as of elected officials from the twelve regions and appointees for women and youth. Nine affiliated institutions deliver educational, training, business, and social justice programming.
The MN-S had its origins in the 1930s and 1940s. After 1885, some Métis entered mainstream politics to address the socio-economic ills plaguing Métis society. Others, such as Joe Ross, J.Z. LaRocque and Fred DeLaronde, organized Saskatchewan’s Métis through “locals,” a representative structure taken from organized labour. The first Métis political organization in the province was the Saskatchewan Métis Society (SMS), which represented Métis living in southern and central Saskatchewan. In 1941, it received a provincial grant of $10,000, which was used to hire a law firm to demonstrate that the Métis possessed an outstanding “Indian” title to the land. In 1946, the CCF government funded an SMS “reorganization” conference in which it tried to advance its own agenda, only to be stymied by geographical cleavages between northern and southern Métis.
From 1946 to 1967, Métis activists worked for the recognition of the Métis’ “Indian” title to the land, control over the Métis Rehabilitation Farms, and better access to health care and education. However, lack of funding and divisions within the community made it difficult to address these issues. In the 1960s, Métis political organizations existed in both the province’s north and south. The Métis Society of Saskatchewan (MSS), which was founded in 1964 and led by Joe Amyotte, represented Métis living in southern and central Saskatchewan; and the Métis Association of Saskatchewan (MAS), led by Malcolm Norris and supported by James Brady, represented northern Métis and Non-Status Indians. In 1967, the two organizations merged, keeping MSS as its name.
The 1970s and 1980s were key decades in the development of the MN-S. For most of this period, Jim Sinclair led the province’s Métis and non-status Indian political movement. There was a great deal of solidarity between the Métis and the Non-Status Indians at the time, which led to the founding in 1975 of the MN-S’s predecessor, the Association of Métis and Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan (AMNSIS). Despite radical rhetoric and group action by much of its rank-and-file, who were influenced by the American Indian Movement, the federal and provincial governments began providing AMNSIS with regular funding for program and service delivery. This created a shift in AMNSIS, as it began to focus less on community organization to achieve social justice and more towards executive meetings with government ministers in order to maintain program funding. In 1982, the Constitution Act (S. 35) recognized the Métis as one of three Aboriginal peoples in Canada, along with Indians and Inuit. This recognition reinvigorated Métis nationalism, just as Bill C31 later allowed many Non-Status Indians to re-obtain their “status.” As a result, AMNSIS folded in August 1988, when a divisive referendum by its membership created a Métis-only political body, the new MSS, which in 1993 became the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan (MNS).
Since the early 1990s the MNS/MN-S, under the leadership of presidents Gerald Morin, Jim Durocher and Clément Chartier, has worked towards implementing Métis self-government through litigation and strategic partnerships with government. For instance, in 1993 the province and the MNS initiated a bilateral process to deal with Métis issues, which eventually became a tripartite partnership with the federal government. In 1994, the MNS filed a land claim for the northwestern corner of Saskatchewan, centering on a number of Métis Communities (which will likely be determined through a tripartite negotiation). Following that, in 1996 the Queen’s Bench, in R. v. Grumbo, granted the province’s Métis “Indian” hunting rights before being overturned a few years later by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. In 1997, however, Métis in northern Saskatchewan, through R. v. Morin and Daigneault, were granted full “Indian” hunting rights—a right which they still possess. The status of Métis hunting rights awaits the province’s final interpretation of the recent Supreme Court decisions, R. v. Powley and R.v. Blais (2003), which argued that the Métis possess “Indian” hunting rights. Finally, in 2001 the province and the MN-S signed the Métis Act, which recognizes the Métis contribution to Confederation and strengthens the bilateral process through continued negotiations.
Darren R. Préfontaine