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Saskatchewan Metis Non-Status Split Affirmed In Vote

Ivan Morin

After six years of internal debate and a six month campaign, the Metis and Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan have voted to split. In a province-wide referendum held on August 20, fifty three percent of those who cast ballots voted to split the former Association of Metis and Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan (AMNSIS) into two separate groups, one representing the Metis and another for the Non-Status Indians.

The Metis Society of Saskatchewan, which will represent the Metis interests in the province, says that the vote was a victory for Metis self-determination. Although the vote and the campaign showed a deep split in a number of communities the Metis Society of Saskatchewan leadership says that "we have to put aside our feelings of hardship and forget about personalities". Clem Chartier, a spokesman for the society said, "Let's look at the future and rally around our organization. We're hoping those metis who voted for AMNSIS to stay together will continue to participate in the Metis Society of Saskatchewan."

Jim Sinclair, former leader of AMNSIS says that he is willing to accept the outcome of the vote. Sinclair said, "People are saying in a roundabout way they voted me out."

Although the campaign leading to the vote was relatively short the history of separation is long. In 1983 AMNSIS, along with Metis representatives from B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, formed the Metis National Council to represent the Metis at the First Minister's Conference on Aboriginal Issues. They had been formerly represented by the Native Council of Canada, but the Metis leadership felt that the NCC was not adequately representing the metis concerns. At that time Sinclair, as leader of AMNSIS, stated that "the Metis must have their own organization in order that their concerns and constitutional rights are properly represented."

Upon returning to Saskatchewan Sinclair restated this to the AMNSIS membership and a plan was put in place to eventually split the organization into two groups. Since that time applications have been made to the Secretary of State for funding for a Non-Status group in Saskatchewan.

At the 1987 AMNSIS Annual Assembly in Batoche, a resolution was passed to formally split AMNSIS into two groups. A Metis constitution committee was set up to ensure that a smooth parting of ways would happen. Shortly after the committee resigned leaving the transition in doubt for some members. A Metis constitution meeting was called in February, 1988, and the Metis Society of Saskatchewan was reborn. The Society took over the AMNSIS corporation and effectively became the sole representatives of the Metis people of Saskatchewan. This move prompted three members of the AMNSIS executive to begin a court action to retain control of AMNSIS corporations and assets. A five month court battle was waged leading to the decision by the court to hold a province wide referendum where all Metis and Non-Status people in Saskatchewan could vote.

Now that the vote is complete both Clifford LaRocque, the interim leader of the Metis Society of Saskatchewan and Jim Sinclair say they would like to see a smooth transition.

LaRocque says that as soon as the vote is official the Metis Society could hold a general assembly within sixty or ninety days: Sinclair says that he will work to form a non-status organization, if there is a need.

Sinclair will face opposition from George Morin, who heads up the Saskatchewan Native Council, and who supported the split. The Saskatchewan Native Council is a member of the Native Council of Canada and claims to represent the non-status Indians of Saskatchewan. The group was formed two years ago and says it will enter negotiations with the Secretary of State for funding now that the Metis and Non-Status Indians have formally split. Sinclair says he will challenge any attempt by the Native Council of Saskatchewan to obtain funding for the non-status Indians which previously went to AMNSIS.