03/12/2013 03:05 EDT | Updated 05/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta, Metis Reach $85 Million Agreement For Self-Sustainability

Chris Schwarz/Office of the Premier

EDMONTON - Alberta's eight Metis communities will receive $85 million over the next decade from the province to make them more independent and economically self-sustaining.

"We're in the process of putting meat to the bones, so to speak," said Metis leader Randy Hardy after signing the deal with Premier Alison Redford in a ceremony at Government House on Tuesday.

"The lion's share goes to infrastructure," said Hardy, president of the Metis Settlements General Council.

He said it's about the next generation, too.

"Some will be towards education and ensuring that our people have the same opportunity that other Alberta children have in terms of acquiring academic diplomas and getting the appropriate trades, so that we can take advantage of the Alberta advantage."

Just under 5,000 people live in the Metis communities on 512,000 hectares of land in east-central and northern Alberta.

The plan is an extension of previous funding agreements. Hardy said the goal now is to make sure this deal is not a cash handover, but a springboard.

"We're not looking for Joe Public's hard-earned tax dollars to fund the eight communities," said Hardy. "What we're looking towards is having our lands and our traditional areas to realize what potential they have."

Alberta is the only province with a recognized Metis land base.

Each community is governed by a council with powers similar to local governments.

They're engaged in a variety of businesses, including forestry, farming, oil and gas ranching, and tourism.

"The goal of this agreement is to ensure that Metis settlements can be self-sustaining," said Redford.

"To ensure that we can all thrive culturally, socially, economically, and politically in this province."

Redford said a recent decision by the Federal Court that Metis be classified as status-Indians, placing them under federal jurisdiction, won't affect this agreement.

"In some ways regardless of what the legal decisions might be, we think there's an obligation to work in partnership (with the Metis) anyway," she said. "In some ways, I think this (agreement) is farther ahead."

Opposition politicians accused Redford of giving with one hand while taking away with the other, noting that the province cut the funding for the Metis Settlement's ombudsman's office in last week's budget.

"It's a bit of contradiction to what we're hearing here today with $85 million over 10 years that suggests they want to promote accountability, authenticity and real improvements to the life of Metis people," said Liberal critic David Swann.

NDP critic Deron Bilous agreed. "I find it interesting that it (the cut) was not mentioned today," he said.

Redford said after talking to people in the Metis communities they found the ombudsman's office was no longer needed.

"Our perspective and the perspective of the community is that we have an effective relationship and the role was no longer contributing to the role of the relationship," she said.

"We're not going to keep in place systems and programs just because they've been there before."

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