Otimpemsuak: Owning Themselves
"It's fair to say that Metis, by virtue of essentially being forced to integrate into urban centres, naturally had better access to services and opportunities than on isolated reserves.
"The Metis populations in Edmonton, Calgary or urban centres, their statistics bear out identically to First Nations who live in urban areas as well."
John Madden, lead council, Metis National Council
By not insisting on making themselves dependent wards of the Government of Canada in the belief that they were fully capable of adapting and finding a place for themselves that would benefit their interests and the country, Canada's Metis population, representing a community of 390,000 as opposed to the First Nations status Indian demographic of 700,000, Metis have fared considerably better than their fully Aboriginal cousins.
They enjoy a larger median annual income; $27,728 as opposed to $19,114. Their employment rate is higher at 74.5% as opposed to 60.4%. And the percentage that attend institutes of higher learning is 22%, against 18%. In the category of living in substandard housing requiring repair, 45% of First Nations are represented, whereas far fewer Metis are, at 14%.
Most of the advantage going to the Metis population is attributable to the fact that Metis are not 'advantaged' under the Indian Act. At one time the Act limited movement off reserves. And to this day it acts as a constraint over economic development in First Nations communities that present as models of impoverishment.
The Metis, rejecting being incorporated under the Indian Act, left themselves free to move on, to adapt, to be responsible for themselves and independent of government benefits and restrictions, both. Where the stifling effects of the avuncular Indian Act led to the dependency of those whose interests it is meant to represent, no such infantalizing effect was felt by the Metis population.
Metis' life expectancy is several years longer than that of First Nations peoples. Their median income is higher, they are likelier to have earned a trade certificate, a college diploma or university degree. "Our ancestors made a conscious decision in the late 1800s. They refused to be under that system. They were always known as the people who owned themselves and the people who were bosses of themselves", explained Clem Chartier, Metis National Council president.
Metis settled in areas that eventually became urban activity hubs, the cities of today. "Many of the Metis people living in these areas were living here before they were cities. There were far higher levels of Metis living in urban spaces at the turn of the century than most people give them credit for", explained Chris Andersen, director of the Rupertsland Centre for Metis Research, University of Alberta.
Proximity that gave the Metis access to health-care and economic opportunities, and which they took full advantage of. They worked as wage labourers at the turn of the 20th Century. And they developed their distinct culture. And though this month's Federal Court ruling that Metis along with non-status Indians are to be considered Indians under the law, placing them under federal jurisdiction, they have no wish to join their cousins as dependents.
They may be recognized to be entitled to consideration for extended health and educational privileges. But they are far more interested in land claims, self governance, satisfied that government will no longer be able to avoid addressing these issues. "We don't have a sense of entitlement as such, and we don't have a great dependence on other governments but ourselves, but we do have a long way to go", cautioned Mr. Chartier.