As far back as 1799, Métis people were known to live and trade furs on the land that became the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site.
Fast-forward more than two centuries and Alberta’s Métis residents have won the right to visit this same site, of Alberta’s early fur trading forts, at no charge by presenting their Metis citizenship cards.
A historic signing between Metis and federal government leaders was held on Tuesday near the stone foundations of former North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company forts.
The document endorsed by Dave McDonough, executive-director for Parks Canada’s Pacific and Mountain Parks division, and Audrey Poitras, president of the 36,000-member Metis Nation of Alberta, grants card-carrying Métis free admission to any federal historic site or park in this province — including Banff and Jasper.
“I’m very excited about this,” said Poitras, who believes this recognition of Métis contributions to Canada Parks in Alberta shows progress.
In 1909 and 1910, small groups of Métis people were evicted from Jasper by the federal government to enable the creation of the national park. These Métis families, who moved to the Edson-Grande Cache area, were compensated for improvements they made to the land, but not the land they had lived on. Their descendants have been seeking compensation and recognition.
The free parks admission is a step forward in the journey towards reconciliation, said Poitras.
She believes it helps improve relations with Ottawa by recognizing the importance of the Métis role in this region, a century before Alberta became part of Canada.
Métis Albertans have made significant gains since last Nov. 16, when the federal government pledged to work out a Memorandum of Understanding with the Métis Nation of Alberta. So far, a housing accord has been signed which will investigate and improve the condition of Métis housing, said Poitras.
And there’s the potential for Métis people to gain access to childcare funding while they are getting an education. This has long been available to First Nations and Inuit people, “and would give us an opportunity to catch up,” she added.
That the agreement with Ottawa was reached on Nov. 16 is significant to Poitras because it’s the anniversary of the death of Louis Riel. The Métis politician and founder of the province of Manitoba was hanged on Nov. 16, 1885 for leading two rebellions against the government of Canada, as he sought to preserve Métis rights.
“He sacrificed his life to benefit the Métis, and to do what was right,” said Poitras. “I’m very excited about all the things that are happening now.”