Not rewriting history, but writing it: Discovering Métis heritage in northern Alberta

How the Fort McKay Métis are working toward recognition and identification

In the 21st century, it’s a wonder that there is still cultural history yet to be uncovered.

For the Fort McKay Métis of northern Alberta, this is a reality that will finally be overcome in 2018 through a project entitled the Northern Connections report.

“Historically, Fort McKay Métis has not been recognized as a credibly asserted Métis Nation,” says Eddison Lee-Johnson, executive director of the Fort McKay Métis and lead for the project. “A report like this will provide the tools that the Métis Nation needs to function effectively.”

“Without it, it makes it really difficult for them to be fully recognized in the eyes of the provincial government.”

The first half of the project began in 2014, when research was first conducted to find any historical evidence of Métis presence in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The second half of the report, expected to be completed this fall, aims to find aggregate demographic data that can be used to apply for credible assertion—and prove historical community status—through genealogy work.

Turns out, the Fort McKay Métis do indeed have a rich history.

Research thus far has highlighted the involvement the Nation had in the 19th-century fur trade, as well as the close ties to the Fort McKay First Nation. The Métis community possesses a mixed ancestry from North America (Cree and Dene) and Europe (including French and English).

The final report will also advance initial findings of Métis scrip (originally known as “Half-breed” scrip)—government-issued certificates redeemable for land that were originally granted to the Métis with the intent of extinguishing certain Métis rights in early settlement days. What happened to them? Were they used or sold?

This report will not just benefit Fort McKay; it’s also expected to pave the way for certified recognition of all Métis groups in the Fort Chipewyan and Athabasca regions.

Enbridge’s recent donation of $10,000 will enhance the report by adding a numeric census component to the document—a component that will create a richer picture of the Métis of northeast Alberta as a Nation of people.

Undertaking such a project is no small feat. It not only supplements oral history with solid archival information: Lee-Johnson says it’s a step towards setting up governing frameworks for Métis communities in Alberta.

While government is directed by certain acts or policies in the case of First Nations groups and the Alberta Métis Settlements, no policy currently exists for Métis communities outside of the settlements.

“It’s important that we fight to prove that Fort McKay Métis is worthy of being consulted,” he says.