Métis Nation in Alberta fighting over who shares COVID-19 aid money

A pre-COVID-19 dispute between two Métis organizations in Alberta has carried over into the pandemic with one calling on the government to claw back $7.5-million in outbreak aid from the other.

This creates a negative public impression and hurts the very people funding is supposed to help, according to one observer.

“Fighting over money is never a good look,” said Conor Kerr, a Métis writer and educator in Edmonton.

“They’re just using this as the excuse for continuing the fight.”

On Monday, the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) announced how it would distribute millions in COVID-19 cash from the Trudeau Liberals, when the Alberta Métis Federation (AMF) lashed out.

“This funding mechanism is absolutely unacceptable,” it said in a release.

“The MNA have been very clear, they will weaponize funding to force grassroots Métis people to take out an MNA membership – no membership, no money.”

Community by community 

The AMF said in a letter to federal ministers Carolyn Bennett and Marc Miller aid should be distributed on a community by community basis like is being done with First Nations instead of through the MNA.

“Giving a large pool of money to the MNA is unfair to Canadian taxpayers, unfair to Métis people in Alberta and flies in the face of courts that have ruled that the MNA is not a governing body,” said AMF spokesman Dwayne Roth.

“The AMF will continue to press the federal government to reverse this decision, while also exploring every other option, including legal action, to prevent the MNA from using this money as a coercive tool to drive membership sales.”

But Audrey Poitras, president of the MNA, said federal funds were available to anyone of Metis heritage whether there were registered with the MNA or not.

“We’re in a crisis right now,” she said in a telephone interview.

“It’s tragic for some of our citizens.”

Staying out

The federal government said it was staying out of the fight.

“The immediate funding provided through the distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund is meant to help all Indigenous communities, including Métis communities, deal with issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said a statement from the office of the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

“As this is an internal matter for Métis representative bodies in Alberta, it is one for them to comment on. No community should be left behind and we hope they can work together to ensure Métis people are supported during this challenging time.”

Kerr, who manages NorQuest College’s Indigenous Student Centre, has likened Métis politics to a “royale rumble” match in professional wrestling and sees it as a failure of leadership.

“Fighting over money creates that continued negative image for the general Canadian settler audience when the reality is there’s a lot of strong people on the front line doing important work.”

Kerr said the federal and provincial government contributed to the problem by recognizing a number of groups as leaders.

Causing damage

“The internal politics and infighting are causing damage to the very people they want to help,” he said in a telephone interview.

The AMF was founded in February 2020 as an umbrella organization by the Métis communities of Athabasca Landing, Owl River, Willow Lake, Lakeland, Chard and Fort McKay.

It said in a statement the courts have agreed the MNA is not a governing body, and represents only the Métis who have membership.

The Métis are one of three recognized Indigenous groups in Canada.

Meanwhile, Poitras said her organization has more than 42,000 members in Alberta and they can apply for childcare, rent and mortgage relief.

“Rent is a big issue, help with mortgage is an issue,” she said. “We’re offering a housing-rent supplement for three months.”

The childcare benefit is for parents whose children are no longer in school due to the pandemic.

READ MORE: The history of the Metis settlements in Alberta 

Additionally, she said each of the six regional MNA offices would receive $200,000 (for a total of $1.2 million) to help members buy groceries, refill prescriptions and hire drivers to deliver groceries and prescriptions.

She stressed this was only the first in what would be more funding announcements.

“We will revisit this in a short while once we hear more,” she said, noting application forms were on the group’s website and Facebook pages.

“We know there’s a great need out there.”

Poitras advised anyone with questions to call the regional offices, which are closed but have staff answering the phone remotely.

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.