The Need for a Constitution
Successful court cases recognizing Métis Aboriginal rights, the adoption of a national definition for citizenship within the Métis Nation, the expansion of Métis control over socio-economic programs and services, and the ongoing and expanding role of Metis Nation representatives in intergovernmental negotiations, all contribute to our nation’s move toward self-government. Accompanying these gains is the perception on the part of our citizens, communities, leadership, and assemblies that our national government structure must be strengthened.
Métis people from throughout the Homeland have consistently expressed their desire to have a Métis Nation Constitution in order to strengthen Métis nationalism and build a stronger and more effective governance structure. Successive MNC Annual General Assemblies have provided direction for the development of a Métis Nation Constitution.
The MNC does not currently have a Constitution; it operates under corporate bylaws of a Secretariat that has been incorporated under federal law. Some people may think that these bylaws are the MNC’s Constitution. They are not. They simply provide for the legal operation of the MNC’s Secretariat.
The MNC’s current corporate framework is not conducive to nation building. Foreign corporate structures were never meant to serve as the groundwork for national Métis self-government. The limitations of the current corporate structure frustrate the Métis Nation in acting and operating through its own distinct government.
Some of the MNC’s Governing Members have already undertaken this type of self-government initiative. For example, in 1993, the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan (MNS) declared self-government by enacting its own Constitution. From that time forth, the MNS no longer operated under the corporate bylaws of the MNS Secretariat but, under its Métis law.
If The Métis Nation is to move forward on implementing self-government, it must build on a foundation that reflects its unique history, needs and aspirations. This is the rationale for moving towards a Métis Nation Constitution.
The Form of a Constitution
Constitutional law is the law prescribing the exercise of power by the official bodies of a nation state. A Constitution explains which organs can exercise legislative power (making new laws), executive power (implementing the laws) and judicial power (adjudicating disputes), and what the limitations on those powers are (Peter Hogg, Constitutional Law). In a federal state, such as Canada, the allocation of governmental powers between federal and provincial authorities (also known as jurisdiction or responsibility) is also a subject matter within a Constitution.
Constitutions have been described as “a mirror reflecting the national soul” because they recognize and protect the values of a nation (Cheffins & Tucker, The Constitutional Process in Canada). A Constitution of a nation is the supreme law of that nation. Usually there is some statement that asserts a Constitution is to be given priority over all other laws.
Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada and includes the Métis as one of those Aboriginal peoples. There is much authority to say that the inherent right of self-government is included within the meaning of the Aboriginal rights recognized and affirmed in s. 35.
Consistent with this right of self-government, some Aboriginal nations have enacted their own Constitutions independently or as a part of land claims agreements. With developing awareness of the importance of self-governance to the health and survival of Aboriginal nations, the issue of developing internal Constitutions has become increasingly important to many Aboriginal nations. This is particularly so for the Métis Nation which has struggled under the limitations of the federal Corporations Act for years.
A Métis Nation Constitution does not need to be like the Canadian Constitution or that of any other nation. Although there are some appropriate component parts of other Constitutions that might be adapted, for the most part, a Métis Nation Constitution must reflect the Métis Nation’s distinct history, contemporary circumstances and aspirations. A Métis Nation Constitution should not attempt to mirror that of others.
Within a Métis Nation Constitution, we can effectively reflect our values, principles and aspirations as a nation and put them into effect by how we choose to exercise our self-government. A Métis Nation Constitution can serve to bind our people together so we can move forward as a united Métis Nation exercising its inherent right of self-government. A Constitution for the Métis Nation can indeed function as a mirror reflecting our national soul!