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Fort McKay (Alta), Mar 28 (Canadian-Media): The Métis community of Fort McKay, Alta., has become the first in Canada to buy all of the land it's on from a provincial government, media reports said.
Métis in Alberta. Image credit: Wikipedia
The $1.6 million transaction was finalized Monday between Fort McKay Métis and the Province of Alberta, leaving the former in complete control of its 800 acres of territory. A formal announcement with the province was scheduled for 11 a.m. MT today.
The community is small, both in terms of its size and its population. Not all of its 97 members live in the area, a 40-minute drive north from Alberta's oilsands developments in Fort McMurray. But it's now a pioneer in Métis history.
"The message … is that as we go over the future for Métis developments and Métis land claims all over the Prairies, we can say that Métis land ownership is not incompatible with the ownership of other interest groups," Dwayne Roth, a lawyer who played a key role in negotiations, said.
Felix Faichney, who grew up in the Fort McKay community, says the idea that he and the rest of its members would one day own the land they call home seemed a distant dream.
"It wasn't ours. We didn't have the freedom to do with our land what we wanted," Faichney, 20, the board director of the Fort McKay Métis Community, said as he surveyed some of the backwoods that will eventually be torn down to make way for housing.
Felix Faichney says he is glad young people in the Fort McKay Métis Community will have opportunities he didn't, now that it owns the land it's on. (Peter Evans/CBC)For years, Roth said, the Fort McKay Métis hesitated to develop the land, as they were leasing it from the province.
"To invest that kind of development infrastructure into something you don't own just didn't make economic sense."
Now, the construction equipment and fences that sit in a barren field should soon be transformed into a community pavilion.
A community pavilion will be developed in this clearing, now that the Fort McKay Métis have bought their land from Alberta. (Peter Evans/CBC)Across the street, an advertisement billboard should soon be replaced by the gas station, car wash and fast-food restaurant it currently promotes.
The community also has plans for a healing lodge, a spray park and an administrative centre.
For the community's president, Ron Quintal, this has all been long in the making. He said he was first elected to office in 2005 with a mandate to acquire the land in question.
"The work that I've done for this community is to allow my sons and all the sons and daughters of the community in Fort McKay to almost have an inheritance," said Quintal.
In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the federal government has the same level of responsibility toward Métis people in Canada as it does toward First Nations.
Quintal said the landmark decision is playing a key role in shifting how Métis are able to speak to, and negotiate with, different elected representatives across the country.
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)