Métis Nation cries foul ahead of Calgary council decision on Indigenous gathering place location

Lawrence Gervais, regional president of the Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3, is pictured on Jan. 25, 2021.
Lawrence Gervais, regional president of the Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3, is pictured on Jan. 25, 2021. Global News

Calgary city council is set to make a decision on a next step in the creation of an Indigenous gathering place.

It would be part of the city’s commitment to truth and reconciliation, coming from both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and the White Goose Flying Report.

On Tuesday morning, city council’s executive committee endorsed a notice of motion that would have the Indigenous Gathering Place Society, an Indigenous-led, non-profit volunteer group, confirm its interest in a parcel of land at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers and prepare a transfer of ownership to the non profit.

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If approved at an upcoming council meeting, the motion would also direct city officials to work with the society and/or related entities to determine what parcel that would be.

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But a letter from the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3 alerted councillors to concerns over not being heard.

“While we are supportive of the concept of Indigenous Gathering Place(s), sufficient consultation has not occurred with all stakeholders or affected parties to sufficiently consider, let alone determine, the location of any Indigenous Gathering Place(s) at this time,” the Métis Nation wrote.

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The Nation asked that there be a delay on voting for the notice of motion to allow them to be properly consulted.

The next council meeting is on Feb. 15.

Lawrence Gervais, regional president of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3, hoped the letter would be the first step in community engagement.

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“We haven’t even gotten to that spot where we actually can forward our support until the time where I actually see the project on paper or where it’s at and all the processes that will be put in place. I can’t make a decision to support anything at this time,” Gervais said.

“It’s not like I’m not in support of it. I just want to make sure that we certainly outline that Métis Nation Region 3 is included in this special package going to city council.

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer, who brought the notice of motion forward with Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong, said he was “crestfallen” after receiving the letter.

“Councillor Wong and I are both aware that there has been some feedback from the various Nations in terms of this being a little bit of a surprise to them,” Spencer told the committee. “We want to reiterate our commitment to deal with those leader-to-leader conversations and ensure that engagement moves forward in a way that honours everyone that this will touch.”

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The notice of motion was a surprise development for Indigenous Gathering Place Society.

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Michelle Fournie, co-chair of the society and a member of the Metis Nation, said the group only got word on Jan. 19.

“We voted as a board to endorse and support it, knowing that the vision for a physical space for all together was in line with what we had been working towards since 2014,” Fournie told Global News.

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She said the group uses both traditional Indigenous and Western methods for open dialog.

“Inclusive engagement is really important to us and it’s something that we are founded from and are committed to.”

The city has already signed a memorandum of understanding to create an Indigenous gathering place, a response to call to action number 21, and took part in a pipe ceremony with local Indigenous groups and First Nations. The land transfer would be the next step in the process.

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The notice of motion states “the 50 Elders engaged by the society identified the land in and around the confluence as the definite location of the Indigenous Gathering Place.”

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Fournie said a land transfer would help them leverage funds for further consultations.

“That land title transfer will help us secure funding so we can continue that conversation,” she said.

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“These are early days. We have a lot more listening to do. We will remain committed to continue to have inclusive engagements and look forward to learning more from everyone.”

The lack of engagement from the city and the gathering place society strikes a bit of a nerve for Gervais, given the “hidden Métis” stereotype.

“’Hidden’ always comes from (the idea) we’re your neighbours, we’re the people next door to you, and you may not know it, but we live in the cities and towns,” Gervais said.

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“We never were living on reserves because that was a different agreement with the First Nations. But the Métis, we were just growing up in towns and cities and we’re probably around you. You may not know it, and that’s part of the Métis identity story.”

Gervais said some 9,000 Calgarians are Métis, with another 23,000 self-identifying as Métis.

Melanie Hulsker, director at the city’s Neighbourhoods department, said there has been engagement work done through the gathering place society, and the city looks forward to working with the non-profit and other interested parties.

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“We would expect that engagement is ongoing for this work and that there would be more opportunities for engagement as the work advanced,” she said.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said listening to the community is essential to the process.

“The best thing we can do is make sure that we are listening to our community partners who have been engaging with many, many groups and many stakeholders,” Gondek said Tuesday.

“And that engagement process is not one that’s over.”

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